Are You Fazed by "Tropic Thunder" Protest?

As we've warned the day before, last night the premiere of Tropic Thunder in LA's Westwood district was ambushed by disability groups offended by the movie's many use of the word "retard" to describe mentally handicapped people. The protest took place across the street from the theater, with protesters holding up signs like "Ban the movie, ban the word" and wearing "Tropic Blunder" t-shirts. They were also passing out flyers urging people to boycott the movie.

"We are asking people not to go to the movie and hope to bring a consciousness to people about using derogatory words about this population," Peter Wheeler, spokesman for Special Olympics, one of 22 disability groups nationwide protesting the satire, told Herald Sun.

The premiere was largely unaffected, though. The event organizers, who called the protest "sad", protected the red carpet with walls and 10-feet high shrubs, thus hiding the picketers from TV cameras. The ticket will call was moved to the side of a parking lot and protected by a temporary wall. Security was also visibly tighter.

"If you want to pick on people, as the old playground saying goes, pick on people your own size," said Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics. Um, reality check? They are. Maybe these peeps are too stupid to get the joke (did I cross a line there?), but Stiller and co. are picking on their own people with this movie. It's making fun of Hollywood actors, see?

"Some people have been upset about that particular joke and I understand their concern," co-writer Justin Theroux told Variety. "We're not putting mentally challenged people in our scopes. Again, the focus is on the movies. We've seen hundreds and billions of them -- some of those movies are wonderful and then there are others where you think, this is clearly someone's vanity project, and they're doing it for a very particular reason, and people should be just as offended at that. So we wanted to see that up and take a swing at that as well."

But how exactly did all of this start? How did a little joke—which, let's face it, isn't anything new whatsoever in TV and movies—suddenly become such a hot button? For the answer, we should ask Disability News journalist Patricia E. Bauer, who may have spearheaded the backlash when she reported damning reactions to the Simple Jack website on her site. Her post sparked an attention and got the viral Simple Jack website pulled. Now, she's not dumb. Bauer—who worked as a liaison on Johnny Knoxville's Special Olympics comedy The Ringer—acknowledged the fact that Stiller and his co-writers were making fun of actors, and that the movie is targeting other stereotype portrayals, as well; but none of that seem to matter. She wrote in a post on August 2nd:

People of different races surely were involved in the making of this film, and were able to express opinions about which references were humorous and which might have gone too far. So were people with different sexual orientations.

How many people with cognitive disabilities were involved in the making of this film? Were any people with cognitive disabilities involved in focus groups for this film? How many are employed by Dreamworks, or by parent company Paramount?

Let me get this straight... She's unhappy because the production may have hired black people on the crew, so the whole Robert Downey, Jr. blackface thing was not as offensive, but because they didn't employ the disabled, they're not allowed to make disability jokes? That doesn't sound like any solid reasoning at all. Yeah, I know it's more than that, but such a distinction line is hard to see, let alone drawn. And by the way, this shit is utterly hypocritical.

I can't empathize with mentally handicapped people because I am not one, as proven by the cool hats I wear in public, but I do know how it feels to be the butt of a joke, whether based on my personal behaviour or generally on account of my racial and/or cultural identity. Yeah, it stings at first, but we have to understand that it's a comedian's job to make observations in real life and distill them into potential jokes. Offensive or not, misinformed or not, they open us up to a free dialogue as to why people behave a certain way. Why must we put a limit to what is acceptable to make fun of? Can any of these people seriously tell me with a straight face that they are above laughing at someone else's expense? Have they never laughed at a "President Bush is so stoopid" joke? Or a Paris Hilton joke? Or just a joke someone makes about a clumsy co-worker? Or are they free game because they're supposed to be fully functioning human beings? Excuse me, but isn't that pandering, the idea that somehow the disabled are supposed to be inferior people, but we have to make sure we don't say it out loud?

I've had someone say to me that it's no good to make fun of the disabled because it's not fair, since they can't defend themselves. Bullshit. Where do we get off saying so? It's no different than overblown white guilt. You ever see a white person go ballistic over some racial thing that didn't even offend the targeted minority? Yeah, that. Some people are just needlessly overprotective, when in truth, there are a large number of disabled people willing and able to laugh at themselves and accept their conditions. Banning words, not to mention a silly movie, is not progressive. It's insecure, kneejerk paranoia. There are more hurtful things in the world than having yourself associated with a negative stereotype.

It's all a matter of perspective. Some things hit closer to home to some of us more than others. It's natural. To try and stop others' right to laugh and demand the world to succumb to our own personal comfort level is... Well, it's stupid. That's not how society functions. That's not how comedy functions. And not to get too patriotic, but that's why we have freedom of speech here. Because anything and everything has the potential to offend. Sorry, but humor comes in all forms.

But you know something? The real funny thing about all this?

Free publicity.

That is all.

Aug
12
2008
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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