PETA has just announced that their “Person of the Year” for 2013 is British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais. He’s not even vegan, and he has an obnoxious track record with women as well.
Having once dated a Brit who was positively obsessed with Gervais (he would even shower listening to his radio shows!), I am relatively familiar with his work. Gervais has a sort of cult-following (mostly men) stemming from several successful television series, movie appearances, radio shows, cartoons, comedy tours, etc. Most Americans recognize him from the British version of The Office. I will admit that I find some of his work pretty funny, but most of the time he leaves me scowling in disgust. He definitely leaves me very confused as to how he made “Person of the Year.”
Why isn’t Gervais Vegan?
After the announcement, Gervais tweeted from his Christmas shopping excursion, posting a photograph from a gourmet cheese shop. I can also attest, having seen two seasons of his program, An Idiot Abroad (a travel show starring his radio show’s producer Carl Pilkington), his respect for Nonhuman Animals is considerably limited.
An Idiot Abroad is the brainchild of Gervais and comedic partner Steve Merchant. Pilkington is infamously grouchy, so the show involves sending him to the far reaches of the world exploring, socializing, and completing tasks at the request of Gervais and Merchant. Many of the episodes feature the graphic torture and death of Nonhuman Animals, usually for jokes at Pilkington’s expense. In one episode, he was made to ride a camel across the desert, though the camel resisted horribly, eventually collapsing. The entourage had to summon a pickup truck to cart the crew and spent camel for the remainder of the journey.
In another episode, Pilkington visits China, where “bizarre” Chinese food was highlighted. Pilkington was specifically sent to a home where a satchel of frogs were killed in front of him (bashed against a stone) and then cooked and served as dinner. This was arranged specifically because he had complained to Gervais and Merchant at the beginning of the show that he would not be eating any “weird” foods. While shooting in South America, they arranged for Pilkington to enter a cross-country running tournament (for which he was doomed to lose) with the life of a goat at stake.
In another country, Pilkington was sent to a snake charmer, where we finally hear Gervais second guess the ethical implications of the plot. He phones Pilkington to inquire whether or not the snakes were treated poorly. Seeing as how it was a tourist trap intended to wow visitors with irate snakes, one can only guess as to their welfare.
These are only a few of many instances of blatant Nonhuman Animal suffering in Gervais’ program. Really, PETA may as well be awarding Andrew Bourdain of No Reservations or Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods.
Rape Jokes and Cunts
Perhaps my first real introduction to Gervais was his stand up special Out of England. I found myself laughing and enjoying it quite a bit…until he randomly inserted a rape joke. My stomach knotted and the laughs were over. Amid some glib about endangering an elderly woman while drinking and driving, he blurts: “I nearly knocked this old woman over…but I didn’t. I raped her.”
He’s also a huge fan of using the word “cunt” and “twat” as an insult. While I enjoy a lot of his comedy and his outspokenness about atheism and have tried to follow him on his social networking sites, within about two days I’m sick from seeing misogynistic slurs fill up my newsfeeds and find myself unfollowing him again. I understand that the British are more “free” with their misogynistic slurs (which, to me, is no excuse and would be no different than my attempting to defend my fellow Southerners as freely using the “n-word” because they “don’t mean it like that”), but seriously, Gervais is too much.
Disableism for Fun
Gervais has also come under criticism for regularly calling people “mongs” (racist British slang for mental retardation; short for Mongoloid). His programs regularly use disability as the butt of jokes as well. An Idiot Abroad has Pilkington visiting little people “villages,” yogis with severe disfigurements, and other exploitative “tourist attractions.” In Season Three, Pilkington is paired up with actor Warwick Davis, as Davis is a little person and Pilkington is famously fascinated with “freaks.” Of course the title of the program itself reeks of disableism.
Gervais’ current television success, Derek, stars Gervais as a lovable mentally retarded man living in a nursing home. Something I consider the disability version of black face.
A Confused Movement
Surely no one is perfect, and Gervais has done a lot to raise awareness about the suffering of some animals. But, really, PETA is really setting the bar low this time around. It seems PETA was really happy to see Gervais suggesting that Michelle Bachman, who famously killed a lion on a hunting expedition, be shot herself. Of course, men shoot and kill lions all of the time, but because this was a female celebrity, she made for an easy target…especially for known misogynists like Gervais and PETA.
The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is not likely to make any serious headway so long as it celebrates those who enact violence against the vulnerable, be it women, disabled persons, or other animals. PETA and other large non-profits are, for better or for worse, the face of the movement and have a responsibility for upholding our goal for a just world. If PETA is awarding known abusers like non-vegans, slaughterhouse designers, fast food chains, and “meat” industries, what does this say about the integrity of animal rights?