Monday, August 18, 2008

The “Retards” of Tropic Thunder


Here’s CNN:

Dozens of people from organizations such as the Special Olympics and the American Association of People with Disabilities protested the movie-industry spoof across the street from the film's Los Angeles premiere at Mann's Bruin Theatre on Monday. The protesters held up signs with slogans such as ‘Call me by my name, not by my label’ and chanted phrases like ‘Ban the movie, ban the word…’

‘When I heard about it, I felt really hurt inside,’ said Special Olympics global messenger Dustin Plunkett. ‘I cannot believe a writer could write something like that. It's the not the way that we want to be portrayed. We have feelings. We don't like the word retard. We are people. We're just like any other people out there. We want to be ourselves and not be discriminated against…’


Now get out your tissues. Here’s
Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, co-producer of Amistad, nephew of Ted Kennedy, and brother to Maria, wife of The Terminator:

I am so proud of everyone who turned out to Monday's premiere of the film Tropic Thunder to protest its unfortunate and humiliating portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities…

Together with the members of the international coalition, I am asking Steven Spielberg, Stacey Snider, Ben Stiller and the entire Tropic Thunder team to stop showing the film, and asking movie theaters and moviegoers to shut this movie out. Tropic Thunder is a colossal blunder. Don't show or see Tropic Thunder… I am disappointed that we were not consulted in the same manner as other minority groups depicted in the film and that there are 17 mentions of the "R-word" with one mention of the "N-word…"

The degrading use of the word ‘retard’ together with the broader humiliation of people with intellectual disabilities in the film goes way too far. When the R-word is casually bandied about and when bumbling, clueless caricatures designed to mimic the behavior of people with intellectual disabilities are on screen, they have an unmistakable outcome: They mock, directly or indirectly, people with intellectual disabilities. They perpetuate the worst stereotypes. They further exclusion and isolation. They are simply mean… Ban the R-word. Ban the movie. Take a stand.


Here’s part of the rebuttal by
Neil Miller: Adults should have the ability to process the jokes employed by Tropic Thunder within the context of the film and recognize that the joke doesn't target those with disabalities. It satirically takes aim at actors who exploit roles in which they play disabled characters in order to garner acclaim and win awards. Since children might not be able to make that connection or understand that context, the R-rating serves a strong role.

Let me say, first of all, that actors who exploit roles to garner acclaim is a phenomenon called redemptive debasement. It’s when a dishonored HW actor takes a belittling role to improve his/her stature. Coincidentally, Tom Cruise himself indulges in a bit of redemptive debasement in Tropic Thunder by making himself ugly, bald, and hairy as the studio boss. It’s unsettling how wholly evil Cruise behaved but he danced funny so we forgive him. His image might’ve recovered a little from the antics of the last few years by playing that role.

Miller also didn’t quite nail it. First, he misspelled "disabalities." Second, while it’s true the “retard” jokes take aim at actors exploiting roles of the mentally challenged, it’s a little more than that. It takes aim at how ignorant and insensitive some of these actors can be about the people they’re portraying, which is a contrast to how sensitive they can be in other ways. Sure, you’re shocked about the word at first, but what you’re really shocked about is how totally insensitive the actors are. Thus, they made their point. The joke is that these overly-sensitive actors are actually sensitive about no one else except themselves.

“Retard” was the perfect word.

The fact that the word is included shouldn’t even be a point of contention in a big country with free speech. Are we so intellectually bankrupt that we have knee-jerk reactions about a word without even considering its context? It’s the ideas behind the words that should be considered. To complain bitterly about a word only makes people want to say it that much more. Besides, even in the clips we saw of Simple Jack there was a scene where Jack says he “has a brain” and he is accepted. It’s the poor acting that got a laugh.

I’m hardcore when it comes to comedy. I believe comedians should poke fun at everyone without reservation. No one is safe. If you’re a comedian, I say cut your teeth on every thing under the sun without mercy. Bring everything to light. Because the act of comedians poking fun at everyone can be a perfectly healthy, cathartic experience in a society, because it bursts bubbles, releases tensions, makes us let go of trivial matters, brings us all down to the same level, and reminds us that we’re all flawed, funny, human beings. But we don’t really do that anymore because – oh no! – we might offend someone.

True brilliance is the way that you poke fun at those that make you angry, which is why I still love Richard Pryor. He used blue language and blue material, but the seering social commentary beneath the humor was, frankly, nothing short of brilliant. I love him.

Consider this, one of my favorite skits, “The Prison Play.” The fact that the guard is saying the n-word and denigrating homosexuals was (like “retard”) not intended to be an act of meanness on Pryor’s part toward those groups. Pryor is making fun of the racist guard. And he’s making fun of the racists in the play, too. And it works.

28 comments:

Mim said...

