Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Curious Case Of Ricky Gervais

This bauble of thought was first published in The Scotsman on 19th July 2012.

NOTE: the following isn't intended as another article about a celebrity behaving like a prat on Twitter, because frankly who cares? But the car-crash antics of Ricky Gervais on the popular social networking site are so beyond the pale – yes, even in a world where Charlie Sheen exists – that they practically demand special attention.

In any case, they're symptomatic of a wider malaise within the confused mindset of the formerly chubby funster. Gervais isn't the first celebrity to let fame go to his head, but he's a fascinating example of someone who's obsessed with the trappings and pitfalls of celebrity, and yet who now fully embodies the very nightmare he once warned against.

I regard The Office as one of the greatest TV comedies of the last 20 years. Beautifully co-written, directed and performed by Gervais, it was an astute study of an embarrassing, needy, thin-skinned idiot who desperately craved affection, but who constantly caused offence due to his staggering lack of self-awareness. And yet here we are a decade later, where the line between David Brent and his creator is barely distinguishable.

Gervais spends most of his time on Twitter pompously instructing us on what we should and shouldn't be offended by, while obsessively deleting his more aggressive tweets and calling upon his vast army of sycophantic followers to shower abuse on anyone who dares criticise him. Perpetually on the defensive for crimes he's in the process of committing, he simply will not be challenged on anything.

You don't like his comedy? That's because you don't “get” it, and not because you think it's a load of poorly constructed rubbish with no consistent moral or logical centre. You're offended by his use of the word “mong”? That's because you haven't realised that it's no longer a derogatory term for someone with Down's Syndrome, despite an earlier stand-up routine about Susan Boyle proving that he clearly understands the specific connotations of the word.

The complex evolution of language and nuance of meaning are areas upon which Ricky Gervais is the sole arbiter, and woe betide anyone who disagrees. For someone who professes not to care what his critics think, he spends an awful lot of time getting upset over what his critics think.

Is it any coincidence that the heavily criticised “mong-gate” incident and catastrophic failure of Life's Too Short – in which he empowered the dwarf actor Warwick Davis by placing him in a toilet twice – was followed by Derek, a clumsily manipulative and overbearingly mawkish sitcom about a kind, gentle man with learning difficulties? But wait, hang on, he doesn't have learning difficulties at all, because Gervais says so. And what Gervais says is gospel. Not that he believes in gospel, given that he's an atheist who never tires of promoting his beliefs in the manner of a dim adolescent who believes he's blowing minds with every iconoclastic utterance.

Oh Ricky, what hast thou become?

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