Ricky Gervais: Mong 2.0

Posted by Tim Ireland at October 20, 2011

Category: Humanity

This entry was posted on
Thursday, October 20th, 2011
10:11 am and is filed
under Humanity.

Let’s take Ricky Gervais at his word and assume he is being sincere when he says he is merely reclaiming the word ‘mong’:

Gervais grab: 'mong' means 'div' or 'gimp', nothing BAD!

Because it is not a slur against any handicapped group, or a reference to any handicapped person or condition, it merely means ‘div’ or ‘gimp’ (source), and…

Gimp is only a word, you know.

Hang on, let’s start again…

Let’s take Ricky Gervais at his word and assume he is being sincere when he says he is merely reclaiming the word ‘mong’… while wanting to stay out of the relevant debate, obviously:

Gervais version of debate: putting it out there then running in the other direction.

Hang on, let’s start again…

Let’s take Ricky Gervais at his word and assume he is being sincere when he says he is merely reclaiming the word ‘mong’:

You would think from his time on the 11 o’clock show that Ricky Gervais would have observed some reactions to Ali G and developed at least a vague awareness of the risks of satire being misread. Now, depending on the subject matter, the goal, the audience and the execution, sometimes these risks might be warranted, and sometimes they might be open to criticism*.

[*Does not equal a call for anyone to be banned. Is merely a component in what is often called a ‘debate’; something Mr Gervais wishes to engage in while running away and calling his critics names.]

For example, if you were going to attempt to reclaim the word ‘mong’ you would want to at least spend a few seconds thinking about the potential targets of a word that is still used in a hateful sense, and you would probably want to have a goal beyond wanting to use the word yourself to mock a dim-witted mate or even yourself as part of your PR for a telly show.

A few seconds thought about those human beings might make you more wary of some fans who might miss the point (see: ‘street’ kids who took to mimicking Ali G as part of their shtick without a lick of irony or awareness). It might also stop you from defending your stance with an accusation that critics are merely offended (see: the dictionary, where ‘harm’ and ‘hurt’ are some distance away from ‘offence’, and not just because of that alphabetical nonsense). It could also prevent you from insulting those you have injured by positioning yourself as the victim.

Speaking of victims, here’s a poor dear who Ricky Gervais kindly retweeted because she complained about the ‘pounding’ she got when her comment against one of Ricky’s critics was RTed by that critic…

Gervais RTs an ickle victim

… and here is an earlier conversation from her timeline that suggests a possible reason for some of the hostility she is facing:

Gosh. Imagine being such a mong or spag, and by that I mean 'foolish person', that you are unable to walk.

Now, perhaps these comments from one of Ricky’s fans aren’t malicious/ignorant and are instead so deeply steeped in irony that the post-modernism is impossible to detect, but isn’t there at least the teeniest tiniest risk that either way these comments might somehow reinforce or even encourage further thoughtless, careless, or even malicious use of a word that causes harm in a way the able-bodied and able-minded might have a little trouble comprehending?

Further, if your comprehension of this harm was lacking, would you think it your place to take this kind of risk on behalf of any vulnerable person or group… and wouldn’t a celebrity with nearly half a million followers on Twitter want to be at least a little bit cautious about ‘reclaiming’ a word in these circumstances? Is Ricky Gervais really that confident in the intelligence and literacy of his fans?

To close, for no reason other than balance (*cough*) here is a random selection of recent tweets from Ricky’s fans pointing out that he is a genius. This being the case, perhaps I just don’t understand what a tight grip he has on this situation:

Ricky Gervais is a genius!

UPDATE (7pm) – Francesca Martinez is comedian who has worked with Gervais. She also has cerebral palsy, which would provide her with vital insight into this issue even if she hadn’t been called a ‘mong’ in the pejorative sense recently (and she has). Martinez has tweeted in support of the vulnerable generally and fellow comedian Richard Herring specifically; Herring has been copping some horrendous abuse as a result of his early and well articulated stance.

