Friday, January 20, 2023

No, but seriously....

[Contains strong language]

I'm sorry if I have in the past said unpleasant things about dogs. I am personally not a dog person; but some of my dearest friends are, and I would not hear a word said against those very nice people who obviously get a lot of companionship and pleasure from owning furry shit factories that sniff your bollocks and masturbate on your leg. And I am quite sure that all you dog people would not say a word against me, either, just because I get a lot of happiness and enjoyment from drowning puppies. 

Of course I don't actually drown puppies. In fact I volunteer at the local vets....because I enjoy putting dogs to sleep. I enjoy it most when it's some kid's pet and I can make them cry. 

I actually have a private doggie abattoir in my flat. Every morning I round up dogs from the local dog park and slaughter them. Very humanely, of course. With a meat cleaver. And then I mince them up and serve them to my visitors. Don't look so shocked, it's all meat. No-one can tell the difference. Spaghetti bolognaise -- minced dog. Bacon butties -- sliced up dog. "Andrew, why is that Victoria sponge wagging its tail?" "Andrew, why do those Jaffa cakes smell of dog-shit?" "Why is the lasagne trying to shag my leg?" 

You know I don't mean any of this. I would never hurt a dog or any other of God's creatures. Not while anyone was looking, anyway.

No, but seriously...

How do you react to this kind of thing? You can basically go in one of five directions.

1: You know that, as a matter of fact, I am really not a dog person. You don't suspect me of actually slaughtering people's pets; but the riff is a ludicrously exaggerated statement of a genuine dislike of dogs.

2: You believe that as a matter of fact I am a dog person. What I am doing is presenting a grotesque parody of a dog-hater: what you are really laughing at is the ludicrous idea that anyone could possibly dislike something so obviously cuddly. At some level, we both think that non-dog people are cruel, foul mouthed monsters like the one I'm pretending to be.

3: It's not about dogs at all. It would be just as funny if I were talking about eating pigeons, gerbils or P.E teachers. What you are laughing at is the pompous cross man, and the whole idea that someone could treat grotesque cruelty as if it were a harmless hobby. (It's not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon.)

4: The content is irrelevant: the riff is merely a pretext for me to say "shit" and "masturbate" as often as possible, because (we are agreed) defecation and masturbation, or at any rate, talking about them, is just funny.

5: It's just not funny. At all.

Whatever direction you go in, you probably agree that talking about killing puppies is not the same as actually killing puppies. My comic riff is not going to cause anyone to actually dog-nap a pooch and serve him up in an Irish stew. 

So, that's all right then.

Isn't it?

Ricky Gervais came in for a lot of criticism after a comic monologue called Supernature appeared on Netflix. LGBTQ+ charities went so far as to say that some of his material was dehumanising and actually dangerous to transexual people.

And unquestionably, his comedy is in terrible taste: he jokes about penises (incessantly), masturbation, death, funerals, pedophilia, obesity, and at the beginning and the end of the act, trans people. (He mostly stays away from racism.)

At the beginning of the talk, he pre-emptively defends himself. His material, he says, is ironic.

Now, irony is a slippery word. If at breakfast I accidentally dip my clean tie in my fried egg, I might say "That was clever." You would understand me to be using irony: what I really meant was "That was stupid."

But when Jane Austen (who is a better writer than me) says "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" we understand her to be using irony as well. But she hasn't said the opposite of what she thinks. She isn't saying that everyone agrees that no rich singleton ever wants to get married. She isn't saying that the idea that well-off bachelors are often on the look-out for partners is so obviously false that it has never occurred to anyone.  I suppose it comes out as "When some of the characters in this story meet an unmarried man, they sometimes assume that he wants to get engaged, but this isn't necessarily the case." It takes us a little while to work out exactly what she does mean. That's why it's funny.

