Let's get one thing straight: Ricky Gervais is an absolute jerk.
He's incredibly condescending about his atheism, he's defended transphobia, he's mocked Anne Frank, and he's generally built a career around making people uncomfortable. He's also pretty f*cking brilliant. The original creator of the international phenomenon The Office, Gervais' brand of clever cringe humor has helped to shape the direction of comedy for the last decade. As such, he was tapped to host the Golden Globes first in 2010, when he quickly set a precedent for edgy jokes made at the expense of the award show's famous guests. His obvious disregard for the status quo and willingness to offend powerful people was oddly refreshing, earning the awards show some of their highest ratings in years, resulting in Gervais returning as host for a record five times as of 2020.
This year, Gervais quickly made it clear that he planned to go for shock factor even more than usual, saying, "You'll be pleased to know this is the last time I'm hosting these awards, so I don't care anymore. I'm joking. I never did." He then went on to absolutely lambaste the Hollywood establishment, earning many dropped jaws and even an irritated look from Tom Hanks. His most controversial comments included:
"Many talented people of color were snubbed in major categories. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about that. Hollywood Foreign press are all very racist."
" Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere and by the end his date was too old for him. Even Prince Andrew was like, 'Come on, Leo, mate.You're nearly 50-something.'"
"Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don't care."
And then, finally, perhaps most scathing of all, he closed with: "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*ck off, OK? It's already three hours long."
It soon became evident that many of the award presenters and winners ignored Gervais' advice. Michelle Williams called on more women to engage with politics, Jennifer Aniston delivered a brief speech calling for climate action on Russell Crowe's behalf, and Patricia Arquette denounced Trump and called on everyone to vote in 2020. And while each of these statements were met with applause from the audience, they also rang a bit hollow in the wake of Gervais' assertion that these ultra-rich, privileged celebrities know nothing of the real world. Jennifer Aniston is worth $240 million, Russell Crowe is worth $95 million, Michelle Williams is worth $16 million, and Patricia Arquette is worth $24 million dollars– meaning that each of these celebrities benefit from the system of late capitalism that has brought about the rise of the far right and climate change.
But isn't it still admirable that they chose to use their platforms for advocacy? Or is it simply hollow virtue signalling meant to make these extremely privileged people seem compassionate and "woke" in the eyes of the public? But if these kinds of statements make a positive impact regardless, does it matter? Do we have any reason to believe there is any positive change actually brought about because of political award show acceptance speeches? Is it all smoke and mirrors, like the rest of Hollywood?
Or maybe these aren't the right questions at all. Maybe what we should be asking is why anyone gives a sh*t what actors have to say in the first place. Gervais is right, at least, in that many of the glamorous guests at the Golden Globes aren't college educated, have been removed from the financial struggles of your average American for years, and generally exist in an isolated bubble of privilege. Though, one has to wonder what gives Gervais the right to engage in these conversations if he's so vehemently discouraging other celebrities from doing so. Afterall, his net worth is estimated at $130 million, so what does he know about the real world, either? One glance at his Twitter account makes it clear he is no stranger to political conversations, and he obviously takes great pride in feeling superior to other celebrities and Twitter users. One thing is clear: Gervais did not make such a controversial speech because of some genuine desire for change. He said what he said to stir controversy, to make himself feel superior, and to illicit reactions from the room. But that doesn't mean he was wrong.
Perhaps one has to ultimately conclude that all of it is nothing but a distraction from the only hope to save our world from its cycle of decay: big, structural change that can only happen as a result of a complete overhaul of our political system, culture, and collective perspective. Maybe celebrities have nothing to do with it. Maybe they're a part of the problem and can't be a part of the solution no matter how political they get when accepting shiny statues from antiquated and racist institutions.