Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tropic Thunder

After much searching, I finally found a trailer of Tropic Thunder that actually used the word 'retard' that so many people complained about. After watching that trailer, I'm incredulous. No, not because it's offensive. But because it isn't.
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."
"An imbecile."
"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.

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Blogger Gaina said...

Hello Ettina. That's exactly what I was trying to say in my responses to that blog. I'm glad somebody 'got' it!


4:23 PM  
Blogger Jon A.S. said...

I agree....we should never go to the politically correctness that goes with the territory of protecting our rights...remember, this is a comic movie about a fake film about the Vietnam the way, nobody talks about the conflict which started the whole movement of protecting the civil rights of minorities, or the unjustness of the war itself. Perhaps our discussion should be why the so-called war on terror has degenerated into a war without end...just like the Vietnam war...1945 to 1975....


6:00 PM  
Blogger Penny L. Richards said...

I was wondering about this. My other sense is that, even if it's problematic, there's always the possibility that the moviemakers WANT to provoke a protest to create a buzz--the old "any publicity is good publicity" phenomenon...

8:11 PM  
Blogger moracity said...

Actually, it is more than that one isolated scene and dialog. "SimpleJack - Once Upon a Time There was a Retard" is actually a prominent plot device through the entire movie. So much so, that there was also a viral website that has since been taken down. The website and trailer for Simple Jack was beyond offensive.

There is also a scene where Matthew McConaughey is having a conversation with a man who is adopting a child. He points to a picture of his own son, who is intellectually disable and says "at least you can give yours back".

There were already shirts for sale at Cafe Press with "Going Full Retard". Luckily someone complained and they were removed. The phrase has already entered the lexicon and the movie hasn't even been release yet. All the years of work of many to push for acceptance of those who are intellectually disable has been effectively canceled out by this one stupid movie.

The problem isn't the movie, per say. It's the fact that it is still socially acceptable to have this attitude towards differently-abled persons. What is more shocking than the movie is that people don't get it. People are minimizing the fact that it offends MILLIONS of people with and without disabilities. The move has a right to be me, but we also have the right to rise a against if we choose.

Why is it that they chose to pick on intellectually disabled people? Why was it not Slanty-eyed Cho - Once upon a time, there was an Oriental? Little Schmiel - Once upon a time there was a greedy Jew? Pedrotitio - Once upon a time there was a wetback? Brown Jamal - Once upon a time there was a nigger? The ACLU AND the people would be all up in it. Where are is the ACLU now? Where are the people? No where to be found.

I hate political correctness, but assaulting and exploiting disabled persons in a failed attempt at humor has nothing to do with political correctness. It has to do with having from friggin common sense and decency.

This is all part of an movement to marginalize a group of people that some have deemed as not worthy of life. If you remove the compassion from the public, it's easier to accept genocide.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Ettina said...

moracity - can you give me references? All I've been able to find is that one clip.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

More info on the film: This is the blog post that cites the other scene:

"In a conversation with his agent, played by Mathew McConaughey, Stiller’s Speedman talks about his plans to adopt a child. “At least you get to choose yours,” says the agent, looking sadly at a photograph of himself with a slack-faced teenaged boy who appears to have an intellectual disability. “I’m stuck with mine.” (The teenaged boy turns up with his father on an airplane later in the movie, staring vacantly out the window.)" (Has multiple links to news stories)

11:20 AM  
Blogger Andrea Shettle, MSW said...


For me, the big area of concern is not so much the content per se (I still haven't figured out what I really think about the content). For me, what bugs me more is that the same directors who took so much care to consult with Black people regarding parts of the movie that could cause potential offense to Black people didn't even think that maybe they ought to do the same thing in consulting people with disabilities.

I think it is worth making SOME kind of noise if only so movie studios will realize that people with disabilities, too, can sometimes be offended by things that other people might consider innocous (the way that white people back in the 50s just assumed the "n" word was innocous because they "never heard complaints about it").

Then next time, maybe they will at least establish dialogue with members of the disability community while developing movies. This would give us more of a chance to catch other things that might be considered offensive, such as the use of a non-disabled actor to act a character who has disabilities.

Instead, their current habit is to ignore the disability community until it is far, far too late to make any changes in the movies we object to. (Some of the people involved with protesting this movie seem to think it's reasonable to ask for the movie to be altered, scenes pulled, etc. But at this late stage, I'm guessing it's already in the can. Which means all the sets have been taken down, all the actors have gone home and are working on other assignments, even the editors have probably moved on to other things. Changing the film itself is just not going to be an option at this late stage. The best we can hope for is alteration of how the advertising is done, and improved policies for how movie studios handle FUTURE movies with disability themes.)

Oh, and: I think for some people, the concern is that the target audience for this movie consists mostly of teen boys who are still into "fart jokes" and other very non-subtle humor. So some people fear that many of the people watching this movie will completely miss the point of much of the movie (which is meant, as you indicate, to parody how most Hollywood movies depict people with intellectual disabilities; black people; etc etc) and will instead take much of it at face value. i.e., they will think that lines like "never go full retard" is funny because it makes fun of people with intellectual disabilities, and miss the point that it is meant to poke fun at Hollywood.

Also, they are concerned that it will influence people's behavior -- i.e., that some of the people watching this movie will then go out and use some of the language they've heard in the movie out in public, and outside of the original context, where they could be heard by people whose feelings could be hurt by it. (e.g., the tag line "never go full retard" is very likely to appeal to some kinds of humor, and could be repeated frequently in contexts completely divorced from the context of the film itself.)

