It would appear that conservatives have found another golden calf upon which to foist their appreciation in the form of British comedian Ricky Gervais.
In case you missed it, and you probably did, Gervais was the host of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, which aired Sunday night on NBC. Within hours of his opening monologue, conservatives were applauding it on social media as a scathing indictment of the Hollywood “liberal elite,” whatever that means. By Monday, conservative media outlets were praising it, typically liberal TV critics were panning it, and on some metaphorical scoreboard that keeps track of the points scored in the eternal game of “Us. vs. Them,” one of the sides got a point.
While the monologue was too R-rated to quote verbatim, here’s the part that everyone seized upon: “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. Right, let’s do the first award.”
Of course that was going to resonate with a large number of Americans. Clearly, there’s a great many people out there — roughly 63 million, at least, the same number who pulled the lever for a reality show host and WWE Hall of Famer who’s beloved for his crassness — who can’t stand Hollywood’s liberal bent. Some transform their ire into activism, refusing to watch TV shows or subscribe to streaming services that feature shows, actors or talking points that they find offensive, but most of them just sit and quietly seethe, preferring musicians and actors and writers to just shut up and dance.
So when Gervais gets up in front of more than 18 million viewers and puts them in their place for not doing that, of course they’re going to cheer. They did it this week; they did it when Clint Eastwood scolded an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention, they did it when Hank Jr. compared Obama to Hitler in 2011, they do it when any conservative celebrity speaks out, because it’s such a rarity. They love movies and television because of the fictional familiarity they feel to what’s on the screen, but the actors and actresses playing those roles? Not so much.
Like so many things in our fast-food, instant-consumer culture, however, they sort of miss the point. They took a 5-minute segment by Gervais and conveniently ignore all of the other comments he’s made over the years that most certainly would not sit well if he’d said them in the same speech.
For instance: He’s an unapologetic atheist: “If there is a god, why did he make me an atheist? That was his first mistake. Well, the talking snake was his first mistake.” (From a 2009 “Inside the Actor’s Studio” interview.)
He’s also an unapologetic vegan: “It’s awful to think of people eating dogs, but some people eat pork. I don’t, but some people do. And a pig is just like a dog, there is no difference between them.” (From a 2017 “Vegetarians of Washington” interview.)
He’s unapologetically socially liberal: “Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right. Some people are offended by mixed marriage, gay people, atheism. So what? F- — ‘em.” (From a 2013 Facebook post.) Also: “Same sex marriage isn’t gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don’t.” (From a 2015 Facebook post.)
I could go on and on, but you get the gist: Gervais may be the anti-Hollywood poster boy of the moment, but a single speech doesn’t make null and void his long career of speaking out on the very issues that so many conservatives find distasteful.
And lest you think this is paradox that applies only to conservatives, let’s talk Clint Eastwood. As a liberal, I didn’t find the 2012 chair chat with an imaginary President Obama offensive whatsoever; to me, it seemed rather sad, as if America’s tough guy, “Dirty” Harry Callahan, had developed dementia and been put on stage for our entertainment. The awkwardness of that exchange aside, he’s a conservative. “American Sniper” is a beloved film of a controversial figure; “Richard Jewell” is a controversial film that paints journalists as sleazy story hounds willing to do anything for a scoop. I can’t tell you how many of my liberal friends want nothing to do with Clint anymore because of his politics and those films.
And you know what? That’s their right. But I will stop what I’m doing and lose a few hours whenever I come across “Unforgiven” on television. It is arguably one of the finest Westerns ever made, and Eastwood’s filmography remains a vital, vibrant and powerful part of American cinema. Why in the world would I discount the work he’s done, the entertainment he’s given us and the art he’s produced simply because I disagree with his politics?
That, I think, is at the crux of this whole Golden Globes brouhaha. We digest everything in small increments that satisfy us in the moment but lack context. Today’s social media hero could very well be the object of yesterday’s derision, and vice versa. It’s the nature of the beast, I’m afraid: Our soundbite-driven world winnows our attention span down to manageable chunks of information that serve as confirmation bias, because we can’t be bothered to look at the bigger picture. What a sad state of affairs.