If Stelter was awake in this country in the days following January 29, he noticed what Smollett gained after the phony attack: Nationwide attention. Outpourings of sympathy. Messages of support from the president and leading presidential candidates. Heartfelt encouragement from activist groups and high-ranking celebrities and also Ellen Page. Wall-to-wall coverage on TMZ. A coveted long segment on Good Morning America. For two and a half weeks, the previously obscure performer was the most talked-about actor in America, and this during Oscar season. (Sorry, Christian Bale and Rami Malek.)
As John McWhorter wrote in The Atlantic, Smollett was in search of “victimhood chic,” having “come of age in an era when nothing he could have done or said would have made him look more interesting than being attacked on the basis of his color and sexual orientation.” Smollett could “play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys.”
Smollett purchased with his story things of immeasurable value: Attention, sympathy, love. The world’s eyes were upon him when, the weekend after the attack, he gave a tearful, impassioned performance on stage in L.A. “I had to be here tonight, y’all. I couldn’t let those motherf***ers win. I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.” Sure.