It is quite rare for someone writing ironically to find that their words have been taken at face value. We are told that some people in the eighteenth century thought that Jonathan Swift was seriously advocating cannibalism, but that is pretty hard to believe. Paul McCartney put nonsense lyrics to Get Back because he was afraid that people might not realise that his first version ("don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs!") was not meant to be taken seriously. But that was because it was not very good or interesting satire, however well-meaning his intentions. 

Ricky Gervais defines irony thus: 

“That’s when I say something I don’t really mean, for comic effect, and you, as an audience, you laugh at the wrong thing because you know what the right thing is. It’s a way of satirising attitudes.”

Right thing. Wrong thing. Satire. You laugh at me saying "I like killing dogs" because you know that I don't like killing dogs. Killing dogs is a Wrong Thing. Being kind to dogs is a Right Thing. But by saying the Wrong Thing, I expose and criticise prevailing attitudes. 

It's like the story of Warren Mitchell being approached by a fan after a particularly pungent episode of Til Death Us Do Part. 

"I enjoyed you having a go at all the immigrants on TV last night" 

"I wasn't having a go at the immigrants. I was having a go at arseholes like you."

Let's test this theory against some of Gervais' actual material.

"I've got no problem with praying. I know loads of nice Christians and Moslems and Jews. And if one of my family is very ill, they always say 'I'll pray for them' and I say 'Thanks very much'; because it's a nice gesture. If they say 'We also cancelled the chemotherapy' I say 'Oh, don't do that'. Let's do the praying AND the chemotherapy. 'Cos that's the same result as just the chemotherapy. Let's definitely keep that one, shall we?"

I can think of four more or less plausible ways in which this could be read "ironically".

1: The speaker is a Christian. He is pretending to be a cynical atheist in order to expose and criticise the foolishness of atheism. The Wrong Thing is the idea that prayer does no good. The Right Thing is that the power of prayer is real. The audience laugh because they believe that praying for a cancer patient would do real, measurable good.

2: The comedian is a clever atheist, pretending to be a stupid one, in order to expose and criticise the wrong-headedness of the extreme New Atheist position. The Wrong Thing is his naive belief that Christians see prayer as an alternative to practical action. The Right Thing is that Christians are sensible pragmatic people with a sophisticated theological understanding of prayer and medical interventions going side by side.

3: The comedian is a nice atheist pretending to be a nasty one, in order to expose and criticise the cruelty of some anti-religious rhetoric. The Wrong Thing is to cynically mock people's sincere beliefs; the Right Thing would be to treat faith with respect, even if you don't share it. 

4: The speaker is an atheist, using situational irony to mock a contradiction in some Christian's behaviour. The Wrong Thing is the suggestion that Christians would even want to terminate a cancer patient's treatment because they had prayed for them. The Right Thing is that Christians want chemo as much as anyone else. This exposes and criticises the fact that Christians themselves don't really believe in the power of prayer.

He continues

"Do you remember a few years ago that terrible disaster in Oklahoma?...And I donated to the Red Cross, and I tweeted about it, with a link saying you can donate too. And one of those frivolous entertainment magazines from America tweeted 'Beyonce and Rhianna send prayers to Oklahoma.' And I tweeted back going 'Oh, I feel like a cunt now, I only sent money.'"

This is certainly ironic. He doesn't feel like a cunt. If anything he feels that the two singers are cunts. But what, in a more general sense, is the Wrong Thing in this case?

Is it Wrong to believe that money is more efficacious than prayer in the wake of a  disaster? In which case the Right Thing (which we agree on) is that spiritual help is sometimes just as good or better than practical action. You are troubled by many things, Ricky, but one thing is needful, and Beyonce has chosen the good part. 

Or is the Wrong Thing that he got annoyed by what someone said on Twitter? (The Right Thing would have been not to care.) 

Or is the Wrong Thing that he used the c-word? (The Right Thing would have been to send a politely worded e-mail.) 

I submit that there is no irony whatsoever in either passage. He is saying what he actually believes, and what he expects the audience to believe. "Christians say their prayers" is assumed to be just-funny, like flatulence, bottoms and the word "weasel".

