Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Generating Controversy

DreamWorks Production is raising plenty of controversy with its latest comedy release Tropic Thunder, starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jack Black. The film has come under intense criticism from advocacy groups for its negative portrayal of people with mental and learning disabilities, and its gratuitous use of the word "retard." The film makers explain that the movie is actually poking fun at the characters of the film itself, and not callously mocking individuals with learning disabilities. That explanation has done little to assuage groups such as Special Olympics, the Arc of the United States, and the National Down Syndrome Congress, who have launched a nation-wide boycott of the film and are encouraging movie goers to skip it completely. On a related note, this past July shock-jock Michael Savage described autistic children as "brats" and characterized autism as a "fraud" and a "racket." Many of the same groups boycotting DreamWorks' Tropic Thunder have called for Savage's resignation. Savage, as far as I'm aware, to this day has failed to apologize for his comments.

The contentions generated by the release of Tropic Thunder bring several issues to the forefront of discussion:

1) We, as a society, are careful not to offend certain groups by applying specific words and phrases that are seen as derogatory and inflammatory. Why should people with learning disabilities not be afforded the same sensitivities?
2) Is all this tip-toeing around certain words with certain groups political correctness run amok? Some might wonder whether it might someday be impossible to say anything about anyone without causing a row.
3) Are people who are outraged by this film simply being a little too sensitive?

I have not seen Tropic Thunder and I probably never will. But the film's controversy does highlight weighty considerations as to when too far is far enough. Michael Savage, who gets his pay raises by getting a rise out of people, probably made those imbecilic comments fully aware of the publicity it would bring both to himself and to his radio show.


Greg Reich said...

Stations have dropped Michael Savage over his comments, and so have advertisers. He may have thought the publicity was going to be a good thing, but he didn't count on parents of children with autism--like me--educating his advertisers about what he says on his show, associating their brand with disparaging comments about special needs children.

Shirley said...

I find that I really don't like most comedy films, as their "humor" usually is only belittling someone. There is so much negativity in the world,and not enough time and money spent on making the world a better place. Why pay to see a film like this- put your money where it will do some good instead; average cost of going to a movie can run around $20 or more including snacks. Have a couple of Masses said instead, or give it to the local foodbank.

Adrienne said...

On the one hand people should have a certain amount of "class" and keep some things to themselves.

On the other hand I'm sick to death of people who are in a constant state of outrage. Sticks and stones, and all that......

Katie Alender said...

I think the best reaction is that people who are sympathetic to the issue simply not go see the movie. It will send a fairly clear message.

But I do hate to think of all the young kids who will be inappropriately taken to see this movie and will come out happily chirping really hurtful language.

Whatever happened to the Golden Rule? Obviously none of these people is the parent of a special needs child.

Jennifer said...

I have a mental illness and often hear people joking about it, so I can sympathize with the outrage people are feeling with this movie.

unhappy said...

I'm offended by foul language, sex scenes, the objectification of women, the glorification of drug use, and violence, but no one is getting all up in arms about those things in our movies. They just slap an R rating on those movies and people don't have to see them if they don't want to.

Jeannette said...

This is one more example of the power parents have to influence their children, for good or bad. The R-rating SHOULD be a flag, but still there will be those who ignore it and will take their young ones to the theather... and quite likely not explain that this is a satire, not reality.
About the use of the word, I seriously advise those activists to take a leisure walk down the corridors of any middle school in our good U.S. of A. and THEN talk. Kids call each other by some vile names that in my time would have had you with a blackeye for your troubles. Instead of raising a ruckus over the use of the word, why not use it as a learning experience and distribute pamphlets about mental retardation and other intellect disabilities? But no, they want to restrict the rights of those who actually want to see this movie and have it pulled from the theathers.

ORION said...

This issue is close to my heart. Thanks for bringing it up. I think the use of inappropriate labeling in movies encourages children to use them in school- as a teacher I found it so- those who say chill out are either not in the demographic being name called or don't have children who have mental challenges-
Yet I would never - even if I strongly disagreed with the message - ever want to ban language or censor a movie- Just make sure children and teenagers are not encouraged to go-
My personal opinion is that I find it sad that this "poking fun" at those with disabilities can be considered amusing.