Here is a sample of related tweets from Martinez, including three of her most recent:

Tweets by Francesca Martinez

And below, a response from a Gervais supporter this evening that rather supports my point. Observe how faithfully it follows the pattern of Gervais talking down the careers/achievements of his critics as if that’s relevant to the argument:

Did I mention that Ricky Gervais is a genius?

This is what you are encouraging, Gervais. This is how your fans are reacting to your poor conduct and your pisspoor defence of same. Take a bloody look in your wing mirrors once in a while and wake up to yourself.


  1. @davidwhittam says

    I love how in every single one of those 'genius' comments, not a single one of them spell 'you're' correctly.

    • Tim_Ireland says

      Ah. You spotted that. You’d almost think I chose these tweets deliberately. :o) (Somewhere here is a point about the risk of the point of humour being missed.)

  2. Dave Cross says

    Presumably, in the eyes of the fans you quote, someone is a genius if they understand the complex English grammar rules that define the difference between "your" and "you're".

  3. Neuroskeptic says

    We all remember when David Brent was getting flack, his response:

    "'You beardy twat', 'Pug-nosed gimp', 'Lard Boy'… I tell them, 'What have you ever done on TV? Nothing. So don't…' Absolutely flabulous…' "

    This is basically Gervais's response with his claims that the "mong" critics are jealous of this success

  4. @Unity_MoT says

    Without wishing to defend Gervais, who's basically just a thoughtless asshole on this occasion, I would argue here that the meaning of 'gimp' has changed to the extent to which its rarely used these days to refer to a physical handicap.

    However, what interesting about that – and what Gervais seems not to understand – is how and why the meaning of gimp has altered.

    Part of the reason is that the word was already falling into general disuse anyway, so the cultural association with disability had already become pretty weak before Tarantino stepped in and redefined the term by creating the character of 'The Gimp' in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's gimp is a such a strong visual image, and one that is – crucially – entirely unrelated to the old meaning of the word that it has very quickly overidden that meaning. Say gimp today, and what the overwhelming majority of people imagine is someone dressed from head to foot in rubber – disability just doesn't come into it.

    The same is, quite obviously, not true in respect to 'mong'. The 'revised' meaning of the term is quite clearly still a derivation of its origins as a pejoritive reference to Down's Syndrome as are the facial contortions that are commonly used in conjunction with the word. Unlike 'gimp' there is no clear break with the past and its for that reason that Gervais's arguments don't wash.

    • Tim_Ireland says

      Reading the first half of your comment, I was about to reference Pulp Fiction myself just before pointing out that matching it with ‘div’ colours it just enough for it not to be mistaken for someone who enjoys rubber clothing, confined spaces and what have you… but yes, I see your point.

  5. Tom Williamson says

    Good stuff Tim. One of the problems I have with Gervais 'reclaiming' the word mong is that he doesn't want to reclaim it, just use to it as a general derogatory term in exactly the same way that schoolchildren might use the word 'gay'. Trouble is, that is exactly how it shouldn't be used. I've seen on Urban Dictionary that one definition of 'mong' is 'man thong', which is fair enough. I don't think he realises what he is encouraging, an dI for one have been really put off him by this. Anyway, here's my take:

  6. @IanHirst62 says

    I am fairly new to Twitter so bear with me. I think I read Mr Gervais claiming he never uses the C-word because he knows just how offensive it can be but seem happy for his minions to hurl that word at Richard Herring.

    • Gustav says

      A surprising claim considering he uses the word on his first stand-up DVD referring to people wearing berets at university.

  7. Chris says

    Each to their own, of course. For me, I don’t find stuff like this offensive and likely never will.

    For me, freedom of expression is too important and success of that expression is dictated by the wider public. Ie, let him say what he wants – if people are offended enough, they’ll stop buying his stuff and the issue solves itself. If people do find it funny, then who are we to tell those people they’re not allowed to hear that sort of humour again? What sort of nanny state are we promoting?