Here is another, relatively harmless, section, about men's changing rooms.

"If I'm in a public place, I have a shower, one minute, towel, corner, pants on. But there's blokes walking around naked before the shower, talking to each other, after the shower, and there was one bloke, spent far too long in the shower, walked, no towel, dripping wet, up to the mirror, and started doing his hair..."

Right thing; wrong thing; irony, satire. If this were ironic, we would suppose that the comedian, who is relatively comfortable with nudity, is pretending to be very inhibited in order to hold prudish people up for ridicule. The Wrong Thing is his being bothered about a man brushing his hair with no underwear on, from which we can infer the Right Thing -- that gym showers are essentially nude spaces. 

I think there is probably a generational divide between men who are fairly relaxed about communal changing and men who are relatively embarrassed by it. It probably depends on what the practice at your old school was. This could certainly be the basis for situational comedy. (I could imagine a Mr Bean routine in which one guy does contortions to keep his towel around himself without noticing that none of the other chaps have anything on at all.) 

So far as I see, there is no irony here. He's saying what he actually thinks; insinuating that the uninhibited are actually exhibitionist. For the purposes of this kind of comedy, the whole idea of nakedness -- the mere brute fact that men have penises -- is Just Funny.

Look -- men's locker rooms. Ha-ha! 

A riff about Time Travel is more promising. People always imagine that if they had a time-machine, they would go back and kill Hitler. But this would be a bad choice for two reasons. No-one knows what the result of killing Hitler would really be. His death would necessarily change every other event in world history since 1889: we don't know what the end result would be. Gervais effects to be concerned that the death of Hitler would negatively impact on him personally.  "I wouldn't change anything even if I could" he explains "My life's too good!" And secondly, the infant Hitler looked the same as every other baby. ("Have you seen Hitler when he was a baby? Oh my god! Absolutely adorable.") So people who say they would kill Hitler are saying they would be prepared to strangled a beautiful baby. 

The Wrong Thing here is the suggestion that preserving your own comfortable life is more important than averting the holocaust. Gervais is presenting himself as meaner and more self-centred than he really is; with the implication that everyone else is mean and self-centred as well. And although he doesn't say so directly, there could be a slither of satire: even though time travel doesn't really exist, we all prioritise our own comfort over the possibility of a better future. Isn't "my life's too good" precisely the reason we don't take steps to avert climate disaster or abolish third world sweatshops?

If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that child would grow up totally evil, to become a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child? It's a good question: I seem to think I have heard it somewhere before. It's usually framed in the form of the Trolly Problem: there is a difference between wishing that someone was not alive and personally taking steps to kill them. Perhaps there shouldn't be, but there is. 

At any rate, there is no straightforward irony in the piece. "You wouldn't kill Hitler because he was cute" isn't quite being presented as a Wrong Thing; "Obviously you ought to kill Hitler" isn't self-evidently Right. 

It would be interesting to know if Gervais really did have had Genesis of the Daleks in mind when he talked about killing babies and wondered if some things might be better with Hitler than without him. He talks about the space-time continuum and worries that changing history might make him "a bit more ginger."

The "cute Hitler" observation is a set-up for a digression about the fact that he has a picture of the infant Hitler on his phone, and the conclusions that some people might draw from that. This turns into a grotesque excursion about pornography and pedophilia."What if I do masturbate over it? What if it's the only thing I masturbate over? There's no victim, no crime..." and so on, for several minutes.

No-one thinks that Ricky Gervais really uses historical photos pornographically. (SPOILER: I have never eaten a dog.) So is he engaging in social satire: exposing and criticising the gap between our laws and our values? Is he saying "There would be nothing wrong with masturbating over Hitler" because there obviously would be? Is he saying "It's a victimless crime" because the law takes the strongest possible view of any sexualisation of children? Is he pointing out that behaviour which most people would think of as completely depraved might, in fact, be technically legal; while actions which are in themselves pretty harmless might actually be against the law? Is he asking if there is any difference between the feelings of "yuck" which would make us hold back from smothering Hitler in his cradle and the feelings of "yuck" we get when a grown man starts going on and on about playing with himself?

