The Only Shortcut Worth Taking

Those of you who, like me, are addicted to Netflix (the episodes just keep going you don’t even have to click…) might have noticed recently that a second season of Ricky Gervais’ show Derek has come online. I watched the first season about a year ago so I re-watched all of it before seeing the new episodes (there’s only 7 in s1 and 6 in s2). And I had some thoughts.

Basically the show is a comedy/drama mockumentary that follows the lives of the workers at a fictional London retirement home that’s struggling to survive.  The titular character is a 50 year old care worker who does mostly basic tasks as well as keeping the residents company. While there is never a direct mention, it’s pretty clear Derek is either very socially stunted or on the autistic spectrum.  As a result, he gets taken advantage of and underestimated constantly except by those who actually know him.  Hannah, who runs the home virtually single-handedly, Dougie, the sarcastic and pessimistic yet loyal handyman and defender of what’s right, and Kevin, the skeevy and foul layabout who never seems to do any sort of work are the main characters followed.  The show really deeply and beautifully portrays  people who are often considered outsiders to society (including the elderly).

When I first started watching the show, I felt extremely uncomfortable.  The jokes all seemed to be at Derek’s expense, making fun of his lack of social skills and intelligence, which I found to be pretty offensive. However, I continued on and a few episodes in was completely hooked.  The show has this amazing way of taking people who are really easy to make fun of (ex. the elderly, the socially impaired, the unmarried high school dropout) and develop them into these complex and amazing characters who you find yourself desperately rooting for. Derek in particular shows throughout season 1 and 2 his incredible and powerful love, loyalty, forgiveness and moral strength that someone making fun of him for the way he talks would never see.

While I don’t want to spoil anything, I have to mention my reaction to the final episode of the first season.  In it, Derek gives an incredible gift of forgiveness to someone who most definitely does not deserve it. I cried like a baby. I’m talking shoulder shaking, multiple tissue using sobs.  Usually when I cry about a book or movie it’s when someone has died, and it’s rare I cry for anything else. But this scene and its raw humanity cut me right to the core, it was just so real and beautiful.

I’ll note here that there is quite a lot of pretty graphic sexual humour. Being on the more conservative side of things this did really put me off and it’s unfortunate.  However, I think it’s more than worth putting up with for the beauty and power of the message behind the series. Well done, Mr. Gervais.

“You Always Say That…”

I was recently watching the FIFA world cup with my 14 year old brother and a commercial came on for coke. It depicted a varied group of little boys running around playing soccer through city streets. I commented “Where are all the girls?” to which James laughed and said ‘you always say that’.

‘You always say that.’

With that comment, my sweetheart little brother who wouldn’t hurt a fly effectively dismissed and de-legitimized my question. Thanks to the white male privilege he doesn’t really understand yet (and of course was only present here in a very diluted form), he was able to dismiss my albeit minor protest with a little laugh. I have a bit of a reputation in my family for being the one who makes a stink about feminist or racial issues, and there’s usually some teasing and eye rolling when I launch into a tirade, and that’s ok because they still show me respect by listening.  But I fear for James and the little conversations like that make me more and more aware of the desperate need for privilege education in our society, especially in rural white-dominated areas.  Our kids, especially the white ones and the boys, need to understand what societal privilege is, how they have it even though they never asked for it, how to acknowledge its presence, and how use it to help those who were born with less.

James is a good kid with a big heart and I have faith he’ll figure it out. But his big sister will always be in the background trying to make sure he uses that heart to understand his place in the world and make it a better place for others.