The R-Word? Really?

PHOTO: Tropic Thunder ad

I just don’t get it. I figured as a society we accepted, if not universally loved, over-the-top comedies. I don’t remember a big stir when Not Another Teen Movie hit theaters. Hell, there will soon be a fifth Scary Movie.

When I read that activist groups were “asking movie theaters and moviegoers to shut [Tropic Thunder] out,” I was staggered. Certainly people weren’t expecting Ben Stiller, the star of Something About Mary, to have created a film sensitive to political correctness. Most of Stiller’s movies are crass, to put it kindly.

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to boycott this film, fine. That makes sense. Asking filmmakers and theaters to withdraw the film is wrong. Time and time again, we’ve heard that the answer to bad speech is more speech. By making these ridiculous demands for censorship, the Tropic Thunder protesters are belittling their own cause by coming across as humorless and unreasonable.

And since when did “retard” become the “r-word”?

h/t Ted

Flickr photo by wendypants

26 Comments

  1. Ian

    I feel like retarded is blunt but it isn’t inaccurate, from the pure definition of the word. That said, the controversy these people are going on about is kind of ridiculous. Stiller is making fun of how Hollywood actors think they have to play characters like the mentally handicapped in order to win awards. Yet when they do this, they are insulting and condescending to the people the try to portray. From what I have seen of it, I think Stiller aims for satire but misses the mark and does go for laughs at the expense of “retards”, but its still nothing worth protesting.

  2. Ted

    Thanks Chris for following through.

    Yeah this whole thing is pretty retarded. It simply amazes me how people decide to stage protests and boycotts based off of clips and hearsay, rather than doing their homework to see the original context.

    I’ve also seen African-Americans offended because of Robert Downey Jr using the “Blackface” style of makeup, which has historically racist implications. And they’re not only mad at Stiller and the producers, but with Robert Downey Jr himself. If they did 2 minutes of research, much less actually watched the movie, they would understand (hopefully) that Robert Downey Jr is playing the role of an actor so dedicated to his work that he gets his skin dyed, thus satirizing Hollywood’s “method” actors.

    Why do people rush to take offense like this? It instantly erases any credibility their opinions ever had.

  3. Sheepywoman

    “Exthuse me, Have you seen my basthball?”

    -Something About Mary

  4. Ian

    I feel bad for the retards living in the building with those banners on them.

  5. Ted

    I think that hotel is like right down the street from me

  6. Chris

    That is some obnoxious advertising.

  7. Daimao

    “If they did 2 minutes of research, much less actually watched the movie, they would understand (hopefully) that Robert Downey Jr is playing the role of an actor so dedicated to his work that he gets his skin dyed, thus satirizing Hollywood’s “method” actors.”

    While the character may not have been intended to offend, that doesn’t make it any less offensive. There can still be negative consequences from having something like that on the big screen.

    As for the “R-word”, well, that does come off as ridiculous and oversensitive, but I think it’s important to show concern over the negative use of terms like ‘retarded’ and ‘retard’, especially since it seems to be so popular among younger people these days.

  8. Ted

    If somehow the character is offensive, it is *within* the context of the film… it’s like people can’t grasp the movie-within-a-movie concept

  9. Ian

    Daimao, where was the outrage about “White Chicks”? I wouldn’t even call what Downey Jr. wears in the movie blackface either. It was usually put only on the face as though you were wearing a mask. Blackface was usually worn to make fun of blacks. I think Tropic Thunder avoids that by having a black guy with them to act as a straightman and keep Downey Jr. grounded in making fun of actors and not of blacks. You could make an argument about how the real black guy portrays blacks, but well, you could make that argument about any character played by any member of any race.

  10. Daimao

    I’m not sure what you mean about White Chicks. They were posing as whites weren’t they? That doesn’t have the same consequences as someone pretending to be black. And you said in your first post how Stiller was making fun of the actors who portray the retarded but misses the mark and ends up being insulting and condescending. The same could be said for Africans. I haven’t seen the movie nor plan to though, so I can’t really say much about Downey’s performance or the movie specifically.

    As for making an argument about how the actual black character acts, no, I don’t think you can make that argument for a member of any race, because again, it’s different when you’re talking about African Americans.

  11. Ted

    “I haven’t seen the movie nor plan to though, so I can’t really say much about Downey’s performance or the movie specifically.”

    … your opinion is invalid, to me at least, because you refuse to do any research before drawing conclusions

    “I don’t think you can make that argument for a member of any race, because again, it’s different when you’re talking about African Americans.”