No, of course he bloody isn't. It's mere low comedy. We laugh at the outrageousness, the taboo breaking, the bodily fluids. And the coining of the word "wankorium". 

I don't care for this kind of thing. I'm not bothered by the guy in the gym brushing his hair with no pants on. I've probably been that guy. But I am squicked out by jokes about "pictures dripping with forty years of cum". But some people evidently find it very funny indeed. 

The most troubling aspect of the show was the two routines about transexual people. You've almost certainly heard the lines quoted already:

"Oh, women. Women. Not all women. I mean the old fashioned women. You know, the ones with wombs. Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women we've been seeing lately. The new women. The ones with beards and cocks."

And then

"And now the old fashioned women are like 'Ooo, they want to use our toilets'.

'Why shouldn't they use your toilets?'


'They are ladies, look at their pronouns. What about this person isn't a lady?'

'His penis.'

'HER penis, you fucking bigot!'

You get the general idea.

To repeat myself, reiterate, and to say the same thing more than once: how is this ironic? Is the joke that Gervais is perfectly comfortable with transexual people and is pretending that he thinks anatomy determines gender in order to expose and criticise the attitudes of people who really do think that way? Are we to take it that "women don't have penises" and "trans women should not be allowed to use ladies' loos" are Wrong Things and everyone is laughing because  "trans women are women" is obviously Right?

That's not what's happening. The audience is not whooping and applauding a comedically wrong thing. They are whooping and applauding because they agree with the point being made. Gervais really thinks Christian prayer is a waste of time. He really thinks that men should cover themselves up in changing areas. And he really thinks that it is absurd that a person with a beard and penis might go by "she" and want access to a ladies' lavatory.

Satire involves distortion and exaggeration. But he is not satirising and distorting the so-called gender critical position. He is simply saying what they say, every day, in every newspaper and every social media outlet in the land, right before they complain about being silenced. It's the trans women, or their supporters, who are presented as grotesque, loud, sweary caricatures, screaming that anyone who doesn't see things their way is a fucking bigot. 

He knows that the material is problematic, because he goes back to it at the end of the act. He says that jokes are not a window to the comedians soul: a comedian might pretend to be right wing, left wing, clever, stupid -- whatever makes the joke funny. He says that when he jokes about famine and the holocaust, people know that he doesn't mean it: but when he jokes about "identity" they assume he does. This is all very fair comment. And then: 

"Full disclosure: in real life, of course, I support trans rights. I support all human rights, and trans rights are human rights. Live your best life. Use your preferred pronouns. Be the gender that you feel that you are. But meet me halfway, ladies: lose the cock."

I see what you did there. An amusing comic contradiction. I never swear: what the devil do you mean? The two things I hate most are racial prejudice and black people. Don't tell him, Pike!

That is the formula. Say something very reasonable and conciliatory. Slip in something very offensive at the end. Do an absurd improvisation on the offensive bit. Add that you don't really mean it. Rinse and repeat. 

It's okay, dog lovers, I didn't mean a word of it. 

I bloody well did! 

No, honestly, I'm kidding. 

No, I'm not. 

Refined practitioners can keep it up for weeks at a time.

If I tell a funny story about a bear who eats so much honey he gets stuck in the doorway of his house; or create a sketch about a man in a restaurant who shovels so much food into his mouth that he literally explodes, you might say that I was making fun of fat people. I would respond that the material is not merely laughing at people because of their size: I have used the idea of obesity as one component in a comedic situation. I'm not saying my mother-in-law is fat, but yesterday she went out in a green dress and a troop of Boy Scouts pitched camp on her. 

But what would I say if my act involved pointing at fat people, literally or metaphorically, and saying "Fat people are fat. Isn't it funny that fat people are fat. Ha ha, fatty lard arse."