And consider this. It's not the people with disabilities themselves who are complaining. It's their handlers.

Yes, I said handlers. I have a friend who is developmentally disabled and his social worker and the other people in his life who are PAID to help him manipulate him into every opinion he's ever had.

They are underpaid and under-trained, and many of them use their "calling" as a way to exert power over the only people in their lives who have less control than they do.

Protesting is just another way they exert control in lives that feel very out of control. In a way, they are no better than prison guards who abuse their position of power over prisoners.

Joshua James said...

Amen, brother.

Carlo Conda said...

Joshua, let me take that one step further.

Amen, bromosexual.

Emily Blake said...

Besides, the clinical way RDJ says "Never go full-on retard," like it's a scientific fact, gave me the biggest continual laugh of the film.

These guys were all oblivious - that was the point.

Mystery Man said...

I always wonder if a protest like this is truly about being offended or if this is yet another case of public postering and self promotion of certain leaders.

I think there is also value in using a word in a film just for the sake of questioning how bad it really is. Is it really the word or the reasons why the word is being used that should be publicly addressed?

-MM

Robbo said...

Like George Carlin said, it's all about "context". Here's the classic clip of that bit where he pulls out, in brilliant rapid fire, every frickin' slur imaginable - and it's funny - and profound.

http://www.millsworks.net/blog/2008/06/23/george-carlin-at-his-best/

Robbo said...

Sorry - that URL was too big to fit the comment page. Here's tiny version of the same:

http://tinyurl.com/3j6574

Christian M. Howell said...

Wow, I just hope it was a bunch of little girls. Grown men should NEVER be offended in such a way.

I mean come on. A joke's a joke. I agree that comedians should poke fun at things.

Mystery Man said...

Thanks for the link, Robbo.

There was an interesting article in the NYT on The Refined Art of Tastelessness.

“In the department of offensive and tasteless, there was nothing like it,” said the filmmaker David Zucker, who wrote “Kentucky Fried Movie” with Jerry Zucker, his brother, and Jim Abrahams. “We’re in the business of getting people out of their houses, and you have to do something that people can’t see on TV.” Made for about $700,000 and directed by John Landis, the movie earned nearly $20 million worldwide in its original release…

On There’s Something About Mary, David Zucker said, “They did the grossest stuff, yet the movie was almost sophisticated. It seems to have had a purpose higher than just doing gross-out jokes.” On a budget of $23 million, “Mary” took in more than $176 million at the box office.

I love that point about having a higher purpose beyond just having gross-out jokes for the sake of having gross-out jokes. It has to be executed really well with a higher purpose to get people onboard.

-MM

Tim.Roman said...

I agree with MM. All these retards are acting pretty gay.

David Alan said...

These people are fucking stupid. It's Don Imus all over again. When the I-Man made his "abominable", "racist", and "sexist" comment, CNN and other news media couldn't wait to ask those Rutgers girls -- who had never even heard of Imus! -- how offended they were. People wouldn’t have been offended had the media not pushed it into the spotlight! Same thing happened here. I would've never known about this had it not been for them.

Anyway, I can't imagine mentally deficient people giving a shit. They have other things to worry about.

Dee-Dee-Dee!

-- David Alan

GameArs said...

SOmetimes people will do anything to get the spotlight shining as brightly as possible on their cause.

Scott said...

I dont think I am as militant about this as others. Most people are making the point that comedy should be offensive, and it should push boundaries. I agree, but with one caveat: it should also be funny.

That may seem obvious, but calling someone a retard is not funny. In the right context it is, but the problem is some movies or comedians who use words like that are not funny. I have not seen the movie, so I cannot say if TROPIC THUNDER does that. But for screenwriters, it is a lesson to be learned.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed something between all the different media outlets and coverage, but tell me how that Don Imus joke served any other function except to solicit laughs at the expense of those players--how it was anything greater than simply being racist.

Ryan said...

It's not the actual use of the word or portrayal of it that bothers me. I've got close friends and a family memeber who are mentally challenged.

What bothered me the MOST was the 10 year old boy sitting three rows in front of me laughing his head off when they were joking about it. Laughing HYSTERICALLY.

He was also letting it rip when Tom Cruise was dropping the F-bomb left and right. He'll F'him up, F'in this and F'in that.

The F'in ten year old was the only one laughing at Tom and everyone in the audience was literally speechless. You could see the look on everyone's face.

The parents didn't give a shit. The F'in parents.

Now what bothers me the most is that F'in 10 year old is gonna to school and rip into the kids WHO DO have that dissability and he's gonna call him those names thinking it's alright cause it's in this idiotic movie that HIM AND HIS PARENTS WERE LAUGHING AT.

He's too young to understand what the context is and he's just gonna look at it from a immature perspective on a VERY immature movie. F'in parents who bring their kids to those type of movies kills me.

