The culture of Hollywood has just been beautifully defined by two awards-show decisions. The first one was Brett Ratner being dumped as the director of ABC’s Oscars telecast after he said “rehearsals are for fags.” It wasn’t long before Ratner turned himself in for “negotiations” with the gay Anti-Defamation cops about doing P.C. penance.
The second one, just days later, was the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and NBC begging British comedian Ricky Gervais to host the Golden Globe Awards again – after he mercilessly insulted nearly everyone in Hollywood and ended last year’s program with a long list of thank yous, ending with “And thank you to God – for making me an atheist.”
Put the God-bashing aside for a moment. Gervais wasn’t doing winking “just kidding” jokes akin to Don Rickles that night. They weren’t even jokes. They were insults and they were brutal. Most memorable was mocking actor Robert Downey, Jr., who successfully overcame addiction after many years of failed rehabilitations, by listing some of his films and then adding "But many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail."
Downey later came on stage and smacked back. "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn't you?" Presenters Tom Hanks and Tim Allen also criticized Gervais on the show. Hanks declared, "We recall when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian," and Allen added "Neither of which he is now."
But some people in Hollywood are enraptured by comic decadence. In The Hollywood Reporter, Scott Feinberg celebrated another jumbo platter of Gervais wickedness: “What made Gervais so funny as a host and helped him to deliver great ratings for NBC over the past two
years is just that: his willingness to say what everyone is already thinking but nobody else will dare say.”
When Feinberg says “everyone” is thinking just like Gervais, he’s not talking about America (starting with the God-is-a-cruel-fiction part). He means Hollywood. It’s in the 90210 zip code where apparently everyone likes to stab everyone else behind his back, where character assassination comes naturally as a price of doing business, and if you score, you’re a sensation.
The vaunted return of Gervais is just another living landmark of how the entertainment industry has put civility through the shredder and embraced mean-spiritedness with gusto. You see it everywhere. The typical hit sitcom now has gone from being centered on a lovable character like Bill Cosby or Mary Tyler Moore to a focus on a hopelessly debauched Charlie Sheen. Just look at the decline and fall of the kind-hearted celebrity roast. What Dean Martin offered was hilarity and class. Today? Comedy Central doesn’t so much “roast” a celebrity. It drops them into a deep fryer.
It would be easy for critics of Hollywood’s perversity to enjoy the notion of Hollywood eating itself on live television. It’s also easy to imagine that there’s an enormous amount of false flattery and pretension in Hollywood that would seem fun to skewer. But hosts like Gervais teach that verbal cruelty is the path to fame and fortune. Step on everyone else’s hands as you climb the ladder.
It’s the car-wreck formula: NBC is banking on everyone tuning in to see who will get verbally abused. Gervais hit Twitter and warned Billy Crystal "He'd better not use any of my holocaust or pedophile material" on the Oscar broadcast. He also tweeted “Ha ha hello. Welcome to my world” accompanied by a picture of him lighting a cigar in front of a wall of flames.
There’s no danger in being an atheist in Hollywood. It’s an honor. But let’s not award Gervais points for sincerity. In the last year, Gervais has sermonized in print about his atheism at both Christmas and Easter. In each, he claimed he stood...for kindness. At Christmas he wrote, “[T]hat’s where spirituality lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. ‘Do this or you’ll burn in hell.’”Then he proclaimed: “You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.”
Then at Easter, he concluded, “God or not, if I could change one thing for a better world, it would be for all mankind to adhere to this little gem: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ I assure you, no more stones would ever be thrown.”
Don’t bet on Gervais playing nice and putting his bucket of rocks down. NBC is paying him for the privilege of casting the first stone, and many more.