Gervais: not clever, just pathetic

This morning I vacillated.  Angry enough to post, too angry to collate and elucidate.  Feeling the need to say something vs the instinct to ignore it in the hope it goes away.

Others got there first – read this great piece, and the comments.  And I won’t be offended if you don’t come back….

It’s a fine line between banter that pokes fun using pejorative terms and hate crime on the grounds of disability.  There’s nothing harmless about it.  You might not be offended reading Ricky Gervais’s little play on words in Twitterland:  I can assure you many disabled people, their families and friends would be.

The reason to object to Gervais is that where he leads, others follow.  He might feel suitably satisfied at having successfully executed a cunning ploy to attract attention to himself and his new comedy series.  No doubt he and his publicists are high-fiving at all those Twitter followers rolling in, folk who will no doubt now watch the series and buy the DVDs.  Kerching!

It’s not this kind of follow I object to, it’s the follow in the acceptability of pejorative language.  Expect to see more people engaging in this kind of banter.  Sadly, I now also expect my chicklet to bring it home from the playground, and will have to explain to an eight year old that just because big, successful comedians use it, just because his pals do, doesn’t make it right.  Constantly, I find myself explaining to him that different is good, to be celebrated, welcomed.  Everyone being the same would make our lives very dull.  At eight, he’s not quite ready for a formal treatise on equality and diversity in anything but the simplest of terms.

Gervais, that most knowing of comedians, knows exactly what he’s up to.  Which makes it all the more reprehensible.  Creating a twitter storm for the publicity effect – how big, how clever.  And hang the consequences for real people whom he has denigrated and offended and whose lives will be made more unbearable as a result.  Gervais and his ilk have the right to tweet, to say, to write whatever they think will raise a laugh.  This is not a blog post making the case for thought police.  But there actually isn’t anything funny in “claiming” derogatory terms against disabled people for comedic purpose.

For every clown on the stage or in the ether, there is another on the street abusing and harassing disabled people on the same basis.   Research conducted by the Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland in 2004 showed the extent of hate crime in Scottish society – 73% of participants in the research indicating that they had been frightened or attacked by verbal abuse and intimidation.  And you thought you were being a little bit out there, huh Ricky?

One third had also been physically attacked.  Nearly a third avoided specific places and changed their usual routine after suffering abuse.  Sometimes, the hate and the prejudice is so bad, so sustaining, so little addressed by the authorities that one in four end up moving home.  Not funny Ricky, but frightening, often with life changing impact.  And not in a good sense.

Day in day out, disabled people live with people calling them names, spitting on them, letting down their car tyres, posting excrement through their letter boxes, jostling them in the street, attacking them, robbing them, sexually abusing them, taking advantage in other ways of their vulnerability.

Out of contempt.  Out of a burning sense of undefined prejudice.

Because they have more power, because they can, because no one steps in to stop them.

With his little Twitter game, Gervais will have given succour and encouragement to the bigots who make disabled people’s lives a misery.

Not clever, just pathetic.  Shame on him.


10 thoughts on “Gervais: not clever, just pathetic

  1. I’ve started using a new piece of slang – a “Gervais” as in “He’s a bit of a Gervais”.

    Basically it means “ignorant self-obsessed pr**ck”

    Of course the meaning could change over time (but I doubt it).

  2. I think people do use mong without thinking about it and people under the age of 25 might genuinely not know that mongol used to be a term used to describe people with Downs Syndrome because it is not used by young people that way. But Ricky Gervais is hitting 50 and I think he knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe initially he didn’t set out to be controversial but as soon as it became an issue he thought bingo, he has a new series to promote after all, that’s why he went back onto Twitter. He’s playing it up for all he’s worth making comments like now I’ve done the M word I am going on to the N word. But you know what, I bet he doesn’t.

    • Young people don’t invent words like this – and if they are using it unawares there are plenty of adults around who do not its pejorative origins who are well capable of pointing it out. Rather than trying to get down with the kids, Gervais would be better placed acting his age and using his celebrity responsibly.

  3. Ricky Gervais not being funny? Blimey he’s made a career out of it! Never can a series (The Office) have been so critically lauded whilst being so er…..pisspoor.

    I wrote about Gervais here which elicited a contradictory reply from Stu Who? who is a Scottish comic who I know personally and much funnier than Gervais.

  4. I hesitate to comment because I’m sure I will be misunderstood… nevertheless, I think it needs pointing out that Gervais is far more likely to be guilty of a contextual error than a deliberately offensive publicity stunt.

    For many years I have read the online gossip site PopBitch ( This is a long-established, no-holds-barred, offence-for-the-sake-of-it bulletin board which is designed as a venue for short-term, scurrilous, unprovable celebrity gossip. If you like that sort of thing, it’s good fun.

    Like many such long-established sites, over time it has developed its own lingua franca. Most of it is gratuitously offensive, but it is exchanged in a spirit of knowing, often playful animosity and, crucially, it is understood by contributors to be specific to the site. Many contributors adopt specific personae when posting, clearly false, often revolting, but generally amusing to those who frequent the place.

    I cannot say whether Gervais has ever posted there, but many of his ilk do. But it seems almost certain that he reads it, because his recent posting using the word “mong” to describe himself and others is precisely a piece of popbitch normalcy. It is part of the lingua franca.

    I do not deny all that you have written above about the offence it causes and the unsuitability and harmfulness of its use in a general, open forum. I also don’t deny that some would say that any forum, self-selecting or otherwise, should not entertain such pejorative language. But in the world of popbitch, “mong”, “webmong” and “monging” are terms now entirely abstracted from their meaning by virtue of their context.

    I completely agree that Gervais shouldn’t have said it on Twitter, and his response to criticism of him saying it has compounded his error. But I think his original offence wasn’t to seek publicity by causing a storm. I think he merely misjudged Twitter, thinking it was akin to popbitch.

    • Thank you for being brave enough to comment! I hear what you are saying but none of it frankly is acceptable, either as some kind of lingua franca or Gervais’ attempt to be hip. Frankly, it is all even more unacceptable. I think you are possibly right in terms of Gervais’s reference point for his Twitter approach but I disagree that it was misjudgement. I think he knew exactly what would happen. Worse is all the folk engaging with him and now following him.

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