  12. Daimao

    “… your opinion is invalid, to me at least, because you refuse to do any research before drawing conclusions”

    That’s what I meant when I said I couldn’t say anything about the movie itself. That I can’t draw any conclusions based on it. I was speaking generally/hypothetically.

  13. Ted

    noted.

  14. Ian

    Why is it different when talking about blacks? Racism is racism. White Chicks is no more acceptable just because its blacks in whiteface. You can drop the “African American” thing I think. I think its actually considered acceptable to say “black”. You don’t need to be afraid to cross those lines.

  15. Daimao

    No, racism does not work the same for everyone. Blacks and whites are not on equal playing field in this country. It would be much more damaging to have whites in blackface than it is the other way around, as Africans and other minorities are already underrepresented and negatively represented enough in the media as it is. Obviously there shouldn’t be any outrage over something like ‘White Chicks’. That’s not to say that something like that isn’t crass or offensive, but I would never use the word racism so easily. If you want to call it racism, that’s fine, but don’t think that it comes anywhere close to touching racism towards Africans.

    Also it may be considered acceptable to say “black”, but I don’t particularly agree with it. I think it’s important to recognize the ethnic and racial origins of blacks whenever possible.

  16. Ian

    “Blacks and whites are not on equal playing field in this country.”

    Yet your opinions on racism only reinforce such inequality. The fact that you think building acceptable racism into American culture is going to somehow foster understanding and equality is laughable. ‘White Chicks’ is racist. Hell, just look at the title of the movie, its also sexist. I’m not personally offended by it, but I certainly find it racist and unacceptable. I think people are entitled to say whatever they want and hold whatever ignorant opinions they choose. I’ll judge the movie and those who made it for being racist, but I am not going to protest it or say it shouldn’t exist.

    Also, as far as “African American” goes, that means someone of African descent. So, you should also call Charlize Theron and Dave Matthews African American, but I don’t think you personally would. “Black”, in the context that I am using it, implies being a direct descendant from West Africa and that the person’s ancestors were slaves. The majority of “African Americans” in this country are “black”. Certainly equality needs to be improved for all races in this country, but the inequality you are referring to is for who I am calling “black” and not for the more general “African Americans”.

  17. Daimao

    “Yet your opinions on racism only reinforce such inequality. The fact that you think building acceptable racism into American culture is going to somehow foster understanding and equality is laughable.”

    I am not reinforcing inequality at all, I am pointing out the inequality as it exists. I’m not suggesting that anything like ‘White Chicks’ should be considered acceptable. You may even be bold enough to call it racist, fine. What I am saying is that this kind of racism is not on the same level as racism towards blacks, and that it would be laughable to expect any kind of outrage over it.

    And African-American legally refers to those who are descendant from the black racial groups of Africa. Theron and Matthews are not ethnically of African descent. They may claim nationality, but they are of European descent. The reason I favor “African” over “black” is because I don’t think people generally acknowledge or realize that blacks have any kind of ethnic identity or history outside of the time spent in America. I would be even more ethnically specific if I could.

  18. Ian

    “What I am saying is that this kind of racism is not on the same level as racism towards blacks, and that it would be laughable to expect any kind of outrage over it.”

    How is this not saying what I accused you of saying? Who cares what the level of racism is? You are saying one form of racism is less acceptable than another, which means that one is more acceptable than another. I’m saying its all unacceptable and I don’t see the need to distinguish between them. I’m not denying that racism against blacks is far more pervasive in this society than other races (although I think the racism against Asians in popular culture is astounding). I just don’t see how if equality is the goal, why any form of racism should be socially tolerated more than another.

    “Theron and Matthews are not ethnically of African descent. They may claim nationality, but they are of European descent.”

    If you want to be like that, we are all of African descent in the sense that supposedly the first humans evolved in Africa. Or go the other way and say no one is of African descent since we all originated in Eden. My use of ‘black’ is the more specific definition you are referring to. It does acknowledge descent from west African slaves. Yours is a homogenizing definition that includes those who were not slaves but immigrated at a later date. Certainly they don’t have the same feelings about this country’s history, and while they probably experience much of the same racism in this country, they don’t have the historical context to make it as significant.

