Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Simple Cruelty: Tropic Thunder and the R Word

This post has been edited to delete a link to display a graphic (no longer available), which called for banning the R-word. I generally don't believe in banning offensive words, despite my well-known propensity for behaving like "the word police" in criticizing them. (I'm not offended, Maddy, I know you meant it in a friendly way.)

I do, however, believe that it is both appropriate and socially responsible to point out offensive and harmful uses of language when they occur. As for individuals and commercial entities that intentionally profit from the use of such language, showing no empathy whatsoever toward the people harmed by their cruelty, I believe that boycotting them and their sponsors often can be the most effective way to get their attention and force them to clean up their act.

What do you feel is the best way to deal with situations like this? Patricia E. Bauer is asking this question regarding the movie Tropic Thunder, which is due to be released August 13th and spews the R-word and its assorted stereotypes all over the script for cheap laughs. Several representatives of disability rights organizations will be meeting with studio executives Wednesday to express their concerns.

If you have a moment, please visit her blog to learn more about the controversy and join in the conversation there on what should be done about it.

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  • I'll pop over there in a minute. I had to check what the 'R' word was!

    I thought that word went out with the ark a bit like the S word [although that might just be GB]

    I do know that a long time ago [before I knew what blogging was as such] I would whizz around looking for references to 'autism.'

    I would come across very disparaging usage and sometimes [if brave] I would comment. What followed was a fire blast. However, I found that through email correspondence it was entirely possible to help people understand how damaging their casual use of this word could be.

    So what do I think? It's always o.k. to call people on it, just make sure we're all very polite.


    By Blogger Maddy, at 7:11 PM  

  • I am not for banning free speech.
    I want my free speech so I can say the good things. "Banning", even for the right reasons, can have a blow back effect.

    This is a word I do not like. I just ignore people as much as I can then I tell them the word is offensive to me.

    By Blogger A Bishops Wife, at 8:15 AM  

  • At Blogher '08's Special-Needs Mommy Blogging Panel, Stephanie Klein of the blog Greek Tragedy sparked a conversation about using the word "retarded" (and its variations). Happiekatie, liveblogging the panel, summarized the response:

    "Using humor and language when discussing child's disability
    Language frames how we think about things - if you accept a language that puts disabilities first and foremost in the minds of people, that's not positive for anyone. So many loaded words in our language, but important not to diminish our children when we speak about them. There are many repercussions when using certain language and types of humor, maybe more than what one person really can deal with.


    Disability rights are one of the only kinds of visible discrimination left, it's a final frontier we must conquer! Outing yourself as a parent of child with special needs changes the conversation. Knowing that everyone is out there online makes this change of tone and daily challenges so much easier. "

    By Blogger Liz Ditz, at 11:46 AM  

  • I agree with the A Bishops Wife. Banning can have a blow back effect.

    Banning to me seems to indicate setting up a law and enforcing it.I think we can act more independently.

    Like you say very well ABFH, boycotting can be an effective means for discouraging using these words and hurtful stereotypes in movies but their audience or those whom they can see as their potential audience has to do that.

    I think these movie makers believe that their audience wants this and for now they may be right.

    Disability rights groups also need to be more privately rather than publicly funded. Rather than getting ineffective laws enforced, we can send a message to sponcers that we represent lots of independent potential consumers of their products.

    Also we can show them that we can can act independently of the governmental restrictions that money backers of these movies are now being allowed to influence based on who they "think" there market is (that audience being one that supports what they sell like this movie, or doesn't care).

    Laws don't need to be broken or even gone around either. There are plenty of laws in place to get things done without making new ones. They just aren't being used.

    By Blogger Ed, at 12:24 PM  

  • I have a journal entry on this at Deviant Art. However, I do agree that banning the word will only make matters worse. After all, we do have freedom of speech. We just need to take responsibility in using the right words, so that we don't offend others.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  

  • There's always danger in being accused of being "overly sensitive" when pointing out the hate behind language like the R-word. "Well, shucks, what is this world coming to when we can't even say a little word like that? What with all the violence and sex and yada yada and you people want to get your panties in a bundle over a silly little *word*?"

    There's also danger of getting the highly annoying response of "Well, it says here in the *dictionary* that the word means . . ."

    While it's of course unnecessary on this blog for me to go into detail about why the word carries so much hate (y'all already get it), I will say a bit about sheer laziness. As in, there are other, more clever words to use as insults, and I have a fucking dictionary too, and I'd like to see you try that crap on, say, the "N" word ("Well, it says here in the dictionary that Negro means . . .") and really, really, folks, if you're that bloody lazy and uninventive and subscribe to that sort of brainless attempt at "humor", wouldn't it be easier to just shut up and listen rather than regurgitate excuses on some sort of invented "principle", or have someone else write your "jokes" for you?

    Then again, I laughed like hell when, on South Park, a group of adults couldn't figure out that Jimmy was trying to tell them a video had been taken back to the video *store*, and kept interrupting him, and Jimmy called *them* the R-word. Intelligent humor is all about context, you see.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:30 PM  

  • agree wholeheartedly with your post. i think what's most frusterating is that thinking about words gets labelled and brushed off as "political correctness" instead of looking at the way society excludes and mistreats people through words.

    good post, abfh.

    By Blogger cripchick, at 6:57 AM  

  • I saw a trailer for that film and me and my husband thought it might make for a fun night out. I'll not bother seeing it now I know about this.

    I agree that we can't ban words, nor should we try. But it is important to explain the hurt this one causes and ask people to reconsider using it.

    An Irish blog I lurk on sometimes, had a row about the word. Someone told the author that the word can be offensive, and he was shot down with great strength and vigour, by a load of people campaigning for their right to keep offending people. I was too chicken to intervene and just walked away with a bad feeling about several writers I'd previously admired.

    Have you seen Dave Hingsburger's post on this?

    By Blogger Sharon McDaid, at 9:07 AM  

  • I just posted an entry on my own blog about this controversy.

    What bothered me most, I think, is how differently the issues of race and disability are handled in the trailer. There are several scenes in the trailer where Downey's character is not only criticized, but criticized by actual black characters. Yet the criticism of Stiller's character within the context of the movie is of a different nature entirely.

    Even if "Simple Jack" is addressed in a more balanced manner in the movie, the choice of which scenes made it into the trailer has some very Unfortunate Implications.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:01 PM  

  • (Er, the above "Cody" is me. I didn't realize I was logged in with my 'mailing lists' gmail account.)

    By Blogger codeman38, at 9:03 PM  

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