Certain stars are made of Teflon in the court of woke public opinion.
Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, John Oliver and Billy Porter currently occupy that space. Press headlines concerning those artists are often overwhelmingly positive, if not fawning.
Add Rihanna to that list.
The pop superstar will be center stage at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime extravaganza. It’s a coveted slot for any musician, and Rihanna’s resume made her worthy of the gig.
Except ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith dared to suggest he isn’t excited to see her performance on the big day. Smith appeared on Sherri Shepherd’s talk show earlier this week, and here’s what he said about his level of anticipation for the singer’s set.
“I don’t want to say I’m not excited, she’s fantastic,” Smith said. “There’s one thing she’s not. She ain’t Beyoncé.”
It might be the mildest barb one could say, suggesting that no one is comparable to an icon like Beyonce. Given today’s rough-and-tumble social media culture, it’s about a 2 on a cruelty scale of 1-10.
The backlash was instantaneous, or at least Smith felt it was large enough to warrant an apology.
A broadcast professional known for his outsized opinions had to apologize for suggesting one pop superstar wasn’t equally magnificent as another pop superstar.
Shepherd later addressed the issue on her show, suggesting that because Smith made the comments before a female audience it landed differently. Strong, empowered women recoil at a mild blast of criticism, apparently.
And it didn’t end there.
“Dude, no!” Jones yelled. “Why would you do this to yourself? You know what Stephen A. Smith? You need to act like your hairline and back the f— off.”
Jones also complained about Smith’s apology, focusing on his use of the word “sweetie” as being off-limits now. What Jones should have said, as a comedian and artist, is that telling people they can’t share their opinions is the antithesis of free expression.
Except Jones isn’t a fan of free expression.
Earlier in the week, she said white people cannot share their thoughts on the new, controversial statue honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in Boston.
The Smith kerfuffle comes after a popular British star made three mewling apologies for a similar thought crime and still lost his lucrative gig.
“Top Gear” host Jeremy Clarkson got fired by Amazon after he excoriated Meghan Markle with a profane comment paying homage to a classic sequence from “Game of Thrones.” Clarkson wrote of Markle:
At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.
Markle’s supporters lashed out at Clarkson for the comments. The British star tried to appease the Cancel Culture mob – three times – but it wasn’t enough to save his gig.
Now, had Clarkson targeted President Donald Trump, or Tucker Carlson or even Rep. Lauren Boebert, a firebrand GOP member, nothing would have happened. Similar comments directed at Elon Musk or Candace Owens would have been cheered, not jeered.
Instead, he targeted a person who some consider a professional victim, and he paid the price for it. Piers Morgan, a fierce Markle critic, was forced to quit his long-standing ITV gig last year for suggesting he didn’t believe what Markle said during her infamous Oprah Winfrey interview.
“Freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on,” Morgan said.
That’s where Cancel Culture exists in 2023. Certain personalities cannot be critiqued. For others, it’s open season.
UPDATE: Smith weighed in on his own controversy earlier today, railing against the culture’s willingness to silence him.
“All of the stuff going on in the world, I’m being accused of Black-on-Black crime because I happen to like one artist more than the other….I mean, you got to be kidding me! Handcuff me now! Put it behind my damn back! Y’all got to be kidding me!… Unbelievable!”