    “I don’t think people generally acknowledge or realize that blacks have any kind of ethnic identity or history outside of the time spent in America”

    The same could be said about the racial labels of “white”, “Caucasian”, and “Asian American”. Those do not acknowledge the ethnic identity of those peoples. Asia covers many different types of peoples: Russian, Chinese, Indian, SE Asians, etc etc. Surely “Asian” is not descriptive enough. The truth is, it shouldn’t even really matter. At least that is the ultimate goal: that we shouldn’t have to define each other with such superficial labels that indicate divisions in our society.

  19. Daimao

    “I just don’t see how if equality is the goal, why any form of racism should be socially tolerated more than another.”

    I don’t think any form of racism should be tolerated. However, if equality is indeed a goal, you must be able to first distinguish between the races/different forms of racism. Saying that “racism is racism” without acknowledging the extensive and historical inequality between blacks and whites is overlooking the problem. So when you say “where was the outrage about ‘White Chicks’?”, as if it were somehow no different than the opposite situation, then that comes off as either oblivious or ignorant.

    “My use of ‘black’ is the more specific definition you are referring to. It does acknowledge descent from west African slaves.”

    But it doesn’t specify individual ethnic groups like Yoruba, Igbo, Ewe etc. Plus you can easily use the term “black” to describe African immigrants or descendants from any of the “black” regions of Africa.

    “Yours is a homogenizing definition that includes those who were not slaves but immigrated at a later date. Certainly they don’t have the same feelings about this country’s history, and while they probably experience much of the same racism in this country, they don’t have the historical context to make it as significant.”

    They may not share the same background as African-Americans, but those peoples can easily gain an understanding of this country’s history and might even have a stronger reaction than the slave descendants. I think having a common empathic bond throughout the global black population makes the racism even more significant.

    “Surely “Asian” is not descriptive enough.”

    No but my point is that at least people generally realize that someone who is called “Asian” or “white” has a more descriptive ethnic identity like Japanese, Italian, German or whatever. I don’t think many even consider that black people are anything more than just black people.

  20. Ted

    Ian?

  21. Ian

    “as if it were somehow no different than the opposite situation, then that comes off as either oblivious or ignorant.”

    Hardly. What I am saying is that ‘whiteface’ wouldn’t have any controversial meaning if it weren’t for the existance of blackface. Whiteface invokes the symbolism of blackface. To act like it doesn’t is either oblivious or ignorant. ‘White Chicks’ takes the hurtful symbolism of blackface and cheapens its significance for lame jokes.

    “I don’t think many even consider that black people are anything more than just black people.”

    Thats a ridiculous opinion (yours) and its truly unjustified. Every child in this country spends some time of their day every February for Black History Month. Every one has learned about the Civil War and the slave trade. I know more about Black heritage than my own (Irish) because of it. The unfortunate truth about the whole thing is that the original African culture of slaves brought to this country was erased. It would be difficult to trace lineage to specific regions and peoples. Face it, the African heritage of much of black America has been erased and replaced with a new unique culture. To attempt to draw lines and further divide the race up is an exercise in futility.

    “No but my point is that at least people generally realize that someone who is called “Asian” or “white” has a more descriptive ethnic identity like Japanese, Italian, German or whatever. ”

    But you have to remember that the borders in Europe have changed numerous times over history (See WWI and II). White people in this country can’t trace their lineage back to whatever nomadic peoples they came from before the countries in Europe were formed, and why should they want to? Were all American here now and there shouldn’t be a need to preface that with what type of American you are.

  22. Daimao

    “Every child in this country spends some time of their day every February for Black History Month. Every one has learned about the Civil War and the slave trade.”

    And every child then spends the next eleven months forgetting it. The idea that Black history should be exclusive to the month of February is ridiculous and unjustified. Also the typical subjects covered are incredibly limited. The only things I remember from back then are peanut butter, Rosa Parks and MLK. Nothing about Malcolm X, the ancient African cultures and peoples, or the Black Power movement.

    “The unfortunate truth about the whole thing is that the original African culture of slaves brought to this country was erased. It would be difficult to trace lineage to specific regions and peoples. Face it, the African heritage of much of black America has been erased and replaced with a new unique culture.”

    The original African culture of slaves was never “erased”. They were just brainwashed and made to forget it while forced under a new culture. A new “unique” identity that was vastly inferior and disadvantaged. Also, it is possible to trace DNA back to specific ethnic groups nowadays; it’s only somewhat accurate, but that’s better than nothing. Plus that’s not stopping anyone from learning about those cultures in Africa.

    “To attempt to draw lines and further divide the race up is an exercise in futility.”