On another sad note. I read somewhere that Ben Stiller had been planning this movie for years, I think he said 10 years. This is something that he's been wanting to do for a very long time AND this is the product that he came up with???

I do believe we as screenwriters can do better than what Ben has done. Granted he's able to do whatever he wants now BUT he's abusing his power. To F-in bad for me!!!

Carlo Conda said...

That's not the movie's F'in problem, Ryan.

Ryan said...

Carlo,
I NEVER said it was the movie that bothered me.

My first sentence said how I felt about the movie, "It's not the actual use of the word or portrayal of it that bothers me."

Apparently I didn't explain that enough for you to get it.

I also said what bothered me was the 10 year old boy and the parents allowing him to go watch it.

Joshua James said...

I remember when Nic Cage's movie THE ROCK came out, and there were some people were picketing how it portrayed gay people . . . well, actually, one gay person, a hair dresser. Who's in the film for five minutes.

But he's flamingly gay and effemminate.

My roommates at the time were gay and politically active, and I asked them if they were worked up about it.

They laughed. "No way!"

Why not?, I asked.

"They're not showing anything that doesn't exist. Those protesters who want to believe that there aren't any flaming fem-boy hairdressers living in San Francisco actually need to GO to San Fran and step into a salon. We have more important things to worry about than that."

Just sayin'.

Joshua James said...

I forgot to add, there aren't any portrayals of mentally disabled people IN the film TROPIC THUNDER, there are only depictions of actors depicting the mentally disabled.

Clearly showing how shallow and ridiculous the actors are.

Myself, I think I AM SAM was a greater insult.

Scott said...

Can I just say, when people say "I have friends who are gay/black/mentally challenged, and they are fine with it", it is exactly the same as interest groups and lobbyists protesting against it. Like Mim says, it is mostly interest groups leading this protest. And it is mostly people who do not know what it is like to be mentally challenged that are defending the movie.

If a mentally challenged person saw the movie and objected, I would be much more inclined to believe them than someone saying "I have a friend who is mentally challenged, and they hated/loved it".

Joshua James said...

There story about THE ROCK was only that, a story, Scott. I found it interesting at the time. I mean, basically you're saying because my ex-roommate isn't commenting here and I am, the experience has no relevance, right?

Okay.

I was a direct-care provider for the mentally disabled for two years, it was my morning job while I worked through grad school. I also worked a year in Special Ed at a high school after grad school.

I was one of those handlers.

Not all of us who did or still do that work are bad folk, or prison guards, many are genuinely compassionate folk . . . and it is true, often very touchy on the subject of their charges, who usually get made fun of just for walking down the street.

I was and am far more sensitive to the word than most people . . . so that's a direct reference.

The point to THE ROCK story, and to this, is that what's being made fun of here is what happens in real life, in real life there are flaming hairdressers in San Fran, and in real life there probably are film actors who use the word "retard" and don't know how ridiculous it makes them sound.

Besides, movies should have the option to offend - especially satires, which this is, it should offend SOMEONE (really, I though Cruise's character would offend a certain ethnic group, but so far nothing) . . . it succeeds or fails dependent upon whom it's targeting . . . especially if who's being targeted is in a position of power (like famous actors) then it's all the richer.

My opinion, no more, no less.

Mystery Man said...

I always get into trouble when I share something personal, but... I've been drinking brandy.

I've got a female cousin just like Rain Man. It's true. This girl is so brilliant, and I love her. She can't break from her routines either, just like Rain Man, and she's just brilliant with numbers. Rain Man helped me to appreciate her more when I was younger. She loves Nascar races, knows EVERY FACT. My aunt and uncle tried to get her to be a statician for Nascar because she's never wrong about the facts. She didn't want it. As a kid I used to get out a calculator and test her. She was never wrong.

She could understand numbers in the millions but pocket change? Forget it. I remember one time, I was maybe 10 or so, we were visiting my aunt and uncle and my brilliant Rain Girl cousin wanted to walk me to McDonalds. I remember her asking my uncle, "we're walking to McDonalds. I've got $60. Is that enough?" Hehehe... I said, "Yeah, you better let me hold all that for you."

She's sick now, unfortunately.

-MM

movie junkie said...

Ben Stiller has a track record of doing anything for a laugh

kim said...

Retards are fun to pinch.

I Suffer Fools said...

Wow. I haven't seen it yet, but I didn't realize that "Tropic Thunder" was about retards...er, mentally challenged...er, disabled people. Wait...they are people, right? Kidding! I thought the movie was about three dumb actors who get caught up in the war movie they're filming and don't realize that they've landed in an actual war. Now I feel retarded. Er...stupid. Er...never mind. Anyway, I guessed I got something different from the movie previews I saw than the protesters got? Talk about marketing to your audience...

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