Derek, the latest “Netflix Original,” created by and starring Ricky Gervais has garnered a great deal of positive feedback. A few, however, have questioned if it is making fun of the disabled.
Gervais has a pretty great response to such talk. He wrote a post for RickyGervais.com explaining the show’s titular character and his own intentions for the show.
Basically, if you think Derek is disabled, you’re making your own assumption.
Is Derek disabled?
The short answer is, “no.” The longer answer is, “no, but what difference would it make if he was?”
There would be no actual change in the fictional character or the programme in which he exists. The only possible change would be in people’s judgement of the show. Or rather, let’s be honest, in their judgement of me.
Many made up their own mind about Derek’s “condition”. Most made their decision before they’d even seen the series. I even had time to explore that question in the show itself because of all the assumptions flying around months before it had been written. Not once had I suggested that Derek had any disability. In fact I have explained hundreds of times in various interviews that he does not.
If you watch the show, it becomes pretty obvious (pretty quickly) that Derek is a good person. A really good person. A better person than most. Even if he were intended to be “disabled,” it’s unclear how the show is “making fun of the disabled” as some have suggested. I believe the point is that more people should be more like Derek.
The clear message of Derek is one of kindness. It promotes kindness, and Derek, the character, embodies that, and not in a throwaway comedy sort of way. Derek, the show, has a much more serious and heartfelt tone than the Gervais work that many are used to. It’s not just a comedy. It often borders on tear-jerking, but again, in no way at the expense of any disability.
Gervais notes that he has received “touching” comments from autistic people, parents of autistic people and carers of autistic people, and while he says he never intended for Derek to be autistic, he’s fine with the connection being made by those who can identify with the character.
“Derek, because of his positive message, sweetness, honesty, and inner beauty, has become a pin-up boy for autism,” he writes. “Initially this gave me a dilemma. I couldn’t suddenly pretend he was always meant to be autistic and embrace the flattery. However I was really touched by the fact that people identified with him on a personal level.”
“But here’s the thing,” he continues. “Derek was meant to be different. He was meant to be marginalised by society. He was meant to draw assumptions by uncaring, thoughtless people who needed to label and pigeonhole individuals for their own peace of mind. He was meant to surprise and undermine stereotypes. And he was meant to look odd, speak funny, have bad hair and no fashion sense and not give a fuck about such things because he knew they weren’t important. He knew what was really important. Kindness.”
He concludes the piece, “He is a hero. He is a hero of mine and I welcome him to be a hero to anyone else. Disabled or otherwise. Popular or ostracised. Derek is not meant to be autistic, but if anyone sees traits that they identify with then so be it. However different you are it’s nice to know there’s someone a bit like you.”
Image: Ricky Gervais (Twitter)