Here’s a strong line from Ricky Gervais’s monologue at last night’s Golden Globes: “Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China.”
Simple, sharp, speaking truth to power, and nailing an obvious hypocrisy: check, check, check, check. But then Gervais went on to tear into the folks in the room:
Well, you say you’re woke, but the companies you work for [run sweatshops] in China—unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you? So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.
In a generally sour speech—Gervais had earlier emphasized how little he cared about the Golden Globes, and had suggested that Dame Judi Dench licks her nether regions—this was the acid-bomb climax. There was no conciliation, no wink in Gervais’s voice. It’s tempting to call this his moment of moral clarity, and it was likely aimed to be played on loop by Fox News and other outlets that make a habit of questioning Hollywood’s pieties. The passage is so close to saying the necessary thing about those pieties: that they’re often directed at broad causes rather than specific situations stars might actually have the power to change. But Gervais instead devolved into something more incoherent and regressive.
It’s certainly important to call out the business practices of the tech and media companies that have swallowed U.S. entertainment. Apple just admitted to violating labor laws in China. Amazon allegedly makes dangerous demands on its workers (the company denies this) and cuts deals with ICE’s detention-center contractors (which it defends as an acceptable business practice). Disney is accused of exploiting communities that live around its theme parks and spying on children (the company denies both accusations). Every controversial tactic, undeniably, gets laundered through the appeal of these companies’ entertainment divisions. It stands to reason that one of the few kinds of critics who could bring meaningful attention to such tactics would be the famous actors these corporations hire. If Gervais had made that idea the focus of his jeremiad, he’d have been breaking ground: confronting the most famous employees of America’s most important, and often ruthless, bosses.