Mark Twain's book Huckleberry Finn was banned from some schools because it uses (very frequently) the word 'nigger'. Never mind that Nigger Jim, one of the main characters, is probably the most moral person in the entire story, and that young Huck Finn learns a valuable lesson about slavery, morality, and his friend Jim. The message didn't matter to those schools, just what words were used.
Here is a transcript of the Tropic Thunder trailer 'OK to be Stupid':
"There were times, when I was doing Jack, that I actually felt retarded, like really retarded. In a weird way I had this sort of just free myself up to believe that it was OK to be stupid, or dumb."
"To be a moron."
"To be moronical."
"Yeah. When I was playing the character."
"When you was the character."
"Yeah, I mean, as Jack, definitely."
"Everybody knows you never go full retard."
"What do you mean?"
"Check it out: Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks, cheat at cards. Autistic, sure, not retarded. You know, Tom Hanks, Forest Gump, slow, yes, retarded, maybe, braces on his legs, but he charms the pants off Nixon, win a pinball competition - that ain't retarded. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard."
Excuse me? Have these people protesting this movie paid no attention to the actual content of this trailer? First, the actor is talking about feeling like it's OK to be stupid - being able to stop worrying about coming off as smart. Secondly, his friend is pointing out a stereotype in Hollywood, one that really needs to be looked at - a variant of the 'autistic superpowers' problem Lisa described, or the 'making up for difference' I discussed on this blog. Both of these are very good things to say.
I don't think you should pick at words like this. It's the message that really counts. I don't think people should say 'that's so retarded' to insult other people, not because they said 'retarded', but because they're saying it's a bad thing to be. If they said 'you're acting cognitively disabled' instead, that wouldn't be any better. And I don't think Tropic Thunder's use of the word 'retard' is a problem, because their message is not offensive. We have plenty of real problems to deal with - this is not one of them.