I might say: fat people are Just Funny. People laughed. My duty is to make people laugh by any means necessary. All's fair in love and stand-up.

And I might be right. But I couldn't, in the same breath, deny that I was making fun of fat people. 

Of course the rapid changes to our understanding of gender could be the source of absurdity, incongruity, misunderstanding, embarrassment -- or, in short, jokes. Of course "Her penis" still sounds odd to many people. Of course we can make fun of trans people, and gender critical people when they do silly things. But this material isn't ironic or satirical. It relies on us agreeing that the proposition "Some people happen to be trans" is just funny. 

Which is pretty much the exact definition of transphobia. Voltaire me as many Voltaires as you like. You don't get to say "Isn't it funny that black people are black?" and then deny that your material is racist.


I'm Andrew.

I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider backing me on Patreon (pledging £1 each time I publish an article.) 

 Pledge £1 for each essay.


Anonymous said...

Also and crucially, making it okay to say trans women are really men and shouldn’t use the ladies has an actual effect on the lives of trans women, and of cis women and non-binary people who don’t look feminine enough to suit bigots.

Anonymous said...

Comment from Nick M

Ricky Gervais may deal in irony but his fans seem totally unable to grasp it

Anonymous said...

I think Gervais and his fans understand the “irony” as a convenient way to avoid consequences for their bigoted views. Though there’s some flattery in the mix too - no one actually experiences serious consequences for transphobia but pretending they’re bravely going against public opinion makes them feel good

Anonymous said...

Also, I just remembered this thread by Roz Kaveney on the New Atheists’ war on postmodernism and the rise of public transphobia in the UK, which seems highly relevant:

Anonymous said...

Also, it’s pretty clear the target of the ‘trans’ routine isn’t people who suffer from gender dysphoria, but people who say that a man who suffers from gender dysphoria is in some sense ‘really a woman’.

In the same way that you can imagine a comedian doing a routine about those inter-net groups that give anorexics advice on how to avoid eating, etc, where the target would not be people so suffer from anorexia but people who say that anorexia is in some sense a basic lifestyle choice.

Anonymous said...

There’s a lot I could say here but I think I’ll just go on existing joyfully as a real trans woman instead

Andrew Rilstone said...

Could anonymous people possibly use initials or something so we know if we have one person posting four time or four people posting once each or some combination?

Nick M said...

will try my's hard not to post anonymously when Internet keeps demanding I identify traffic lights

Anonymous said...

Sorry - everything but Nick M and the troll is me.

- Sophie Jane

Achille Talon said...

Good post! The main point being well-made and agreed-with, I shall limit myself to ancillary comments.

I think the "if someone pointed out a child to you…" problem rides not only on whether there is a difference between "wishing that someone was not alive and personally taking steps to kill them", but on whether there is a difference between real lives and potential lives. You are not merely killing Baby Hitler — or, as the case may be, Davros — to prevent people who already exist from being killed, but to save the lives of people who have, themselves, not even been born yet; of abstract possibilities. And the trouble with *that* line of argument is that it might lead us not only to the dread abortion issue, but even further, to bizarre worldviews where ensuring that the birth rate rises as much as physically possible would be a moral imperative.

(Of course, time-travel makes all this more complicated by making "the people of fifty years from now", in a very real sense, just as physically-real to the time-traveller as "the population of Australia". This brings up another interesting avenue of moral investigation: forget about Baby Hitler, would it be really moral to erase everyone from our version of 2023 from existence, all to retroactively prevent the ultimately-smaller death toll of World War II? But, interesting as that question is for moral philosophers, it's got even less of a tether to any moral conundrums you might encounter in the real world.)

