Flat White

Ricky Gervais wakes the woke

7 January 2020

2:38 PM

7 January 2020

2:38 PM

Ricky Gervais, putative hero of the common man, was at his acerbic best at the Golden Globes, laying down a vitriolic monologue for the ages that spared no sacred industry cow, not even the stupidly obvious love-in Hollywood types once had with that once-distinguished gentlemen Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. Twitter loved it — for the most part — and all the usual voices failed to notice just how cleverly they’d been slapped across the face. One La-La Land review noted that Gervais had ‘failed to read the room’, as if pleasing a group of people for whom he has visible contempt would ever have been his objective. Such lazy writing, and lazy thinking, is a symptom of exactly what Gervais was sending up, but in a truly self-referential way, the subject of the joke failed to review the joke properly, and you better believe that’s how Gervais intended it to be. 

Oh, how the conservative pundits rejoiced! Brendan O’Neill, writing for this esteemed magazinerevelled in Ricky’s rant against the hypocritical excess of the entertainment industry, and more broadly, elite culture at large. However, O’Neill and others missed a trick – Ricky isn’t merely throwing mud at the erstwhile kings and queens of modern culture, he is now part of their final evolution, a critical component of whatever relevance they might deign to cling to as the commoners awaken to the fact that movie stars are mostly pretentious losers with tiny fragile egos – the exception being, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio, who managed to put on a brave face and share in the mirth directed at his proclivity for dating women half his age. 


Put simply, 2019 was a year of populist revolt. In some sense every year since 2016 has seen slowly churning social upheaval — arguably the groundwork for Trump, Brexit and a whole glittering array of inconceivable political events was laid well before this. The unifying theme, the beating heart of whatever the 2020s will come to represent is this — consciousness, although not quite of the class variety, that a small number of disproportionately wealthy and connected people hold vast political influence, while for the most part being sanctimonious hypocrites and awful citizens. Most Hollywood actors fit this depiction perfectly — Ricky asked them on what private jets they flew in now that Jeffrey was gone and quipped that Felicity Huffman made the licence plate for his limo. Why should he care? Why should it be taboo to mention that Felicity Huffman tried to buy her daughter an Ivy league college place and got caught? It’s true, is it not?

The utter beauty of Gervais on that podium is such that I do not hesitate to call it the single best piece of stand up I’ve ever seen – a stretch, you say, while failing to account for all the elements that rendered every word nearly perfect in context. Gervais had the jokes — I mean, after the year that’s just been, they write themselves — but more importantly, he had the mood, the impossibly smug and pretentious audience (in the auditorium) and the quiet, invisible secondary viewership of those who tuned in to see if he’d royally tee off. There were no surprises, and the fact that Gervais crossed every social boundary was itself completely predictable, yet the actors in attendance sat there grimacing as he gloated over the thought Ronan Farrow might add a few more names to his growing list of Weinstein accomplices. Did those in the audience who remained complicit in the whole sordid business seriously expect Ricky Gervais, of all people, to fail to point out that there’s no conceivable reality in which Weinstein could have been apprehended years ago, if not for the silence of actors who didn’t dare piss him off?

The peculiar thing is that Ricky Gervais is as much a part of the modern culture as the Hollywood A-List, the difference being that Gervais is part of the tumour that’s threatening to swell and suffocate whatever superficial veneer of beauty and sophistication that remains. A growing number of people no longer aspire to be actors, nor even famous — they have turned away from manufactured reality and stilted politics, they despise the hypocrisy and vanity that Hollywood now represents and they take substantial pleasure watching celebrities fidget on live TV as they get roasted, deservedly, for the vacuous nature of their very being. Here we have, in a room, a group of rich urbanites famous for playing pretend who yearn for a cause greater than themselves, who can’t help but ignore Gervais when he advises that no-one gives a fuck about the political opinions of an actor. 

Rather than being out of touch, whoever books the host for the Golden Globes is so painfully in-touch that they grit their teeth and call Ricky Gervais, presumably begging him to come back, year after year, so that he can excoriate them for the sickness of the industry, and to some extent, the very essence of those who comprise it. The politics of famous people, now so excruciatingly bland and shallow, are so unpleasant that the only way to get people to care about the Golden Globes is to have Ricky Gervais take a giant shit on the whole enterprise. The only remaining form of relevance, in a truly biblical sense, is self-flagellation.

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