Brands in Trauma: Oscars 2022

The Academy Awards are an annual industry awards night – an event on the social calendar of some of the highest mediated human products in the world: Hollywood Actors.

The 2022 Awards ceremony proved a timely reminder of the power of the stories we tell ourselves, each other and the organisation’s role in aligning issues to action as they escalate to crisis.

UNDERSTANDING THE ENVIRONMENT

The Academy Awards are traditionally the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science‘s ‘Night of Nights’.

An industry celebration, that is preceeded by months of lobbying the people, the performances, the music and the final edits as a whole into the hearts and minds of the judges.

In a process reminiscent of the way politicians pitch themselves to the electorate or international governments justify their response to ‘threats’, The Oscars is the culmination of all of those individual and team efforts being celebrated by the community physically (mediated event).

A place in time where peer recognition is a featured objective across all contributions to the art of storytelling in variant forms and public declaration (Winner/ Nominee).

Where categories matter, success is tangible and economically rewarded via a piece of gold (an Oscar’s statue), resulting in heightened levels of social and economic capital bestowed upon the recipient.

THE EVENT

The 2022 event kicked off with no significant departures from recent history in the sense it celebrated all elements of performance – acting, dancing, singing – by the talented and seasoned industry performers.

There were red carpet fashions and commentary, comedian hosts and musical performances.

As always, there were tributes paid to those passed, as well as, those who continue to contribute despite their personal challenges.

Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli providing a timely reminder of the way to respect the process and each other. Legends of the Arts old and new, supporting peers through performance missteps with kindness and grace, in five words.

Then there was the Heckler…

2022 Nominee Will Smith, a professional performer (TV and film) dressed for the event by Dolce & Gabbana (promoted on his social media accounts prior to the event) physically and verbally assaulting a comedian during a live performance in which he promoted himself from audience member to speaking part.

The comedian employed for the night by The Academy to present the award for Best Documentary Feature was Chris Rock.

Rock is a professional performer (stage, TV and film) and given he was ‘at work’ on stage, his response to being heckled was as expected by a seasoned professional… however, the heckle came AFTER the physical assault.

The exchange between Smith and Rock is interesting for what it reveals about the impact of self narratives and environmental triggers on social behaviour and socialised modes of engagement.

THE WORKPLACE ASSAULT

Smith laughed along at the GI Jane comment at first, until he saw his wife’s displeasure.

Then he got physical and verbally abusive – repeatedly.

It is worthwhile to note here, The Academy Awards is the equivalent of a work function for BOTH of these men.

One acting professionally, the other one not.

THE INCIDENT

Additionally, it is highly plausible Rock’s script was cleared by the show’s producers prior.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

It has been reported that Smith was asked to leave the Dolby Theatre, but apparently refused. All of which is yet to be verified publically.

In the business, this is what we call a Crisis Management failure of epic proportions.

In proceeding with the schedule as planned, and not being agile enough on the ground at the event, the organisation (The Academy) empowered Smith.

Accordingly, Smith ‘set the narrative’ to be adopted by the media reporting on it, rather than the story of how The Academy fulfilled their position as a leader of best practice in the Industry.

Security should have restricted unscripted access to the stage.

Having failed to secure the stage, they should have escorted and detained Smith pending the arrival of the authorities.

The questions to ask of the organisation is: Why didn’t they?

The Academy needed to align their actions with their words on social media.

Their inaction at the time of the incident effectively negated any indignation they showed in social media posts.

Instead, they let a physical assault by one member fall through the cracks rather than one to be handled by security and then the relevant authorities.

By giving Chris Rock’s attacker their highest accolade – the title of winner – The Academy also gave him a global platform in which to celebrate and credit his behaviour – past and present – through a constructed narrative and thus dividing their members.

WHY AGILITY IS THE REAL AWARD WINNER

When caught off guard by unscripted moments, producers have to make split second decisions with the information they are given and the intelligence available to them.

Unfortunately for Will Packer, the producer of the 94th Academy awards, this was his first Academy Awards show and he had two legends of the Arts, members of the Academy, a presenter and soon-to-be award winner, in a physical altercation on stage during a live global (and sponsored) broadcast.

In event production and producing terms, this is a perfect storm, for even the most seasoned professional.

However, THIS moment screamed something more than the insult of a comedic pun.

There was a story, that obviously very few were briefed on.

COMMUNICATIONS IS THE KEY

When ‘the shit hits the fan’ (as we say Down Under) response time contracts to now not later.

As a leader, your ability to ’make sense’ and ‘act in knowledge’ relies on your ability to put yourself, your role and your concerns aside, your ability to access ’the facts’ as best known to all and invariably, the quality of both your counsel and communications.

If their social media posts are anything to go by, The Academy was having the right discussions they simply failed to align the words of the organisation to their public facing actions.

THE ABUSER IS GIVEN THE MICROPHONE

Unsurprisingly, Smith rationalised his actions by drawing comparison’s between his actions at the event and those of his character as ‘a fierce defender of his family’.

A narrative swallowed by some of those in the room who cheered but seemingly not, from those present who didn’t need (nor want) anything from him.

AND THE GOLD

As anyone who feels they’ve ‘beaten the system’ Smith basked in the accolades and clung to the gold…

… seemingly tone deaf to the impact of his behaviour on the next generation. His offspring – also a performer – condoning the physical assault and verbal abuse in response to a verbal insult.

Self narratives are important, both internally and externally.

I won’t chastise the Academy award winner for casting himself as the lead antagonist during a mediated performance by a peer, for I am reminded of Ekhardt Tolle’s concept of pain-body.

WHEN PAIN MANIFESTS AS ANGER

Where there is anger there is pain underneath and this is true for EVERYONE – irrespective of the social profile of your job or the size of your bank account.

TRAUMA IS CYCLICAL

Trauma produces trauma – both internally and externally.

Socially we will follow and perpetuate trauma, if we rationalise the narrative and fail to heal from within.

These are the real lessons from the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony for the individual brands.

They also provide a looking glass through which we are able to glimpse the power of the alpha to dominate and lead a mob.

How inaction by the organisation (and peers) in the room at the time enabled the silent mob to remain inactive.

Leaving the target of the assault to weigh the consequences of his reaction at a workplace event while continuing with his presenting duties.

It also provides real insight into how rationalising the narrative has led to larger-scale atrocities being perpetuated throughout history.

Just imagine if we found our voice in the moment, like Denzel.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…

Imagine if Will had taken Jada’s lead – visibly displeased but dignified in her seat – we might be talking about the Winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary feature – the award Chris Rock was presenting – Questlove’s Summer of Soul.