January 6, 2020

RICKY GERVAIS IN THE LONDON SPECTATOR: Why I’ll never apologize for my jokes.

The idea that comedians have a responsibility to convey ‘the right message’ is more prevalent than ever. Following the announcement that Ricky would be returning to host next month’s Golden Globe awards after four years away, he was taken to task by one young American critic for his supposed ‘transphobia’ — I put to him that this is the kind of charge that could have been laid by Mary Whitehouse at the height of her ‘Clean up TV’ campaign 50 years ago. ‘Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?’ he replies. ‘The new puritans aren’t 60-year-old women in twinsets and pearls, the Christian right trying to make us turn off our televisions because they don’t like it. It’s a younger crowd with trendy haircuts, who you’d think would have left-leaning liberal sensibilities, who have invented this new term “hate speech”.’

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When the Twitter mobs come, he is never tempted to apologise. ‘You mustn’t, because that’s the end. The end of satire and the erosion of freedom of speech based on people’s feelings will have a catastrophic effect. It’s not just that comedians will be a bit grumpy or won’t be able to say things. It’s not the same as not allowing Bernard Manning to say the N-word on TV. It’s something much, much darker and more Orwellian. It really is.’

He considers ‘hate speech’ to be the invention of those who ‘feel they shouldn’t have to hear something they don’t agree with, and want to complain. They can call the police because someone’s wearing a T-shirt they don’t like. This is actually happening.’

As Megan McArdle recently asked, “Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture?

Before the Beatles arrived and the Sixties really got rolling, American fiction used to abound in novels where earnest young people chafed under the censorious regency of “Mrs. Grundy” and her ubiquitous gossip-wielding hatchet squads. After a wild decades-long interregnum, we have apparently once again decided that our lives should be governed by that still, small voice crying “What would the neighbors think?”

Not that we care about the people next door to us. Rather, we fret about the opinions of officious strangers, possibly thousands of miles away, who swarm social media like deranged starlings over and over again, in the same pattern: A few thousand souls, left or right, decide that some opinion or behavior, tolerated as recently as last week, is now anathema. Then they descend upon unwitting heretics en masse — as when author J.K. Rowling attracted the mob’s ire in mid-December for tweeting in support of Maya Forstater, who was fired from a British think tank for expressing her belief that biological sex is immutable and binary. “Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill

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If you’d prefer reasoned debate, it will start with a collective realization that mobs can’t do much except make noise. They’re not actually very big, for starters — the number of people who replied to Rowling’s tweet wouldn’t fill most Texas college football stadiums, and reasonable people don’t choose their views by polling the crowd at the Aggies-Longhorns game.

More important, most mobs aren’t committed to the effort beyond flicking a thumb. Institutions that ignore the mob are often astonished at how little difference all the outrage makes to their business — and I’d bet Rowling won’t see much evidence of this controversy in her royalty statements.

The censorious power of Mrs. Grundys always depends on the cooperation of the governed, which is why their regime collapsed the moment the baby boomers shrugged off their finger-wagging. If Rowling provides an unmissable public demonstration that it is safe to ignore the current crop, we can hope others will follow her example, and the dictatorship of the proscriptariat will fall as quickly as it arose.

Why, it’s like “Twitter sentiment is a Styrofoam iceberg. You may think 9/10 of it is underwater, but actually, 9/10 of it is visible,” to coin an Insta-phrase. Somebody should write a book about this stuff.

Curiously, the L.A. Times television critic Lorraine Ali is very angry that anyone would dare poke fun at the poor working stiffs who toil endlessly for minimum wage in her company town’s chief industry; as Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner writes, “Hollywood proved Ricky Gervais’s point:”

Sadly, many in the media don’t seem to have realized it. Los Angeles Times culture writer Lorraine Ali complained that “The last thing anyone needed was for the smirking master of ceremonies to reprimand [the A-listers] for having hope, or taunt the room for trying to use their influence to change things for the better.” Gervais, Ali says, should have been “brave enough to drop the tired agitator shtick and, for once, read the room.”

No, he really shouldn’t have.

Unfortunately, Ali didn’t read the room on Twitter, and wound up with an impressively lopsided ratio of comments to retweets as result:

Update: “Ricky Gervais Proves Pompous Hollywood Can No Longer Take a Joke,” John Nolte writes at Breitbart.com, quoting from Ali and other DNC-MSM Hollywood sycophants. “The media have literally become the Celebrity Ego Protection League. And this is why both Hollywood and the media have fallen so out of favor with the American people. Instead of informing and entertaining us, they instruct, lecture, and shame us. Instead of good-natured laughs or the passing on of information, it’s self-righteous sanctimony from humorless prigs who have deluded themselves into a sense of unearned superiority and importance to the world. God bless Gervais. His only goal was to entertain those of us watching on TV, and he knows nothing is funnier or more liberating than mocking a room full of people who can’t take a joke.”

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