Everybody reading this blog is a massive idiot. Every single one. Insulted? Read on…
I don’t normally put anything serious on this blog, but events this week have been making me think. OK, so Ricky Gervais likes being controversial. It’s a thing many comedians do, on purpose of course, in order to be discussed. But Gervais’ latest escapade has been getting more attention than most: by using his twitter account and his latest live show to try to reclaim a word that’s been used for years as derogatory and insulting, and use it as an insult.
I don’t think it’s important to say what the word is here. He might as well have used any word that started its life with negative meaning. He might as well have used ‘idiot’.
My book is full of the word ‘idiot’. It’s almost on every page. The difference in my view is that I’ve reclaimed the word to mean something positive. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.
I’ve visited about thirty schools since April. Every time I ask “What does the word ‘idiot’ mean to you”? “Stupid,” children say, or “forgetful” or “clumsy” or “silly” or once even “an incompetent fool”. They’re right, in a sense. The word started in Ancient Greece as ‘person lacking professional skill’ before meaning ‘uneducated or ignorant’ in Middle English. It’s true – the word ‘idiot’ can quite easily be used negatively.
But then there’s that time your mum spills her tea on the carpet, or when your friend forgets his coat on a cold day. “Oh, you idiot!” you can say, smiling. In this case are you actually saying ‘You are an uneducated and ignorant person’? Of course not. You mean, ‘You make mistakes, but I love you for it.’ You mean ‘We can both see the fault in what you just did.’ Calling someone an idiot can be a term of endearment – it’s a way of embracing failures.
I’m an idiot. I’ll come out and say it.
I AM AN IDIOT!
I can list off a million idiotic things I’ve done without breaking sweat. I’ve walked into a lamp post and said sorry, I’ve put the phone in the fridge after using it, at school I called my teacher ‘mum’ so many times even she started to believe it. But who can truly say they’ve not mucked up once or twice?None of us are perfect, but some of us pretend to be. There are people who are embarrassed by their mistakes, who hide them and cover them up, who think anything less than perfection is a disgrace. Those people are silly. And i mean that in a bad way.
We are judged by what makes us different, and that includes the bad things. For example: I’m terribly forgetful. It’s a fact. No matter how many techniques I try, you can bank on me leaving the house without my keys or my wallet or my shoes. Now I can let that hang over my head like an embarrassing smell, or I can take pride in it! “THIS IS ME!” I can shout, “THE GOOD BITS AND THE BAD!” And if people look at me oddly, I’ll just start shouting louder, and waving around those massive foam hands that they used to have on Gladiators.
If we take pride in our shortcomings, embrace what makes us different, we’re immune to name-calling and bullying. We can finally be honest with ourselves and isolate those bits that might need a little polishing. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be better – of course we should! But we can bear in mind that we can never be perfect, and it’s a waste of time to try.
So we’re all idiots, in that none of us is perfect. But that’s a good thing! Not only does it give us something to strive towards, it gives us something to measure ourselves by.
My book takes place in a village of idiots, the village of Corne-on-the-Kobb. But this place is wonderful! The only person who thinks he’s not an idiot, Casper Candlewacks, ends up becoming one in order to save the day! And I don’t mean ridding himself of brain cells, I mean ridding himself of that seriousness and snore-inducing self-respect that everybody seems to have nowadays. And do you know what? That’s BRILLIANT.
Now…compare this with Ricky Gervais. A word that has been used to describe disabled people has now been changed to describe people he doesn’t like. Can you see the difference between this and my reclaiming of ‘idiot’? You can’t reclaim a word only to use it in the same way. Not only will it NEVER rid itself of the original meaning, it’ll insult so many people that it’s just not worth it. I know Gervais is partially doing this just to be contraversial, but he knows full-well what he’s doing. It’s hurtful and futile, and it wrongly colours the marvellous progression of language that lets ‘idiot’ be used in an endearing way.
So what do you think? I want your honest feedback about this. Am I wrong in using the word ‘idiot’? Is Ricky Gervais justified in what he’s doing? Are my attempt and his attempt really all that different? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter, @ivanbrett.
***addendum*** As noted by @smartestgiant, I spelt ‘controversial’ wrong in this post. I’ll leave it though, to prove that I’m OK with not being perfect.