I keep getting emails about protesting the film Tropic Thunder. As a film critic who works quite a bit with Paramount, my own personal interest in this disability debacle is high. While I do believe our society has become desensitized to words that might be harmful and hateful to others, “retard”, “gay”, we’ve all used them out of context at least once in our life, I don’t believe that this film is the right forum for disability rights activists to try and change the way people see those who are intellectually disabled.
I have to agree on this issue with the executive editor of FilmSchoolRejects, Neil Miller, whose article was featured on CNN. He states that adults should be able to process this movie for what it is. They should be able to take the jokes with a grain of salt and realize this is a parody. Likewise, parents should heed the R rating, as it shows “inappropriate content” not suitable for those under the age of 18. So, why all the fuss and muss? Why go so over the top to get this film off the market?
I feel the pain of the disability rights groups protesting this movie, but as someone involved in creative endeavors I also realize that parody isn’t often PC. Do I believe Ben Stiller had malicious intents when he made this film? No. I don’t think Ben Stiller is prejudice in a way that he meant to cause malice and harm. Do I think that he tried to make this film over the top? Yes, I do. I think he tried to find ways to offend everyone just to get a laugh. Comedians are un-PC all the time, and yet we don’t see protestations of all of the crude things comedians say in clubs, on comedy specials or even on television shows.
If we’re going to attack this movie, why not attack Sarah Silverman’s self-titled show on Comedy Central? Silverman makes fun of anyone and everything including AIDS and abortion. I find her show to be equally offensive just for the sense of comedic irony. That’s part of what freedom of speech is all about. There are plenty of things I’d like to protest, when it comes to “Freedom of Speech”, but it just isn’t fair for me to have my say and then not let others have theirs.
There are many other important issues that disability rights activists could be pursuing, other than the use of the word “retard” and portrayal of those with intellectual disabilities. People aren’t going to stop saying retard. It’s a common term used by middle schoolers around the globe and while education of the term may stop some from using it inappropriately, tweens and young teenagers are assholes, as a collective whole. It’s their mission in life to defy their parents and say what they want whether it’s offensive or not. Many of them don’t come to their senses until they’re in high school (later years) or even college.
By then, the term is pretty much ingrained in their vocabulary. It’s easy to see many people thoughtlessly using the term “retard”. That doesn’t mean they’re making fun of those who have intellectual disabilities anymore than someone saying, “That’s so gay!” is making fun of homosexuals. Should we really be fighting the use of a word or should we, as a disabled collective be showing people how misguided their vision of intellectually disabled individuals are?
Regardless, a film parodying Hollywood isn’t the right forum to educate people. It’s just going to further the alienation of those who are disabled and make us all look like whiners who “can’t take a joke”.