    I draw lines to reconnect the race to its identity, in order to unite, not divide it.

    “White people in this country can’t trace their lineage back to whatever nomadic peoples they came from before the countries in Europe were formed, and why should they want to? Were all American here now and there shouldn’t be a need to preface that with what type of American you are.”

    White people may not have a need to know and understand their origins, but that doesn’t consequently mean that blacks and other minorities don’t. Maybe in an ideal America you wouldn’t have to preface what type of American you are, but until people come to understand and recognize the history and identity of Africa and its descendants, it is necessary.

  23. Ted

    I do not even know what this argument is about anymore

  24. Ian

    Yeah Ted, and I am starting not to care anymore. Its just going in circles. I just don’t get what Daimao is really trying to argue here. I hate to toss around labels but to me it sounds like overly sensitive liberal tripe (and I’m pretty damn liberal). Personally I think this kind of thinking is just as detrimental to national unity as racism is. Why the hell do we have to have a national outrage over every little thing said about blacks but not about any other race? The Civil Rights movement fought for equality, not some weird ass skewed social perception of how we should be allowed to talk about blacks and how they should be allowed to talk about everyone else. F political correctness. Just don’t be racist.

    To get the thread back on track, I actually went and saw Tropic Thunder today. I think the Simple Jack retard thing was pretty bad, but Robert Downey Jr’s thing was pretty good. Stiller completely played up the retard bit for laughs and not in the way to make fun of actors who do those roles. The theater thought it was hilarious. There were a few cracks about actors who do such things, like RDJ telling Stiller, “Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump. Nixon liked him. He won a ping pong game. Wasn’t a full retard. Never go full retard.” Those were good, but more time was spent with Stiller doing his Simple Jack role than people ripping on him for it. RDJ on the other hand did not get nearly as many laughs, and I honestly didn’t find his role that funny, but it was still excellent. It served two purposes: First, to lampoon “method” actors. Second, it was meant to show how Hollywood portrays blacks in movies, and how its often completely inaccurate and based on stereotypes. In that sense, the use of blackface is perfect, if such a thing is possible, since the purpose is to appear as a representative of the entire race. From Nathan Rabin of the AV Club when discussing the Spike Lee movie “Bamboozled”:

    “In the film’s most haunting scene, Glover and Davidson painstakingly burn cork in the manner of their minstrel-show predecessors, coat their faces in cocoa butter to protect their skin, then smear the burnt cork on their faces and paint their lips trolley-car red. Driven by Terence Blanchard’s haunting, omnipresent jazz score, it’s a lyrical scene that taps into the juju of blackface, the way it subverts and masks identity while pretending to evoke a universal, one-size-fits-all blackness.”

    RDJ’s character plays that role without even realizing it. He says some pretty foul things sometimes, but the movie always reels him back in, unlike Stiller. Stiller’s character is never reminded he is insensitive, he is simply mocked for playing such a terrible role.

    Also, another large plus of the movie is Tom Cruise as the bald, hairy, foul-mouthed producer. Just thought I would add that.

  25. Daimao

    “Yeah Ted, and I am starting not to care anymore. Its just going in circles. I just don’t get what Daimao is really trying to argue here. I hate to toss around labels but to me it sounds like overly sensitive liberal tripe (and I’m pretty damn liberal). Personally I think this kind of thinking is just as detrimental to national unity as racism is. Why the hell do we have to have a national outrage over every little thing said about blacks but not about any other race? The Civil Rights movement fought for equality, not some weird ass skewed social perception of how we should be allowed to talk about blacks and how they should be allowed to talk about everyone else. F political correctness. Just don’t be racist.”

    I thought I might get a response about how my “dangerous thinking” is a threat to national unity. I had hoped by speaking honestly about racial injustice I wouldn’t get the typical “oh you should stay quiet and not reinforce inequality and racism” bit. The Civil Rights movement may have fought for certain equalities, but even Dr.King knew that true equality was a long-term ideal, or a “dream”, that doesn’t have a short-term fix. You can’t just say “treat everyone equally”, glossing over the problems, and expect any kind of real solution. You must have missed the point if you think my posts had anything to do with political correctness, but you’re right that we’re going in circles at this point, so this is the last bit of “tripe” I’ll write on the issue.

  26. Ian

    No one ever called your thinking “dangerous”. Don’t flatter yourself. If everyone treated everyone equally, there would be no problems to gloss over. But whatever, get all pissy.