by Keaton Weiss
Ricky Gervais’ monologue at the Golden Globes this past Sunday is getting rave reviews, particularly from the right wing media. Greg Gutfeld, Fox News host and closest thing to a real comedian they could find to put on TV, called Gervais’ bit “a dream come true for anyone tired of Hollywood telling you how dumb and racist America is.” Sean Hannity’s website posted an all-caps headline, “RICKY RIPS HOLLYWOOD.” Ben Shapiro hasn’t stopped tweeting about it, and wrote a piece in which he celebrates Gervais’ monologue and piles on the humorless Hollywood elite who “swill from the ocean of self-aggrandizing leftism,” as he puts it.
Gervais himself was a bit puzzled by this praise, as he himself is certainly no right-winger. He tweeted in response, “How the fuck can teasing huge corporations, and the richest, most privileged people in the world be considered right wing?” He has a point. After all, he didn’t attack Hollywood from the right; he attacked it from the left, which is both why his monologue was so good, and why so many in the room hated it so much. Because Hollywood, contrary to what the right wing media would have you believe, isn’t actually “left.” It’s “liberal” – in the most nauseating way possible – and the actual left should renounce it.
Consider Gervais’ first real jab of the evening:
“But you all look lovely all dolled up. You came here in your limos. I came here in a limo tonight and the license plate was made by Felicity Huffman.”
The audience gasped. The camera cut to a visibly shocked and appalled Tom Hanks. To the Hollywood crowd, this joke was just too harsh. Too severe. Too mean. For those who don’t get it, Felicity Huffman was sentenced to jail (which for those who don’t know, is where license plates are made) for her role in the college admissions scandal, which included, among other acts, paying $15,000 to an admissions consultant to fake her daughter’s SAT score. She was sentenced to 14 days in jail, of which she served 11. An actual left wing audience would appreciate this joke, as it all importantly “punches up” at a privileged member of society whose $45 million net worth bought her a laughably light prison sentence despite having committed egregious fraudulent offenses. Not this audience, though. They were mortified.
Then, a few minutes later, Gervais said this:
“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. Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work…Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?”
That didn’t go over well either. Tim Cook himself was in the audience, and the rest of the crowd didn’t laugh much more than he did. Again, if Hollywood were actually the “ocean of self-aggrandizing leftism” that Shapiro says it is, this joke would have played wonderfully. But it didn’t, and that’s because, once again, Hollywood isn’t really “leftist.”
When it comes to labor, we needn’t even look to Hollywood’s partnerships with companies like Apple and Amazon. Just look at how they treat their own. Show business is as unequal a field as there is – a few celebrities sit at the top of the pyramid and live like royalty, while hundreds of thousands of struggling actors, writers, directors, producers, etc. barely make rent each month. The Screen Actors’ Guild has members like George Clooney and Robert Downey, Jr., each with nine-figure net worths, while only 15% of its members earn enough to even qualify for the union’s health benefits.
To the extent Hollywood projects its commitment to fairness in the workplace, it does so by invoking things like the gender pay gap to expose that Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence received only 7% of the profits from American Hustle while their three male co-stars each received 9%. Jennifer Lawrence would make headlines a few years later when she reportedly negotiated her salary for Passengers to $20 million vs. her male co-star Chris Pratt’s $12 million. This was a big moment for her, and I suppose it was supposed to be a big moment for everyone. After all, isn’t Jennifer Lawrence’s $20 million payday for a piece-of-shit movie no one even saw, a victory for all women everywhere? According to the “woke” liberal culture that dominates Hollywood, it is. According to the actual left, it isn’t.
And so there is one slight correction I’d like to make to something Ricky said in the aforementioned quote. He said, “You say you’re woke, but the companies you work for…Apple, Amazon, Disney…” I get what he’s saying there, but unfortunately, he’s making the same mistake that many amateur political observers make, which is that he’s conflating “wokeness” with “leftness.” The two terms are often used interchangeably, mostly by people who don’t follow politics very closely. On their part, this is an honest misunderstanding. But hyper-capitalist institutions like Hollywood, Apple, and Amazon, on the other hand, consciously project this “wokeness” precisely so they can appear “liberal” without actually having to be “left.” If the line had gone, “You say you’re left wing, but the companies you work for…” then he’d be exposing some real hypocrisy on their part, and this is no doubt how he meant it. But what Gervais himself, clever as he is, doesn’t quite get, is that Hollywood’s woke virtue signaling is what allows them to treat most of their workers like garbage and get away with it. Woke culture and brute capitalism go together by design. To shine a light on their coexistence is not to expose some embarrassing accidental juxtaposition, but rather to reveal a strategic smoke and mirrors act. In other words, they’re not “hypocrites” so much as they are simply outright liars and hucksters.
As the evening progressed, quite a few of the stars had something to say about the climate crisis and its ties to the horrific bushfires ravaging Australia as we speak. Jennifer Aniston read a statement from Russell Crowe in which he said, “The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based. We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way, we all have a future.” Cate Blanchett said “When one country faces a climate disaster, we all face a climate disaster. So we’re in it together.”
Joaquin Phoenix made what I suppose is the “furthest left” statement on this, saying:
“It’s great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. I hope that we can do that. We don’t have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the awards sometimes or back.”
Even Phoenix missed the mark, though. The solution to climate change does not depend on the rich and famous’ willingness to voluntarily inconvenience themselves in their personal lives by flying first class instead of private. It hinges on the macro-implementation of a Green New Deal, which would be financed through progressive and aggressive taxation of people like Joaquin Phoenix, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Aniston, and Russell Crowe. And I don’t recall any of them advocating for that. Again, their comments were all nice, and good, and liberal – ie, “we’re in it together” – but none of them were left.
And so, to the left, what good is Hollywood? Their annoying self-righteous woke virtue signaling makes them a liability in the culture war, and their reluctance to explicitly advocate against their own personal business interests makes them an enemy in the class war. This is why they’re so widely reviled, and this is why those on both the actual left and actual right took such pleasure in watching them squirm while Ricky Gervais tore them each a new asshole. And so the best we can do on the left would be to wash our hands of them, and disassociate from them entirely. Doing so not only allows us to enjoy a laugh at their expense from time to time, but more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to differentiate our brand of politics from that of the woke liberals. Because it’s their brand of identity politics-based neoliberalism, not “socialism,” that drives most of the country crazy. We might have been able to stomach them if they were meaningful allies in other areas, but they’re not. On economic justice issues, they’re too rich. On climate justice issues, again, they’re too rich. And on criminal justice issues, well…forget about that. They can’t even take a joke about Felicity Huffman.