When I was a younger man I did a couple of summers at camps for retarded children and adults (as a counselor, not as a camper. For the record). The camps were filled with campers of varying levels of ability; the man in my charge at adult camp was completely non-verbal, used to shit his pants on the regular* and had been abused viciously at Willowbrook State School. Other campers were very high functioning and capable of mostly independent living. On the first day of adult camp one summer, all the campers came to the upstate New York site on a bus together; as they unloaded we each took charge of our camper. One of the higher functioning campers got off the bus and asked his counselor ‘Is it just me, or are these guys all retarded?’ ‘It’s just you,’ his counselor replied.
I learned two things those two summers: I don’t like washing feces off adults and that you have to have a sense of humor in that environment. Somebody needs to tell that to Timothy P. Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, who is calling for a boycott of this week’s release Tropic Thunder. Why? Because in the film Ben Stiller’s action movie actor character attempts to go for Oscar gold with a Forrest Gump-esque movie called Simple Jack; Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus, serious Method actor extreme, explains to him where he went wrong with the role: ‘Never go full retard,’ he says.
It’s funny because it’s true, and anyone watching the film would realize that Stiller and screenwriters Justin Theroux and Etan Coen are poking fun not at retarded people but at the way that Hollywood, and specifically Oscar-hungry actors, condescendingly approach the retarded (a word I’m not even supposed to be using here. It’s too mean spirited). The joke is not on the disabled but on the industry and the actors; normally I would assume that the people making this stink haven’t seen the film, but one member of the boycott group Shriver has put together, David C. Tolleson of the National Down Syndrome Congress, has seen the movie and said, “I came out feeling like I had been assaulted.” Now that’s retarded.
This looks to be a real boycott brewing, as serious groups like the Arc of the United States (with whom I’ve worked), the National Down Syndrome Congress, the
American Association of People With Disabilities and others are getting ready to protest theaters showing the movie. I know that this is ‘wrong,’ but tell me that if you went to a screening of Tropic Thunder and saw a bunch of retarded people picketing outside you wouldn’t chuckle just a little bit.
And it’s getting worse. Shriver is doing the totally retarded thing of asking members of Congress to denounce the film as ‘hate speech.’ We’re already a nation on the verge of regulating thought with hate speech laws – are we about to become one that censors movies and art because people get their feelings hurt by it?
Words don’t hurt people. That’s a lesson no one seems to learn. Intent hurts people. There are plenty of racists out there today, and they just don’t use words like ‘nigger’ anymore. By focusing on the bugbear of language we’ve allowed these people to hide themselves in plain view, so that they can get people worked up about Obama by focusing on his ‘otherness’ as opposed to his blackness. These butthurt fucktards have created a world where the real bad guys, the real haters, have learned to speak in codes on Fox News so that they can say things that are just like what they were saying back in the days of Brown v Board of Education, but more politely.
Thankfully the movie isn’t being changed, but some of the advertising has been. The viral Simple Jack website (which had a blurb from Dark Horizons on it!) has been disappeared. I urge you to go see Tropic Thunder this week not only because it’s funny but also to show that you understand humor, and that you understand that words are not the same as actions. Give one of those picketing retards a piece of candy on the way out, too.
*and would punch me in the head when I tried to shower him off.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey