In Praise of Ricky Gervais’ Kind of Meanness

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.

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