Hypocrisy, thy name is Hollywood. Or, at least, that’s the take Ricky Gervais took in his opening monologue at the Golden Globe awards.
The acid cast from the podium hit the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Pesci, Felicity Huffman, Martin Scorsese and even Dame Judi Dench, for heaven’s sake. It started as a textbook and somewhat predictable Gervais modus operandi, barbed but contained in its destructive capacity.
But then Gervais switched gears and carpet-bombed the room, leveling the elite with two devastating blasts.
The first: “"Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?”
And the second, immediately following: “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything.
"You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.
"So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and f*** off, OK? It’s already three hours long.”
What was interesting was how vehemently the politically divided social spheres reacted. That bastion of conservative punditry, Fox News, embraced Gervais with relish. Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, said on “Fox and Friends”: “Ricky has done a much deeper and more important service to our country than just making us laugh. He’s illuminating their hypocrisy in a way that they might actually change, because how many of those actors made some annoying political speech after that.”
On the other hand — the left one — Hollywood royalty and its sycophantic liberal chorus of supporters were not amused. In fact, they were pissed. Gervais was accused of defecting to the other side, where he shat on their holier-than-thou red carpeted parade. Left-leaning publications like the Los Angeles Times rushed to condemn his remarks.
This all missed the point by a country kilometer (I’m Canadian. We’re metric. Deal with it). The very fact that we’re talking about which side Gervais is on without bothering to listen to what he was saying is the whole point. In the words of one clinical psychologist, we’re all stuck on transmit. No one is bothering to switch to receive.
In the middle of the social storm, as the right piled on the bandwagon and the left twisted a delicately turned ankle jumping off, Gervais looked on bemusedly, tweeting, “I didn't roast Hollywood for being a bunch of liberals. I myself am a liberal. Nothing wrong with that. I roasted them for wearing their liberalism like a medal. I'm such a snowflake liberal, I can't even really hate them for it. But my job is to take the piss. I did that.”
The real point came in a tweet shortly a few days after the one above: “I’ve noticed a couple of tweets criticising me for ‘accepting’ new followers who are the ‘opposite’ of me. Christian, conservative, pro life, pro gun, reactionaries. Of course I accept them. To err is human, to forgive divine. It’s what Jesus would do. Dog Bless all my followers.”
Gervais’ biggest sin was to make his audience feel uncomfortable. This happens when our beliefs are challenged by pointing out our own hypocrisies. And that can happen to anyone, on the left or right. But for this to happen, we have to stop talking and start listening. And that makes us vulnerable.
Strange things can happen when you have to listen -- even when you don’t want to. I remember being in a TED audience in 2010 when Sarah Silverman did what Sarah Silverman does: She made the audience feel uncomfortable. TED audiences have a lot of common with the one at the Golden Globes. They’re privileged. They’re liberals. And they’re pretty white.
This audience was not amused (I was, but let’s go with the consensus here). TED curator Chris Anderson apologized to us afterward and called Silverman “God awful” in a tweet.
So what was Silverman’s sin? She wanted to strip the word “retard” of all its power to offend by using it — again and again and again. The TEDsters didn’t get it. They — predictably, in hindsight — were offended.
Silverman, like Gervais, has been trying to lower the bulwarked barricades of beliefs that separate “right” from “left” and look for some ideological middle ground. She has repeatedly reached out to right-wing trolls on Twitter to try to start an actual conversation.
Conversations are uncomfortable. You have to get inside that other person’s space far enough to understand what they’re trying to say. And they have to be willing to do the same. It demands vulnerability on both sides. It admits the possibility that you might be wrong about some things.
If we’re going to fix things, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to admit that we’re human, that we err, and that — sometimes — the other side just might be right about some things.
Most of all, we have to admit that, whether we find them on the right or left, hypocrisy and ignorance are the real things we should be trying to eliminate. And it might just be easier to start in our own camp before we try to clean up the other side.