But the movie has also been a bit of a hot topic in the disability community recently. For example, the President & CEO of Special Olympics Canada has issued a communique concerning the movie-within-the movie wherein Ben Stiller plays "Simple Jack", a man with an intellectual disability, notings that it contains "material that would be considered offensive to members of our community".
Of particular concern appears to be the movie's original tagline "Once upon a time … There was a retard” and a scene in which Robert Downey Jr.’s character advises Stiller’s character to “Never go full retard.”
For this reason, Special Olympics International is leading a public campaign surrounding the film in the US. Although SOI, along with a coalition of US disability organizations, has engaged in conversations with DreamWorks (the production company) to address the content, requesting that action be taken to delete these scenes from the film and marketing platform, as well as to promote public service announcements and educational opportunities about people with intellectual disabilities, apparently, this has been to no avail.
It is hard to argue with the premise that the words we choose are an expression of our values and that much hurt and harm can be caused by using hurtful language. And while I don't know that I would personally go so far as to label the "R-word" as "hate speech", it's no secret that I have a lot of trouble with the word's casual use. I have, in fact, for a long time.
But that being said, in the past I have perceived the disability community, on occasion, to overreact to various movies. And not having seen Tropic Thunder, I will reserve judgment.
I would, however, like to point you to the words of a young man with Down Syndrome. John Franklin Stephens is a Special Olympics Virginia athlete and a global messenger for the Special Olympics. Here is just a portion of what he has to say on the subject.
So, what's wrong with "retard"? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here -- alone. Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do. You don't mean to make me feel that way. In fact, like I say in some of my speeches, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and it works out OK most of the time.You can read the rest of it here.
Still, it hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making "retard" jokes or references. Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.
Last, I get the joke -- the irony -- that only dumb and shallow people are using a term that means dumb and shallow. The problem is, it is only funny if you think a "retard" is someone dumb and shallow. I am not those things, but every time the term is used it tells young people that it is OK to think of me that way and to keep me on the outside.
H/T to Pipecleaner Dreams
Update: Cruising around the intertubes a bit on this subject, I came up with this response, which seems to say it well.
"Hey... in case you have been living under a rock for the past 100 years, using the R word reinforces a negative stereotype that we have been trying to get rid of forever... thanks, assholes... "So, 'nuff said, I think.