    Freedom of speech/expression isn’t a pick and choose thing – you either agree with it or you don’t. We can’t support Brian Haw (RIP) and berate the minority who were offended by his presence, then sit and loudly complain about someone else’s freedom expression while we’re in the minority. That’s nothing but hypocrisy, and it’s something I don’t buy into – none of us are in a position to tell anyone else what expression is OK and what isn’t. Yes yes, I get they’re veeery different examples – but when you break them down to the basics, it’s basically 2 guys exercising their right to express themselves how they see fit.

    And this applies to everything. I wouldn’t tell a person they couldn’t say “nigger”, for example, although I have enough faith in humanity that the majority of us would understand how inappropriate it was and ruin them as a result. Mong? Not so much. I called enough people that at school, I’d be a hypocrite for making out I’m offended by it now.

    My conclusion – storm in a teacup, and pointless outrage over nothing. I note Gervais has gained nearly 100k followers since I last looked a couple of days ago – that doesn’t strike me as a clear-cut example of someone who’s “crossed the line”.

    • Tim_Ireland says

      But it is not about mere 'offence'.

    • caz says

      " I called enough people that at school, I'd be a hypocrite for making out I'm offended by it now."

      Really? You think people shouldn't "make out they're offended" by something (nice implication that they're not really) if it's something they did at school? Personally, I've matured a bit since my schooldays, and become more thoughtful of other people, and generally less of a teenager. And are you just ignoring the way that words and their acceptableness/connotation change over the years?

      As for freedom of speech, it applies just as much to people criticising Gervais (or Haw) as it does to Gervais (or Haw) in the first place. Obviously.

  8. @littlekeithy says

    'And this applies to everything. I wouldn't tell a person they couldn't say "nigger",'

    I would, why an earth would you let that word go. Freedom of expression means freedom of criticism. Voltaire's famous dictum included "I may disagree with you…" and he was a product of the enlightenment and spent most of his life disagreeing with people.

    What i find most disappointing about this argument is not that Gervais and his supporters think that mong is ok, I am not one of his fans, but the censorious attitude taken towards anyone who disagrees. Disagreement is the lifeblood of freedom of expression otherwise it is just the freedom of the ideas supported by the most powerful in society. How else do you think society evolves its ideas except through criticism? (ok material conditions but criticism still has a role to play).

    The acid test is whether Gervais or his supporters believe racist abuse is ok. I get the feeling that most of them don't for the simple reason they would be criticised heavily or end up being beaten up. Maybe there is a lesson there for disabled people. Force wins out over ideas.

  9. Carl Eve says

    The saddest part of this for me is that while ethnic groups, gays and the majority of disabled were able to fight back against the negative words casually used by others as descriminatory put downs, those who have Downs cannot fight back.
    Instead, it is left to their parents, their relatives, their carers and others to stand up and say "I don't want that word being used to take the piss out of someone, because it ends up being yet another epithet used by idiots who think it's cool to be rude to people with Downs"
    One character on Holy Flying Circus the other night was given the line "Tim, pull a face like a mong" in an effort to gurn at the camera as Python's spoke about censorship. But that character was clearly meant to be an odious, shouty, rude, offensive prick who care nothing for others, merely for their desire to be given a Bafta for making a gripping TV show. And doesn't that sound familiar?

    • Tim_Ireland says

      Well said. Gervais cited the Holy Flying Circus use of 'mong' in his defence, which is nice.

  10. therealsim_o says

    For such genius of comedy, his comeback of 'You're jealous' to his critics of anything he's done, isn't really that witty.

  11. Adrian Morgan says

    Apparently there is no record of Voltaire actually saying "I may disagree with what you say… but I would defend to the death your right to say it" – it was apparently first written down in 1906 in a book where it was given as a summation of Voltaire's ethos.

    But my pedantry aside, Tom Williamson's comment: "One of the problems I have with Gervais 'reclaiming' the word mong is that he doesn't want to reclaim it, just use to it as a general derogatory term…"

    is spot-on. As is Carl Eve's commentary.

    Gervais' humour as presented on TV nowadays is all about the humiliation of others, and acting like a clasrooms bully. He likes to act self-righteous too, when caught out, and needs his army of defenders to validate and support him – in all respects, this is how a classroom bully operates.

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