I Thought Tropic Thunder was Hilarious

And I'm not sure what that says about me.

I read about advocacy groups for persons with mental disabilities asking people to boycott the movie because of the use of the word "retard". But I like to make my mind up for myself, so Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. just got a little richer because I went to see it. Evan was interested, we talked a little about the "r" word. He said it seemed a little overboard to him, that it's just a movie. We decided to see it.

And I haven't laughed so hard in a movie theater since the original Shrek. There were SO many unexpected laughs - I spent most of the movie laughing out loud. Yes, it was profane. Yes, it was gory. Yes, it was offensive. But, God, was it funny.

My thinking about this isn't clear - I know the word is offensive. So are half the words I hear on SouthPark; I still watch and laugh. Should I be offended? I'm not. Would I feel differently if one of my kids was differently-abled? I. don't. know. I don't think so. I do have friends with mental disabilities, and have friends with children with mental disabilities... and when I think of them, I don't think of the word retard. It's not a word I use -- unless I'm blogging about movies that use that word.

Did that sound too much like "some of my best friends are black"?

Am I blind? Unaware? Close-minded? Not generally. I'm fairly aware. Compassionate. When I speak with my differently-abled friends, I don't talk down to them, or treat them any differently than my friends with full mental faculties. Except for the one I need to feed. I don' t normally spoon food into most of my friends' mouths. Some of the kids diagnosed with disorders that I know are the most beautiful, amazing people I know - I consider them teachers. They've certainly taught their parents to be more sensitive, less controlling. They've taught me to listen even closer, with my heart.

If I'm respectful to the differently-abled in my life, is it OK if I laugh about them in a movie? BUT - I wasn't laughing at them. I was laughing at Ben Stiller's over-the-top portrayal of Simple Jack. I was laughing at the thought that his character thought it was a truly great movie.

I have similar questions about a comment I left on Bossy's blog. She had written about the google ads for Asian mail-order brides that had popped up on her site. I wrote, "The problem with Asian mail-order brides is that twenty minutes after you finish the first one, you're ready for another one." I have no doubt that's offensive to some people. Does that make it unfunny?

Is it still unfunny if I hang out regularly with a friend and his new wife, whom I adore - an Asian mail-order bride? They both thought the comment was funny. Does that make it OK? Was it ever not OK?

I'm sorry if you came here looking for clarity and a well-thought-out, reasoned post. I'm not there. I still don't know.

I don't feel guilty for laughing with my 15-year-old son last night. Was it at the expense of other people? If so - how? We weren't laughing at the disabled. We were laughing at Robert Downey, Jr. in blackface, quoting the lyrics from "The Jeffersons" as if they were as moving as a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. We were laughing at Matthew McConaughey running through the jungle with a TiVo. We were laughing at Jack Black detoxing from heroin. Hmmm... I have many friends who are recovering addicts. Should I be offended at Jack Black's character? We were laughing at someone unexpectedly getting blown up by a landmine. (Yes - we laughed. It's a movie.) We were laughing at Tom Cruise's most decidedly crazy character. We laughed and laughed and laughed, and on the bus ride home, talked and laughed some more.

There's something about personal responsibility, here, that I can't quite put my finger on... I saw the movie; I am personally responsible for my relations to and interactions with people with mental disabilities. I can't lay how people get treated at the feet of movie-makers.

Am I ignorant? Is this a big glaring hole in my awareness?

After the movie, Evan said, "I don't use that word, and won't. I think if people use that word in their lives, they'll still use it after they see the movie. If they don't use it, this won't make 'em start."

I actually want to see it again. I hope lots of people go see it, because Ben Stiller is an excellent writer and director, and all of the actors were right on, and I think excellence should be rewarded.

Does that make me a hate-monger?

edited to add: I think I see now. Not because of what anyone else has said, but because I just re-read this, and I'm seeing it with new eyes. Do I think the world would be a better place if the word 'retard' were to vanish from it? Yes, actually, I do. I think that would be an improvement. Seen from that perspective, it's not about how they use the word in the movie - it's about the existence of the word.

Until that happens - the word is never uttered again - movies will use the word. It's not only this movie that uses that word; the word exists and is part of our world. Would the movie have been just as funny without 'retard'? Yep. Do I think the movie should have been boycotted because of the use of the word? Nope. csk 10/2/08


Ann said...

Well, I was going to try to think of something to say - but I'm leaving it to what Evan closed with. There it is, in a nutshell.

califmom said...

As an unschooling mother of a son who could probably qualify for a seat on the short bus, I have to say I don't find the word "retarded" offensive when it's not being used about the disabled.

I do think it's one of those loaded words, much like the queer or nigger, that once it's reclaimed by it's population, it loses a lot of its power (but not necessarily all of it).

If we can laugh at it out of context of its original use, that tells me it's losing some of its power, and that makes me happy.

diana(hahamommy) said...

I'm not a re-tard, I'm just a Tard. It stuck the first time :)
That's our family's joke!
The other day, I was speaking with an english accent and I said Theatre, very dramatically; H said it sounded like Leotard (said with MORE drama). We giggled and I said, ah if you were tarded, you'd be a Leo-Tard -- and we rushed home so as not to piss our pants!!!
If we're wrong, honey, I don' wanna be right ♥