11:38 AM  
Blogger Ettina said...

Not knowing the context, I can't say anything about those clips. If they're saying there's nothing wrong with him feeling that way about his son, or those other examples given in that link, then it's indeed offensive. But you know what? In one story I wrote, one of my characters claimed it was fine to kill profoundly disabled people because they weren't really alive in the first place. Throughout the rest of the book, one of the star characters is a profoundly disabled (low-functioning autistic) girl, and she and her friends are fighting such views. It really depends on the context.
To use my Huckleberry Finn example, here's a quote from the book:

"Was anyone hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a nigger."

Whether that scene is offensive depends on the context, and in Huckleberry Finn, that scene was used to show how horrible racism was in that time period.

11:46 AM  
Blogger moracity said...

Ettina - I don't think anyone is blind to your point. It is one thing to establish certain characters and use them in such a way to depict reality. Sometimes you must do that to maintain integrity. However, it simply does not equate to making a movie within a movie with "once upon a time there was a retard" in the title. I don't believe for a single second that "once upon a time there was a nigger" would have made it through ratings.

People keep contradicting themselves in defense of the movie. Some say it's sending a message about the absurdity of Hollywood. Others say it's just a movie. Which is it? It just all excuses.

The bottom line is that the entire subplot was intentionally written to target the intellectually disabled and create sh*tstorm. That in and of itself is shameful. Create a buzz by making a clever and funny movie, not by stooping to cheap insults that show the intellect a a 6-year old.

Additionally, the same "message" of absurdity could have been made in other, more humorous ways.

This all goes to illustrate the lack a awareness and the general antipathy the U.S public has towards the disabled. The eyes give away everything and I see it everyday. The fact that this movie was made and is supported only confirms that it is not parental paranoia.

I don't really have anymore to say. You either "get it" or you don't. It's really not that complicated. I look forward to a day when more people stand up in defense of people with intellectual disabilities as they have done in the past for women, blacks, and gays. I'm not hopeful, though. Maybe if our kids were Mexican, they would be treated with more respect. We don't need movies to see the absurdity - it's all around us everyday.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Gaina said...

There is also a scene where Matthew McConaughey is having a conversation with a man who is adopting a child. He points to a picture of his own son, who is intellectually disable and says "at least you can give yours back".

Moracity, you just reminded me of something funny that happened to me about 15 years ago now...

Mum and I were at a shopping mall and some charity was collecting at the door. The man, noticing me in my wheelchair came up to us and said to my Mum in a very earnest tone 'I'm collecting for disabled children, would you like to contribute?'. To which my mum promptly 'shoved' me over to him and said 'Please! Take Her - she's a bloody nuisance!'. Well, the guy didn't know what do with himself.

Oh, how we chuckled. X-D

12:34 PM  
Blogger moracity said...

Gaina - that's funny! Contrary to popular belief, people with disabilities and their families actually do have a sense of humor. It is not possible to maintain your sanity without one. There are tons of stories. Some are not funny at the time, but in retrospect bring a smile. Other situations are just so ghastly absurd, you can't help but laugh.

Had Ben Stiller taken the time to consult with disabilities groups (as they did with black groups) and perform a little due diligence, they could have come up with some pretty funny material that actually reflects reality.

Again, this just shows a complete disregard. As a result, his ignorance resulted in absurdity that is unfunny and offensive. If that's what he thinks will make him lots of money, more power to him and his willing supporters.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Tera said...

In one story I wrote, one of my characters claimed it was fine to kill profoundly disabled people because they weren't really alive in the first place. Throughout the rest of the book, one of the star characters is a profoundly disabled (low-functioning autistic) girl, and she and her friends are fighting such views.

Although I can't say for sure exactly how Tropic Thunder is handling things (though I'm concerned enough that I won't be paying for the privilege of finding out), your story is much better thought-out than the satire in Tropic Thunder seems to be.

For one thing, you have a (major) character with a disability who responds to bigoted behavior. Tropic Thunder goes out of its way to center all its disability-criticisms around non-disabled characters (the whole "dude playin' a dude playin' another dude" thing), and so far, I haven't seen anything to suggest that disabled characters will call anybody out on anything.

When I see how the "Simple Jack" subplot is handled (so far), it seems like the writers went with the very first angle they thought of, without really delving further into it. What about having a character with a developmental disability (played by an actor with a developmental disability) tell Ben Stiller's character how bad his "Simple Jack" performance was, call him a hack, etc? Or maybe one of the fictional actors has an developmental disability,(again, played by a real actor with a developmental disability) and is really famous for playing a non-disabled person in a movie. And xe's won an Oscar for xyr incredibly brave and moving performance as a non-disabled character. Etc.

6:39 PM  
Blogger codeman38 said...

Tera: Ah, yes, that's another part of it.

I was just thinking today of how I find Blazing Saddles hilarious, yet find Tropic Thunder so troublesome. And it dawned on me: in Blazing Saddles, not only are the racist characters made to look like complete fools by Black Bart, but Bart is the protagonist of the movie.

Contrast that to Tropic Thunder, where the insensitive actors are the protagonists, and thus have to be portrayed somewhat sympathetically for the movie to even work...

7:29 PM  

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