In Praise of Ricky Gervais' Kind of Meanness

Andrea Dulanto

The Golden Globes are usually a good substitute for Ambien. But this year, Ricky Gervais gave us the televised equivalent of crystal meth—we may be up for days.

The Golden Globes are usually a good substitute for Ambien. But this year, Ricky Gervais gave us the televised equivalent of crystal meth—we may be up for days.

Call him “mean-spirited,” but Gervais hosted the Golden Globes with an incisive deadpan wit that penetrated the veneer of Hollywood and left hardly any celebrity unscathed.

Gay innuendos about famous Scientologists. The phoned-in acting in The Tourist. Airbrushed pictures of the Sex in the City actresses. How to deal with Hugh Hefner hand-jobs: “just don’t look at it when you touch it.”

Yes, it was mean.

But this is an age of meanness: corporate greed, unemployment, economic instability, war.

Not a recipe for Pollyannas.

Should we be surprised that this meanness gives way to meanness on all levels?

Anonymous internet cruelties have been with us for years. CNN, Fox News, an innocuous discussion board about growing your own tomatoes or a Saved By the Bell fansite. When given the chance, people argue over anything. The best arguments are made by a well-reasoned mind, one that is open to listening to other points of view. Yet most of these online exchanges end up in ALL CAPS and as a babble of expletives.

Facebook bullying and Youtube rants add another dimension of cruelty—one that can often involve legal action. Two teenage girls in Florida were recently charged when they created a Facebook page with fake naked pictures of a girl they didn’t like. Last year, the Assistant Attorney General in Michigan was fired for cyber-bullying a gay college student.

But Ricky Gervais is not that kind of mean. Sunday night, Gervais placed the meanness where it belongs—on those who are often spared because of their power, money and privilege.

This isn’t a new way of relating to celebrities—comics Kathy Griffin and Chelsea Handler, satirical shows like South Park and Family Guy, the paparazzi-driven TMZ, E’s Fashion Police with Joan Rivers, all the late-night talk shows—it’s their business to knock down celebrities and it’s our business to love them for it.

Celebrities have always been rich, beautiful and troubled. So why are they being vehemently and openly disparaged at this point in time? Part of the reason is the internet culture that has made everyone a critic.

Another reason is the economy.

In the past, Hollywood glamour may have been a distraction. Not anymore. The foreclosure crisis, the long-term unemployment has taken a toll on our illusions: we have none. Nicole Kidman’s dress could pay for college tuition or a year of rent.

But Americans are not supposed to be angry or bitter. We’re supposed to be relentlessly optimistic with a can-do attitude.

Only a British comedian could show Americans how to be pissed off.

Gervais’ celebrity takedown was an impromptu Comedy Central Roast for the A-list set.

The voice of tell it like it is, the child pointing out the emperor’s new clothes. Charlie Sheen’s recent train wreck behavior, Robert Downey Jr.’s can’t-live-it-down history of rehab and jail—Gervais brilliantly distilled celebrities to two or three lines.

The Hollywood ego can’t fathom this truncation, which is why some may have been offended.

But Gervais is a comic who can laugh at himself—whether it’s his early days in an ‘80s pop group or his weight or the “ugly faces” posted on his blog.

Celebrity is an illusion and Gervais knows it.

Yes, it was mean.

But Dorian Gray has left the building.

Ricky Gervais announced that he would not return to the Golden Globes. There may not be an audience for the Globes next year. Yet there will definitely be an audience for Gervais.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.