On an unrelated track: I think Winnie the Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit's burrow is not so much making fun of fat people as making fun of gluttonous people; "if you eat too much too quickly, there will be immediate bad consequences for you" is a sound lesson to teach little children, with little to do with short-term weight-gain. I certainly never came away from the cartoon with the impression that its thrust was that there was something inherently funny about being chubby at all; after all, Winnie was always on the rotund side, and quite cute too, and a Thin Pooh would look conspicuously Wrong. (I don't mean to take this too far: of course there is a *bit* of "it is funny when people are shaped weird and can't use ordinary accommodations" to the sequence. But I think it's incidental rather than the main target of the joke.) I say all of this not just for the heck of it, but because, even though on paper it could just as well be argued to be targeting "people who eat unhealthily/too fast", I feel quite differently about the Monty Python bit; there, I feel quite clearly that the "don't eat too much *at once*" satire is at best a fig leaf, and that most of the humour relies in the blunt "haha, weird gross large man" stuff rather than "haha, person reaps ironic consequence for minor vice".

Andrew Rilstone said...

A bear, no matter how he tries
Grows tubby without exercise
Our teddy bear is short and fat
Which is not to be wondered at
He gets what exercise he can
From falling off the ottoman
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back...

Children's books have an ambivalent attitude to fatness, actually. It's certainly true that we laugh with Winnie-the-Pooh, not at him. By the time it got to the TV, it was meant to be endearing that Orinoco womble was fat and lazy -- he was everyone's favourite character -- although in the original books he starts out as a rather rotten bully. Same with Billy Bunter, I believe: in the books he's pretty much just the butt of jokes ("the fat owl of the remove" = the obese retarded kid with glasses) but once it got to TV he was a comedic hero. A lot of this stuff was written when sweets were more expensive or even rationed so obesity was not a problem and weight was a sign of wealth. Oliver Hardy is huge, but it's connected with his pretentiousness.

Sudden thought: C.S Lewis is not above making fun of fat people, but the character who betrays his family for sugary treats is pointedly NOT overweight.

I think my point stands: size, gender, religion and race can be components of jokes, but to laugh at someone for being fat or black or gay is cruel (even if fat people are sometimes funny.)

I think that Gervais' screed and the Genesis of the Daleks sequence are playing on ideas of pity and squeamishness. I suppose the close analogy would be the fatuous Ticking Bomb scenario. Jack Bauer, you may recall, tortured a terrorist suspect's children in order to get information which would potentially save thousands of lives. (SPOILER: It was a ruse: they were actually actors.) But some of the people who argued that it really was Okay to torture terrorist suspects also said that it really would be Okay to torture their children, if it really would stop another September 11th.

I think that what would stop us killing baby Hitler or baby Davros is indeed that they are "cute": that we have a deep cut feeling against killing anything which looks like a child. (Hence "drowning puppies" being code for depravity.) Which works well in Genesis of the Daleks, because it's precisely that empathy, that "yuck" factor, which Davros has removed from the Daleks. Prof Richard Dawkins takes it for granted that morality means "the greatest happiness to the greatest number", to the extent that he once argued that aborting disabled foetuses was not only permissible, but obligatory (and any argument to the contrary was rooted in sentiment, and therefore invalid.) The Hitler scenario (and the trolly problem) kind of refutes that narrow view of utilitarian morality -- unless Dawkins thinks that Davros is right and we all ought to become Daleks. Which I sometimes think he really does.

The pity argument is often invoked, on both sides, but it never really proves very much.

"You say you support the death penalty, but would you be prepared to pull the lever"
"Well, you shouldn't be."

"You eat meat, but would you be prepared to work in a slaughter house."
"Of course"
"Well, that proves my point. Meat eaters are callous monsters and we shouldn't pay attention to the opinions of callous monsters."

"You say you are a pacifist, but would you kill a German who was going to rape your kids?"
"No, not even then."
"Well, then you must be a coward."

Achille Talon said...

Oh yes, your main point stands; I led with that! Just musing on specific examples.

I do still think "but *could* you, if you were stood in front of the crib with a gun?" is only part of the story. As you know, I'm not religious myself, but possibly a religious person might phrase the other half of the problem that I'm groping at in terms of "playing God".

