Energy & Environment

Greta Thunberg Is a Joke

Climate-change activist Greta Thunberg attends a Fridays for Future protest in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)
Far from being the historic figure she and Time magazine imagine her to be, the climate-change spokeschild is attracting mockery.

‘Poll Finds Most People Would Rather Be Annihilated By Giant Tidal Wave Than Continue To Be Lectured By Climate Change Activists,” the Babylon Bee reported in December, adding in an attached news story that one man’s response to hearing “just 30 seconds of a Greta Thunberg lecture” was to scrawl on the survey form, “Come, sweet death.”

The Bee was, as usual, ahead of the pack, but these days it’s becoming common for even left-leaning comics to mock Thunberg. “Iconic”? “Courageous”? Nah. Just tiresome. Far from being a visionary difference-maker who put it all on the line for her righteous cause, Thunberg is increasingly being derided as just another hyperemotional, tantrum-prone, attention-seeking teen brat.

Joan of Arc became Veruca Salt.

Ricky Gervais (a lifelong lefty) saw the opportunity at the Golden Globes Sunday when he smacked the audience and the tiny Nordic doom-monger with a classic double punchline: “You know nothing about the real world,” he told a ballroom full of celebrities. “Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.” BBC Scotland ran a skit in which comics playing Thunberg’s parents talk about all of the fun they’ve been having while she’s been away and blanch when she returns. When the BBC starts making fun of Greta Thunberg, it’s like L’Osservatore Romano satirizing the pope.

Meanwhile, Thunberg has become shorthand for environmentally based vapidity, which becomes all the funnier the more clueless earnestness with which it is delivered. After fashion designer Stella McCartney presented Joaquin Phoenix as the new world champion of climate-change activism for committing to (top this!) wearing only one tuxedo during Hollywood awards season, the deluge of mockery that followed on Twitter included lots of collateral comic damage to Thunberg. Personal favorite: the British man who replied, “f*** me. I wore the same undercrackers for over a month before I got some new ones for crimbo [Christmas]. I’m basically a sexy, bald, bloody Greta Thunberg.”

On The Last Leg, a British chat show, comic Rosie Jones (who has cerebral palsy and is no one’s idea of a bully) made a dirty joke at Thunberg’s expense on New Year’s Eve, and another standup, Josh Widdicombe, called Thunberg “the first person to perfect the art of bunking school.” Days later, Dave Chappelle joked about Thunberg in a San Francisco set. I don’t know what Chappelle said, but a San Francisco Chronicle writer who declined to quote the remark instead wrote, “Let’s just say the 17-year-old activist irks him, to put it mildly, rather than going into detail about Chappelle’s joke involving R. Kelly and [Thunberg].” Do tell.

Thunberg’s overwrought September speech to the U.N. — “I shouldn’t be up here,” she said, as though she had to be dragged up to the podium in chains, forced against her will to do all those photo shoots and interviews — might have looked like a bravura performance to her disciples in the media but turned out to be far too easy to mock. “Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg thundered. A bit strong. Maybe the girl should learn the art of self-deprecating banter or rephrase her paranoia as a rap. Anyway, to an ordinary point of view the wee thing seems to be doing pretty well for herself. “‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood,’ says girl currently gracing the cover of Time magazine,” was the Babylon Bee’s perfectly honed take after Thunberg was crowned World’s Wokest Human or whatever it was.

That Thunberg — a non-scientist, non-wonk, and non-adult — has very little insight to offer the world, and that youthful indignation is not actually very useful or interesting, much less new, begins to sink in. Mary Wakefield writes in The Spectator, “The most sophisticated adults in the world have signed up to the bonkers idea that children can somehow intuit the answers to humanity’s existential problems, though Lord knows what the grown-ups expect the kids to do — build a better world on Minecraft?”

Wakefield continues, waspishly but astutely:

Of course [young people] bang drums, sit on roofs and declare the world to be doomed. It’s what they’re supposed to do. What’s strange is that so many grown-ups seem content to imagine that this is, in itself, an answer. Got a problem? Simply make like a teen and shout about it. Job done. When Greta turned to the Davos crowd and said ‘I want you to panic’, they should have asked her: why? Surely the graver the crisis the more important it is not to panic.

Thunberg is too young to know this, but achieving celebrity status is relatively easy compared to the challenge of maintaining it. Far from being the historic figure she and Time magazine imagine her to be, she may go the way of many a precocious child star of the past. The good news is that after she disappears from magazine covers, she can look forward to a gig on Big Brother or Dancing with the Stars.

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