Is platforming hateful comedians just Netflix's thing now?
Ricky Gervais wasted no time hopping on the transphobic train in his new special. Just a few minutes into his Netflix special SuperNature, the comedian dove deep into controversial territory with a bit about trans women.
“Oh, women!” he said. “Not all women, I mean the old-fashioned ones. The old-fashioned women, the ones with wombs. Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women. They’re great, aren’t they? The new ones we’ve been seeing lately. The ones with beards and cocks. They’re as good as gold, I love them. And now the old-fashioned ones say, ‘Oh, they want to use our toilets.’ ‘Why shouldn’t they use your toilets?’ ‘For ladies!’ ‘They are ladies — look at their pronouns! What about this person isn’t a lady?’ ‘Well, his penis.’ ‘Her penis, you fucking bigot!’ ‘What if he rapes me?’ ‘What if she rapes you, you fucking TERF whore?'”
Gervais continued, while railing against the bogeyman of cancel culture and the woke mob: “You can’t predict what will be offensive in the future. You don’t know who the dominant mob will be. Like, the worst thing you can say today — get you canceled on Twitter, death threats — the worst thing you can say today is, ‘Women don’t have penises,’ right? Now, no one saw that coming. You won’t find a ten-year-old tweet of someone saying, ‘Women don’t have penises.’ You know why? We didn’t think we fucking had to!”
The comedian returned to the subject toward the end of his special, intending to soften the blows and ostensibly clarify his position. “Full disclosure: In real life of course I support trans rights,” he said. “I support all human rights, and trans rights are human rights. Live your best life. Use your preferred pronouns. Be the gender that you feel that you are. But meet me halfway, ladies: Lose the cock. That’s all I’m saying.”
Gervais has built a reputation for his unsparing humor, specifically within the context of his multiple turns as host of the Golden Globe Awards, where he mercilessly prodded the ceremony’s A-list guests. Of course, that ethos — which he would surely chalk up to comedians’ tenets of well-meaning fun and boundary-pushing — is corrupted when arbitrarily punching down at an intensely marginalized group that sees their fundamental personhood persistently threatened and challenged.
The special, though, arguably is as much a dubious sign for Netflix, which still seems to be reeling in some ways from the Dave Chappelle saga. While the Chappelle controversy caused waves of internal and external tumult for the company, CEO Ted Sarandos largely indicated that its hands are tied at every turn and cited its decisions as protecting creative freedom (though advocates from within the company made clear that they were asking for a change in the company’s fundamental culture in protecting and supporting its trans community).
Yet with another high-profile transphobic special on its hands, it’s not simply playing the neutral middleman anymore. Gervais seems to be tackling the subject with willful offensiveness in order to deliberately garner controversy, chatter, and ultimately viewership (for better or worse, Chappelle’s material was motivated in part by having a bone to pick after responses from his previous specials), and Netflix is in the dubious position of now serving as a reliable platform for this kind of artless and lazy equation of hate speech clickability (though the streamer would defer to technicalities of the bounds of “hate speech”).
The streamer, though, has much bigger fish to fry. In recent weeks, after the company reported dwindling subscriber numbers, its stock has plummeted and prompted layoffs and show cancellations. Amid the downswing, many have forecasted the demise of Netflix as the once-unanimous top streamer, so at the very least, less and less people may be tuning into hacky specials like SuperNature.