After all, Cute Baby Davros is Moffat's later interpolation, but in “Genesis of the Daleks” itself the Doctor is faced with touching two wires to wipe our a bunch of goopy science experiments on a production line: that is, the immediate cuteness of the target is pointedly eliminated.

As such, I really do think the infamous "Do I have the right?" has less to do with the Trolley Problem as such, and more to do with "does one, mortal man have the right to erase millions of people from ever having existed, even if it's to save a greater number of millions? should any one person ever feel confident in making a choice of such magnitude?". Which rounds back to "what right has the time-traveller to erase the eight billion people currently in existence in the name of stopping some particular past evil"? Maybe in any given small-scale situation it can be correct to kill a particular Nazi, but can this extend unto infinity? Is it right to press a button and make all Nazis ever disintegrate into dust? I think you can be comfortable with small-scale trolley problems, and still recoil at the *scale* of such a decision. It's always "would it be moral to kill Baby Hitler", not "would it be moral to kill Baby Jack the Ripper".

Richard Worth said...

I have an idea for a fantasy TV show in which the main character complains about dwarves and goblins coming over here and taking our jobs: he is called Elf Garnett

Richard Worth said...

More seriously, there may be an issue about comedy being entertaining by being transgressive. I went to an old-fashioned school where the teachers were called Masters, and baiting them was an established part of being twelve, but the joke was in not saying the Rude Word. However, a certain amount of old-fashioned comedy, where you find lots of things to rhyme with Jeremy Hunt, depends on constantly stepping back from the edge, like an old-fashioned roller-coaster or an old-fashioned thriller or horror movie where the bad stuff happens just out of shot. Modern comedy may be more about actually crossing the line: less like dodgem cars where is fun to play at crashing, and more like a Formula One race where you kind of expect someone to crash and maybe not come out in one piece. I never took to 'Little Britain' in part not because it crossed the line, but because it loitered there being unpleasant without crossing back. I have not seen Mr Gervais in action, but it may be that having led the audience into some amusing but unpleasant territory, he doesn't find a good way to lead them back to where his moral compass actually lies.

laBiscuitnapper said...

I really liked how you broke this down as it's a discussion (for all my vim and ranting) I tend not to get too deeply into beyond elevating e.g. trans comedians and others who make the alternatives that y'know, aren't cruel.

But you're right. I think there's a hiding behind the word 'irony' and Gervais isn't even able to properly abide by his definition of it. Now, is he a total transphobe? I suspect his transphobia is less in degree than his anti-religious stance (and tb clear, saying this as a religious person, it is perfectly fine to be anti-religious. It might be annoying and when unthinking, can harm those from minority religions, but overall, I don't think it's a bad thing), but it's still in the vein of that liberal contrarian-ness against 'that which people are just meant to go along with as nice liberals' which punches down and doesn't want to own its origins in said contrarian-ness (which in itself is rooted in the irritation of those who don't know their place being too loud and obvious), rather than anything insightful or radical to say.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I must go back and look at the Doctor Who speech again. It occurs to me that the Doctor says that SARAH would not kill a baby in response to Sarah saying that the Doctor WOULD kill a deadly virus. The Doctor's initial misgiving is about essentialism vs utilitarianism: the Daleks are evil IN THEMSELVES, but the greatest good to the greatest number might be better served by very evil species existing. (The Time Lord's reason for intervening is that the Daleks will eventually wipe out all over forms of life in the universe, which is only a Bad Thing is you've decided in advance that diversity is better than uniformity.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

I must go back and look at the Doctor Who speech again. It occurs to me that the Doctor says that SARAH would not kill a baby in response to Sarah saying that the Doctor WOULD kill a deadly virus. The Doctor's initial misgiving is about essentialism vs utilitarianism: the Daleks are evil IN THEMSELVES, but the greatest good to the greatest number might be better served by very evil species existing. (The Time Lord's reason for intervening is that the Daleks will eventually wipe out all over forms of life in the universe, which is only a Bad Thing is you've decided in advance that diversity is better than uniformity.)