Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Blunder of Tropic Thunder

In a matter of days, the new Ben Stiller movie called Tropic Thunder will be released with the tagline "Once upon a time, there was a retard". There is an entire scene between Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., who is in blackface no less, about the portrayal of a mentally disabled person by Stiller's character. Downey's advice to him was "never go full retard." For more thoughts on the offensive content of the film, go here.

I recently saw an interview with Downey. He admitted that they were concerned how their black audience would respond to his character, a caucasion playing a black man, and that he would not have played the role if it were not "morally sound." Not once in their pre-release marketing frenzy has there been a mention of how the disabled audience and their loved ones would respond to the film or if Stiller's role were morally sound.

I don't mind the word "retarded" when used in its proper clinical setting, such as receiving a diagnosis of mental retardation. But I cannot stand to hear how the word has come to be used in everyday usage. Always derogatory, always a pejorative. It is just as offensive as the n-word. Imagine if the scene had called for Stiller to advise Downey's character to "never go full n*****". Heads would roll and rightfully so. But where is the outcry for the most vulnerable amongst us?

I have thoroughly enjoyed Ben Stiller's work in the past. I've even been a little worried about why potty humor is so funny to me. I can probably tell more dumb blond jokes than anyone you know (my defense is to out-do anyone who so thoughtlessly tells one to me). BUT .... I can defend myself. It is not funny to make fun of a class of individuals who may not be able to defend themselves. That is cruel and heartless.

I had an occupational therapy student from a local college spend time with Caden last semester. I was over the moon when she asked me what the phrase "mongoloid" meant. The word has been so phased out, that her generation is completely unfamiliar with it. I was hoping the r-word was going that direction as well. I was wrong. If this movie proves as popular as most by Stiller, then a whole new generation will employ the terminology. I look at my beautiful son and wonder how long before he hears the r-word and feels its pain. He deserves more respect than that. I wish other people felt that way, especially those in the ever-influential entertainment industry. Like the saying goes, society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people. We can do better.


livia-the-great said...

hi. dave hingsburger wrote about this yesterday and has an interesting proposition about dealing with it in a new way. (

i guess we- humans- still have a long way to go...

take care,

Sabrina said...

I had no idea this movie contained such hurtful content. I was actually thinking of seeing it. I usually like most of his stuff. I checked out some stuff on the web. I also emailed ndss to see if they were going to make a comment. I will never understand why some people think that word is funny. My daughter is only 2 and has DS but I pray it will be a long time before she hears that word.

Anonymous said...

WheresMyAngels said...

I just posted on my blog about this too. I hate it cause I did like Downy and stiller.

Kristi Mantoni said...

I was going to see this movie as well until I heard about this. It's not much, but they won't be getting my money.