The man with the goat laugh, flappy ears and squeaky-clean rap lyrics is a man of the past. Will Smith has gone from wholesome rapper/tv star to sex symbol and I have discovered his secret! We’ve all seen the coy smile, his crisp suits, his eyebrow-raising flirt lines. It’s becoming more and more obvious… Will Smith is a hero among men.
I don’t just mean that in a Hancock sort of way. Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, writer and white-guy-extraordinaire, published a cyclical outline of the journey of the hero that has been used to analyze The Odyssey, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby; your typical high school book list. I believe that Campbell’s complex rhetorical template can be used to effectively trace the emergence of Will Smith as an important entity on the national, if not international, stage. His journey is as follows:
1. Call to Adventure
A Philadelphia youth wearing a flashy windbreaker whine-raps his way into the public eye. Smith gains attention and a small degree of notoriety when he whets his palate with the first lines of his young performing life. These include such gems as “parents just don’t understand” and “getting jiggy with it.” If the word “jiggy” doesn’t sufficiently rile your adventurous instincts you might as well start watching hockey and chugging maple syrup because no red-blooded American would admit such a shortcoming.
2. Threshold (a.k.a. breaking into the adventure)
This stage is the beginning of the young hero’s transformation and often involves arduous tasks and time-intensive journeys. The Fresh Prince’s breakthrough into the television world is the first step on his road to becoming a box office sweetheart. His portrayal of the girl-chasing, floppy-eared Philly allows him to break through into the lucrative and illustrious world of daytime television, an honor only shared by high-brow character actors like Kelly Ripa, Fran Drescher and Bob Saget.
3. Challenges and Temptations
As Will adjusts to life in the spotlight he is tempted by countless bad movie scripts and, more urgently, the desire to continue rapping. He accepts film roles- some good, some bad- but the challenge of distinguishing between the two becomes almost incomprehensible. This struggle leads to step four: the dark, bleak abyss in the shining beacon of Will Smith’s jazzy fresh lifestyle.
You may be thinking how could Will Smith possibly fall into an abyss? If so, we’re on the same page. You may also be thinking this girl has an unhealthy amount of respect for Will Smith and has spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about his life events. If so, you are perceptive and I’m single. Let’s leave it at that.
Anyway, Will falls into a Hollywood abyss when he rejects the part of Neo in The Matrix (then awarded to expressive super-actor Keanu Reeves) opting instead for his part in Wild, Wild West. Smith insists Reeves’ performance outdid what he could have offered to the role, but we all know that it was just another ‘red pill, blue pill’ scenario.
Will wanders into the deep end with his roles in serious movies like Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds. Will may not have a liver, but he certainly has my heart.
Becoming aware of his egregious sins against fashion and rap credibility, Will embarks on the journey to offer recompense for his wasted youth. Eventually, he makes the ultimate sacrifice: he gets buff. I don’t mean he tones up a little. I mean one-arm pull ups kind of buff. We’re talking the sort of I Am Legend lonely prowler intensity that requires giving up doughnuts and conveniently losing his shirt. Forgiven.
No hero’s journey is complete without his return. Coming full circle, this homecoming represents the end of the journey but also prompts retrospection on the changes that have occurred in the hero since his humble beginnings in Philly. Will Smith’s return includes his third Men In Black movie (which dramatically alters America’s foreign relations policy with the entirety of Asia).
He also names his kids “Will”ow and “Jade”n, and launches them as wholesome, Technicolor showbiz characters, thereby cementing his celebriTAY and carrying on the family name for generations to come. For that, I say hats off to you, Will. You have found a way to stay with us forever that doesn’t include any creepy portrait (Dorian Gray be warned) or some sort of aging-backward scenario (though if Brad Pitt can do it, why can’t you?) We offer our congratulations on your Smith Family Dynasty and I solemnly pledge to whip my hair back and forth when appropriate.