Ricky Gervais is in hot water with the disabled community after a series of recent tweets in which he used the word "mongs," which critics say is a derogatory term aimed at people with Down syndrome. Gervais defended himself on Twitter, writing:
"Just to clarify for uptight people stuck in the past. The word means Down's Syndrome about as much as the word gay means happy. I never use the word mong to mean anything to do with Down's Syndrome."
Gervais was defiant in his unwillingness to buckle to "the humorless PC brigade," saying "the modern use of the word mong means 'dopey' or 'ignorant.' It's even in modern slang and urban dictionaries."
The first entry on urbandictionary.com defines "mong" as "lacking in physical and cerebral ability. General retardation. Generally: a total spastic." Subsequent definitions explain that "mong" is short for "mongoloid," the anachronistic (and offensive) term for someone with Down syndrome, but also state that the word is "commonly used to describe the state of one's lack of common sense," which would seem to back up Gervais' claim. But Gervais also posted a series of pictures of "mong-faces," which didn't really help his cause.
Gervais' reputation has suffered lately. His borderline mean-spirited jokes at the Golden Globes led to a backlash. In an episode of Extras, a Down syndrome boy was referred to as a "mongoloid," and during a U.K. stand-up appearance last year, he called singer Susan Boyle a "mong." Then, backpedaling to save face, Gervais sent a letter to the Down Syndrome Association, denying that he meant to be derogatory, though he had said, "Well, she's a mong, isn't she? She looks like a mong, doesn't she?"
Political correctness and oversensitivity can become overbearing, and especially frustrating for a comedian trying to ply his or her trade. People like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were trailblazers when it came to attempting to break down restrictions on free speech, and we see the controversy alive and well today. We still have to try and discern intent, whether someone is being cruel and insensitive, trying to get attention and make a name for themselves, or genuinely trying to get a discussion going with benign motives. But Gervais, unfortunately, seems to find humor in individuals with a forty-seventh chromosome, and his track record is not reflecting well on his reputation.