Ricky Gervais
Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

I make it a habit to never watch any of the Hollywood award shows. To me, they serve as a grotesque manifestation of self-congratulatory debauchery stemming from people who are otherwise extraordinary in how ordinary they are.

Their sole claim to fame is that they play pretend. They don’t cure diseases, but they pretend they do. They don’t save puppies from burning buildings, but they pretend they do. They don’t save the world from cataclysmic natural disasters, but they pretend they do.  

Human brains have not evolved with the foresight of cinema so when the average person sees a famous actor who played a superhero in his or her last role, they respond in a manner that is akin to actually seeing and meeting the superhero who saved the world. This adoration bestowed on celebrities coupled with the wealth that they accrue turns them into our society’s royal class.

As I explained in an earlier Psychology Today post, it may be difficult then, for some celebrities not to succumb to a sense of narcissistic grandiosity: “I am a wealthy actor who is worshiped by millions of fans. Surely, my uninformed opinion on issues that I know next to nothing about is profound. Hey, members of the peasant class, let me lecture to you in a patronizing and condescending way about why you are immoral. I will guide you about whom to vote for, what to eat, and how to navigate through daily life because I play pretend on a screen.”    

Then Ricky Gervais happens. He steps into the room and smashes celebrities' privileged safe spaces. They are not used to being called out, let alone from one of their “own.” After all, Gervais is a world-famous celebrity in his own right, so he is part of the ecosystem of grand pretenders, and yet he possesses the fortitude to call out what he sees as their moral hypocrisy, baffling ignorance, stifling herd mentality, and nauseating virtue signaling. He does not suffer fools gladly.

Gervais stares at his pampered, narcissistic, and self-indulgent audience and tells them what millions of people are thinking, and he does it with spicy humor. Throughout history, great satirists have used their rhetorical abilities to challenge the powerful. Gervais is the latest instantiation of this long tradition: Namely, he uses his comedic talent to mock an out-of-touch elite class of professional fakers.  

In writing this post, I don’t wish to imply that actors do not offer substantive value to society. Art, literature, and cinema move us. They constitute an integral part of our greater culture and as such Hollywood certainly adds to the pantheon of human creativity. Epistemic humility though is a sorely lacking quality among some in the Malibu crowd. They are not always well-calibrated about what they know and that which they know nothing about. And yet, as perfect exemplars of the Dunning-Kruger effect (confident about one’s ignorance), they sometimes walk around pontificating about matters that the average elliptical machine is better equipped to speak about.

As such, continue to entertain us but please don’t pretend that you are more moral, more intelligent, and more virtuous than the rest of us. Gervais’s message resonates because he uses his star power to remind his colleagues that they are full of it, and in this sense, he is a celebrity of the people.