In a truly legendary fashion, Ricky Gervais, 58-year-old comedian and long-time host of the Golden Globes, delivered a ruthless monologue targeted at the elites of the entertainment industry. In it, he addressed a variety of celebrities in a somewhat complimentary tone, such as Al Pacino and Robert Deniro, and others with more withering remarks — Leonardo DiCaprio is called out for his propensity for younger women, and those in the fantasy-adventure genre for beefing up their muscles rather than their acting prowess. His Cats mention dropped jaws and sparked guffaws among those in attendance and viewers at home, hilarious in his crude honesty.
And, more significantly, he touched on racism in the industry, particularly the Hollywood Foreign Press due to their dismissal of people of color in both the film categories and canceled In Memoriam. The impetus of his satirical speech reached its peak towards the end, in which he singled out corporations such as Apple, Amazon and Disney for promoting “dignity and doing the right thing” while operating through immoral and corrupt means. “Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable,” Gervais proclaimed, accusing the celebrities before him of their sanctimony. Despite their self-identifications as people who are politically active and devoted to using their influence for social reform, they nonetheless continue to perpetuate injustices, ultimately failing to uphold their own standards.
Then came one of the most polarizing and memorable statements of his speech — “If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?” After this was voiced, faint laughter radiated from the crowd of glamorous gowns and fancy dinner-cloths, but not with half the roaring volume from before. In essence, Gervais drew comparisons between ostensibly ordinary companies and a terrorist militant group known for its extremism and enmity. While the association with ISIS might seem like a melodramatic tactic purely for shock factor, he certainly struck to the heart of the issue and stripped away the do-gooder facade of corporations with a deft — if cutting — stroke.
He concluded on a reverberating note, pleading exasperatedly for award-winners to not linger on making political statements and decrying the world for its problems. “You know nothing about the real world,” he said. “Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg … So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, your God and f*ck off, OK?”
Indeed, by this point it seemed as though the true motive of Gervais’ monologue was beginning to sink in, an insightful and long-overdue confrontation behind the comic relief that brought to attention what the general populace has known for many a decade now: Amid the rolling acres and sprawling mansions of California, the privileged enjoy their lavish lives built on the backs of others, while at the same time promulgating action against such inhumanity. The irony is blinding. It’s made even more excruciating by the fact that these elites have, until now, seemed blissfully unaware of their contradictory behavior. Persisting in the delusion that their verbiage fulfills some civic duty, that the repercussions of their career choices are somehow inapplicable to them, their social justice hawking has only increased.
But, what could the rest of us truly have done before Gervais came along? Therein lies the problem. There has, and will always be, a physical and idealogical gap that exists between the higher-ups and the rest of us. With this crevasse comes lack of communication. No matter how much the public rages, how much we storm on social media, celebrities can simply turn off their comment section, take a month-old break secluded behind their pristine walls and return back to the loving arms of their fanbases that shield them from all the critics.
Gervais, however, is part of this elite, even admitting in his speech that he arrived on a limo too (whose license plate was “made my Felicity Huffman”) and, in doing so, established a foundation of trust with his audience. His self-effacing confession, however brief, is a rare phenomenon among celebrities — an acknowledgement of privilege and its isolating effect. In doing so, Gervais was able to intensify the effect of his monologue by proving his credibility. Rather than brush off his wealth and success, he owned his status and recognized it for the major role it plays in his personal experiences. Never once in his monologue did he attempt to be relatable or appeal to the public through common grievances — these methods tend to only demonstrate how out-of-touch the elite are from reality. Instead, he spoke the truth, with dry humor and a frank outlook unblemished by any of the political or social observations that hardly impact him.
Now, that’s not to say that because of this gap, the elite should never try to use their platform for good. Rather, Gervais was pointing out the hypocritical nature of how the elite exert their influence, by identifying and discussing flaws in other institutions while refusing to reflect openly on their own lives. In fact, they might even feel entitled to sharing their opinions and bashing others for passivity, without ever having a glimpse into actual squalor and suffering. How can we place trust and faith in celebrities and their intentions, when they cannot even face the consequences of their own money-making processes? How can we idolize celebrities who advertise their size-able donations and spew moralizing speeches, then turn their backs when they’re the ones being investigated? These are some of the questions that Gervais’s speech has ignited, and, hopefully, his is just the beginning.
Photo Courtesy of Paul Drinkwater/NBC