About 70 people showed up at an upstate theatre here in Delaware this past Wednesday (8/15/08) to protest against the use of the word 'retard' in the new Ben Stiller flick 'Tropic Thunder.' The protest stems from the following scene, in which Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.'s characters are discussing Stiller's role as 'Simple Jack,' a mentally-retarded character he played to try and win an Academy Award:
DOWNEY JR: Take Dustin Hoffman in 'Rain Man,' right? Look retarded, act retarded, NOT retarded. Countin' cards in Vegas? That ain't retarded. Tom Hanks? Sure, he might have been slow in 'Forrest Gump,' but he charmed the pants off Dick Nixon. You went full retard, man... NEVER go full retard. (other scenes show Stiller as Simple Jack)
That's not the word-for-word dialogue, there's a little more, (and sorry if you're offended), but the scene is f*cking hilarious. Not to folks at the Special Olympics, though. Again, I'm not saying that to be a dick; Special Olympics officials led this protest, along with a couple of other groups that work with cognitively-disabled people (is that the right phrase? I really don't know. I don't want to say Down-Syndrome, 'cause I know there are more types than just that).
Now, this case in particular is part of a satire aimed at the lengths Hollywood actors will go to when they're trying to appear serious and high-minded. The movie's other example of this is Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian actor who has his skin pigment altered to play a black man in the movie being shot within 'Tropic Thunder.'
And it's worthy to note that, for all intents and purposes according to previous Academy Awards (which is what they're skewering in the first place), he's RIGHT: Hoffman and Hanks, along with Billy Bob Thornton, all won Academy Awards for their portrayals of high-functioning men with cognitive disabilities. In contrast, Sean Penn, who played a fully-retarded man in "I Am Sam," was shut out during awards season.
"It is inexcusable for any film or part of popular culture to continue to perpetuate such a derogatory and insensitive word," said Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver. "In the case [of] 'Tropic Thunder' it is not about the studio or actors' malicious intent, but rather the film's malicious content. So we are actively calling on Hollywood to immediately cease the use of the demeaning use of the R-word in all forms of entertainment including film, television and music."
Here's the thing, though. Whether or not Tim Shriver and the Special Olympics folks want it to stop or not, people all over America still say the word 'retard.' Asking for a ban on the word is kind of like the New York City Council asking for a ban on the word "n*gger" (this actually happened): it's a nice gesture, but there's no enforcement component (it's not like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, where's there's physical evidence to support your having said it), so it's not going to actually change anything. Shriver's position is essentially the same as asking for a formal ban on the n-word from cinema.
Well, gangsta-themed movies aside, if that were actually enforced by the MPAA, you could forget about any kind of realistic portrayal of, say, a skinhead. There would be no 'American History X,' no 'Roots,' no 'Mississippi Burning,' no 'A Time to Kill.'
And can we please not forget that Carlos Mencia - the world's most UNfunny comedian - has been screaming "DE-DE-DEEEE!" on his dumbass show for three years now, completely making fun of retarded people, and I haven't heard too much protest over that.
People say 'retard.' There, I just said it. Shriver is acting like 'Tropic Thunder' advocates the mass extermination of the cognitively-disabled. Are you telling me you've NEVER seen a retarded person do something funny? 'Cause that would just be a lie. Shriver is acting like it's impossible to laugh and at the same time realize that it's only a joke, and that cognitive disability is a serious disorder. I can.
Then again, to paraphrase George Carlin, in reference to intelligence: "Just think about how stupid the AVERAGE person is, and then realize, HALF of them are stupider than THAT!"