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Ricky Gervais: A Taboo Too Far? The Comic’s Use of “mong” Draws Fire

Posted on the 20 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Ricky Gervais: A taboo too far? The comic’s use of “mong” draws fire

Ricky Gervais' "mong" face. From his Twitter feed. http://twitter.com/#!/rickygervais

The Office is a sitcom that helped to define the Nineties – painfully self-aware, the “mockumentary” was one of the first of its kind, leading the way (Lord help us) to the abyss we’re now in with Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex. Its bumbling “star”, (who played the odious David Brent) Ricky Gervais, became an internationally recognised figure, with money, a perma-tan and even signs that he was losing his flab.

But is there now going to be a backlash? At the end of September Gervais made a series of tweets (on the social networking site Twitter), using the words “mong” and “div”, illustrated with pictures of himself doing “monged-up” faces. He’s come under fire from mental charities and followers. The arguments fall into two camps, with some defending his right to free speech, and others saying that one has a right not to be offended. One commentator has even rather cleverly shown how any kind of words can change their meanings…

“Dear fans. Don’t give the haters any attention. Those people aren’t really offended by the things I say – they are offended by my success,” tweeted Ricky Gervais, and quoted on The Independent.

Is this all a game? In a profile on The Independent, Alice Jones said that the actor “remained bullish”, defending himself with the iffy argument that “mong” means “dopey”. Breaking taboos is second nature to Gervais, his “raison d’être”. Previously, though, his clever shows have allowed him to get away with murder – but now, these ill-thought-through tweets may have landed him in it. He hasn’t lost any followers though – in fact he’s gained thousands. He has, after all, got a television programme to push – could he be making very calculated moves after all?

He’s wrong! No, he’s right! Sure, said Natalie Haynes, also in The Independent, comedians need to say things that make you think. She herself has done it – but “Retard” seems much less funny now. Just think about what gay comedian Rick Crom says – “faggot” is often shouted at gay people whilst “they’re being beaten up …. So, when you say it, it kind of brings that all back up.” Brendon Burns in the same paper said that it was horribly “self-absorbed” to want not to be offended. People who follow Ricky Gervais know what he’s going to say – he’s hardly “sneaking up on Catholic mothers.” Comedy is “becoming sanitised” – and he blames “business and money”, but the real price of a rich comedic scene is “hearing stuff you don’t like.” Otherwise we get into very dangerous territory.

He’s odious! Yes, but still… Nonsense, said Deborah Orr on The Guardian. Gervais just doesn’t understand that “mong” is “infradig”. Gervais is “a moron” – we should have seen it coming though. He was, after all, able to create the “bumptious and unlovable David Brent” – who at heart Gervais resembles. Gervais has to get rid of that impression, though, and he can only do it by a apologising for his “repulsive verbal thuggery”. Yes, countered Toby Young on The Daily Telegraph, he’s a “conceited, vainglorious, self-aggrandising little tick” – but he should be allowed to make jokes about whoever he wants.

Shut up, you Ricky! In fact, said The Guardian’s Joe Public blog, there’s “a new buzzword on Twitter”. It’s now being used to mean “misguided, foolish and just plain wrong”. It’s changed its meaning, of course – the word is “gervais”.

Perhaps he should take some advice from his onscreen persona:

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