Why Ricky Gervais is wrong

Ted Shiress, who has cerebral palsy, joins the 'mong' debate

Ricky Gervais sure knows how to get people talking about him, and his latest ‘stunt’ involves tweeting about how he likes to use the word ‘mong’.

Personally I think the term is an incredibly offensive one – as it’s racist. Yes, forget the question of degrading those with Down’s Syndrome for a second, the term came about due to alleged similarities between the eyes of those with Down’s Syndrome and those from Mongolia.

Accuse me of disablism if you must, but this is what I believe makes the term so offensive. Gervais seems to be arguing this word should be deemed acceptable for more common use, however I can’t think of any other word with such a strong connotation with racism that has been deemed anything less than strictly taboo.

A second issue I have with Gervais’s words is they seem to be remarkably similar to a great Louis CK routine about how he just likes the sound of the word ‘faggot’ and to him it never meant gay.

Considering how close the pair appear to be I do find it slightly shocking how Gervais can easily nick some of CK’s material, and for that I suppose he deserves to be in a bit of trouble. However the important distinction between the two is CK’s words were part of a stand-up routine in a concert where his entire audience expects him to be edgy.

I really doubt CK would be tactless enough to say, void of any context, ‘I like using the word faggot’, and come to say that I have my doubts CK even truly feels that way.

The other problem with this term is it attaches itself to one specific medical condition which makes it far more offensive. Although I don’t recommend people use it, the term ‘cripple’ appears to be less offensive than the term ‘spastic’, because the former refers to just a general physical disadvantage while the other refers to a specific medical condition.

Abusive terms seem to become more offensive the more specific the type of people they are degrading; for example, if you saw someone openly masturbating in a library then described them with a derogatory term used towards those with Down’s Syndrome, you are inferring that behaviour is expected from someone with Down’s Syndrome. However, one of the reasons the term ‘retard’ is used more often is it just refers to someone who is mentally slow – not necessarily due to a medical condition.

This brings me on to a slightly awkward confession, I use the term ‘retarded’ a lot more than perhaps I should. When I am greeted by individuals who put on such sublime displays of total gob-smacking stupidity I admit to often wanting to ask the question ‘Are you totally retarded?’

I am not talking about those who are slightly below average at arithmetic, but those people you encounter who seem so stupid that you genuinely cannot work out how they manage to keep breathing. I know Richard Herring posed Gervais the question: ‘If you just mean idiot, why not just say the word idiot?’, and generally I agree with this. However, I still feel there are times when the word ‘idiot’ doesn’t cut it.

An ‘idiot’ might cut you up while driving or unfairly get his order before yours in a queue, although in the heat of the moment it might not seem this way both these actions require a level of intelligence. Even the term ‘total idiot’ is very weak, for instance you might come home and moan about what your ‘total idiot’ boss made you do – despite the fact that he has four degrees.

It is only words that are genuinely offensive to actual people that maintain their semantic punch; this is why there is simply no term as rewarding to use on a nasty person as ‘cunt’. I’m not condoning this, but I am quite sure that if that term didn’t have the horrendously degrading connotations with the female genitalia it just wouldn’t have its impact – or at least not for long. I suppose the only way around this is to constantly invent new words for incredibly thick or nasty people… So, I’ll start with the term ‘Osborne’.

But, back to the original point, I’m not in the business of going after Gervais for what he said but I’m not going to stop the backlash because I think he partially bought this one on himself.

Published: 20 Oct 2011

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