During the last year I have heard racism and public displays of racism against Gypsies and Travellers passed off as ‘Banter” and now it seems that comedians some of whom find it acceptable to earn their laughs by insulting and ridiculing Gypsies and Travellers might have found themselves a passport word thanks to the sometimes controversial Ricky Gervais.
Ahead of the launch of his film life on the road which is due to be released on August 19th Ricky Gervais has a released a video of his song ‘Lady Gypsy”
[ #LadyGypsy ] While many are greeting it with delight this is not the case for UK’s Gypsies and Travellers who feel not only deeply insulted by the video and the words of the song but are also feeling a genuine fear based on bitter experience that this portrayal of a Gypsy women will impact so very badly on an already marginalized community.
The video shows Gervais’s alter-ego David Brent loosing his virginity after a chance encounter in the woods with a lady who was described as ‘a Traveller – but she was pretty – and clean”. As he is lain down in a patch of heather he questions if the woman is a hooker – she explains that she is not a hooker ‘the sex is free’ but a sprig of heather will cost him one pound.
Since tweeting Ricky Gervais to voice disgust a number of his Twitter followers have taken the time to contact me to kindly explain the niceties of satire, and have questioned my right to be insulted. It is possible they assume that as a Romany Gypsy woman I might not understand -but please rest assured that I really do understand satire,…and I’m still insulted.
Ricky Gervias himself responded to me stating,
“ You clearly haven’t seen the office or the new movie yet. Relax. He accidentally insults everyone” –
I can’t say that really made me feel a whole lot better.
While I admire Ricky Gervais stance on animal rights – I find it difficult to reconcile the work of a very clearly sensitive and caring individual when it comes to animal rights with the somewhat reckless portrayal of a Gypsy woman that will be seen by so many.
It takes very little research to become aware of the marginalization of Gypsy and Traveller people. Ricky Gervias cannot fail to know that our people are subjected to so much abuse; even if he himself could claim ignorance it would be difficult to accept that his advisers were also not aware.
The inclusion of the words ‘ she was pretty – and clean” clearly demonstrate that Gervais is indeed fully aware of the ‘dirty Gypsy’ stereotyping and is quite happy to quite literally cash in on that.
Many of Gervias Twitter followers have explained to me painstakingly that it is not Gervias himself that says these things – but Brent – because this is “satire” and that I am missing the point, in my apparent ignorance I would suggest that it is Gervias that is missing the point. Ricky Gervais uses his name and his access to a very large public platform to promote his stance on animal rights – he is absolutely aware of his ability to use that platform in a positive way – but with startling disregard he allows this same platform to be used in such a negative way with the release of this video and its inclusion in his new film.
Satire most certainly has its place in the Arts, it can and does play a very entertaining and often important role, most people have enjoyed political satire. I am not for one moment wanting to deny this, but by its very nature it can be a dangerous tool if used towards a particular group of people without discretion.
But if we accept the ‘satire’ argument lets take a moment or two to examine this;
There may well be those that view it with enlightened eyes and see the meaning within the satirical portrayal, although then we have to consider the lack of any yardstick or stabilizing element, There is no portrayal of the Gypsy lady or any other Gypsy within that shows the Brent character as getting anything wrong – Brent meets a pretty and clean Gypsy in the woods and she has sex with him. One of Gervais Twitter followers compared this video to the sitcom Rising Damp that was screened in the 1970’s. This outlines my argument quite well because while it was satirical – Rigsby’s suspicion of his black tenant Philip is balanced because Philip is intelligent and well spoken and well mannered. Till Death us do part showed the enormously racist Alf Garnet being viewed as a figure of contempt and ridicule by his own family – I am using these references as these are ones that have been thrown at me in the last few days – there are many more of course some more subtle – but there is always that element of balance when it comes to tackling racism in satire that is aimed at a wide audience.
This video will be seen by a wide audience and the probable majority will not be those clever enlightened and knowing folks who enjoy it’s supposedly underlying message. The audience will include that element in society that spread hatred against Gypsies and Travellers that frequent the online comments forums of local papers and add their racist venom beneath unbalanced newspaper articles. It will include those that suggest petrol bombing Gypsies and Travellers, shooting them on sight; it will include politicians that can casually state that Gypsies and Travellers should be executed. It will leave our young women vulnerable to sexual assault and verbal abuse.
Gypsies and Traveller have been identified as those who receive the most racial abuse on Twitter and nine out of Ten Gypsy and Traveller children report having suffered racial abuse and bullying. Children have suffered sever beating with one child being beaten to death – it simply does not get worse than that.
This Ricky Gervais is the reality, it might not be a reality that you have ever personally faced – but we have no choice but to face it – every single day.
So here it is – a new passport word to absolve inappropriate comedy sketches that racially deemed Gypsies and Travellers ‘Satire ‘ and if we are insulted if we object we will be classed as being unable to understand it’s complexities.
I would like to close with a quotation from David Levithan who wisely said;
“If smart people are parodying it, that’s a sure sign that some less smart people are believing it’
And THAT Mr Gervais is why we are so offended.
Copyright NAGTRW 2016