Thursday, August 28, 2008

The "R" word....and Tropic Blunder

A post from Hector....

Most of you have probably heard of Ben Stiller's movie "Tropic Thunder" out in the theaters right now. Some of you might have heard about the controversy surrounding it. Jen brought it to my attention after emailing me a newsletter from the Down Syndrome Information Alliance warning that the language and content in the movie “Tropic Thunder” depicts people with intellectual disabilities in a derogatory and demeaning manner. When I read it I was upset and one of the first things I thought was to write something here so that the word would spread and more people would boycott this movie. But first I wanted to learn more about it. It is hard to have an opinion when you haven't seen the movie.

After reading a few articles, blogs and reviews about the movie and controversy, I was really mad and started thinking about the kind of person Stiller really is. Manohla Dargis (one of the chief film critics for The New York Times) states it well: "Ben Stiller is a professional offender and sometimes very funny man who over the past decade or so has carved out a lucrative niche in the comedy of humiliation, his and everyone else’s". He has been one of my favorite comedians and I have enjoyed his movies, but this hit too close to home and I don't think I can ever see another movie that he is involved with, not only because of Tropic Thunder, but mainly because of his reaction to the whole ordeal.

I think it gets down to the issue of language and how it's interpreted, endorsed or rejected...and the simple fact is that the vast majority of people in this country think it's perfectly OK to use the word "retard" for humorous effect, not realizing (or caring) that it's the equivalent of the "N" word in some circles. THAT is the issue that must be addressed and understood.

I think the thing that's happening with "Tropic" is that the protests are largely based on the volume and magnitude of the content and that is what is so offensive. I think this is where Manohla Dargis got it right -- that "retard" is used so often that it causes us to squirm, not laugh.

She writes:
That’s how he ends up blowing what might have been the film’s sharpest scene, involving Kirk’s explanation for why Tugg’s performance as a retarded man in “Simple Jack” doomed his chances for an Oscar, an elucidation that includes a clever taxonomy of all the ways it’s permissible to play intellectually challenged in Hollywood (“Forrest Gump” is statuette-worthy, though not “I Am Sam”) and a grindingly unfunny repetition of the word retard. If Mr. Downey — who at this point in his career apparently can do no wrong, even in blackface — can’t make this bit work, it’s because the bit is unworkable. The pomposity of the Oscars is the hook, but it’s the word retard that provides the squirm

Like I mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of Stiller's humor and his movies but this is too much, it is not acceptable to use the "R" word like he does here, many people will understand and appreciate the REAL target of the film's satire, but when you're pummeled by the "R" word, the conclusion is that it's OK to use it, and it is definitively NOT. I haven't seen this movie, I can't tell you how bad it is, but I will borrow the words of someone who saw it and wrote about it: I thought the movie was hilarious, for the most part. After the first mention of "Simple Jack" I thought, "Is that it? That's what all the fuss is about?" -- but when the "full retard" scene came on, all I could think of is "Uh-oh...this really is dangerous." And that's coming from someone who TOTALLY appreciates where that scene is coming from.

I thought of a lot more things to say but I read this blog that Jen forwarded to me and we both thought that it was brilliant. Instead of trying to duplicate an excellent essay about how we felt, I will point you to it. I hope you have time to read it: Never Go Full Stiller...

And if you'd like to read the full New York times review by Manohla Dargis mentioned above: Tropic Thunder (2008) NYT

If you seen this movie sends us a note, tell us what you think. If you haven't, please consider boycotting it, every bit counts to send a message to Stiller and Dreamworks, like Emily Elizabeth from "wonderbabe" blog puts it: Friends don't let friends see Tropic Thunder because friends don't let friends go full Stiller.


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