The dust has settled in the brief but beautiful Twitter scuffle between singer Sam Smith and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black after the Oscars this weekend, and it’s time to assess the damages.
In a ridiculous assumption that could have been solved by the briefest of Google searches, Smith claimed in his acceptance speech for Best Original Song to be the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. Which is absolutely true, except for the fact that it is not at all true. In 2009, Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar with his script for the film Milk, which was directed by an out gay director, about an out gay politician. After Sunday's show, Black tweeted the following:
Black's tweet has since been retweeted over 11,000 times. Smith then apologized for his ignorance:
Black responded to Smith by playing off the initial tweet as a joke.
Would it have been more professional for Black to avoid public attacks and instead confront Smith directly, in private? Maybe. For those who side with Smith, walking away from the Dustin Lance Black tweets might be taking the high road, staying classy. But we are not here to make friends. We are here for a little dish called Beef, and it is served hot and extremely well done.
Petty beefing is precisely why Twitter exists. It is where we watch drama unfold firsthand, where we can see Katy hating Taylor, Kanye hating Wiz, and everybody hating Chris Brown. And while music might be the food of love, beef is the juicy food of art. If you’re going to create, you have to be able to curate, and at some basic level curation is hateration. Professionalism be damned, an art form without beef is an art form without art.
In public, Hollywood has weathered the social-media explosion by clinging to professionalism with publicist-approved Twitter accounts, stylist-managed Instagram accounts, and perfectly-pleasant-in-every-way interviews on late night. And the reward for all that effort? Nobody’s watching the Oscars, movie stars can’t sell tickets without the Marvel stamp of approval, and the best films of the year can’t quite seem to make it out of art houses and film festivals and into the public imagination.
Do you think anyone would’ve cared about the French New Wave if Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut hadn’t been out roasting basics in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma? Hell no. Give me the Blue Is the Warmest Color crew winning the Palme d’Or and then imploding on the press tour beef. Give me that Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino letter to the editor beef. Give me Joan Crawford paying Anne Bancroft to let her accept Anne’s Oscar the year Joan’s co-star and arch-nemesis Bette Davis lost for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s not just that beefs are lucrative, or beefs are hot, or even that they’re a fun distraction — though they are all of those things. Beefs are how you let the world know you give a shit.