Tropic Thunder, or how I learned to be fed up with over sensitive sensitivity advocates.Posted: August 30, 2008
Tropic Thunder, a genuinely amusing — and as is often the case with Frat Pack films, more intelligent that “intelligent critics” give it credit for — has drawn some fire recently from advocates of those who suffer from mental disabilities.
Why? Because of a pervasive use of the words “retard” and “retarded” in conjunction with the description of one of the character’s faux films, “Simple Jack,” in which Ben Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, plays a sweetly-retarded character in a box office flop.
Yes — before you say it — I intend to use the word “retarded” in my review of this film.
Now, I can understand why those who went to this movie, or reviewed it because some advocacy group objected to it, might object to certain scenes — the one that springs to mind is when character Kirk Lazarus ( a jive-spouting Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, which I think should be the MOST OFFENSIVE part of this film) tells Speedman that he should never go “full retarded” in a movie, lest the audience lose a sense of connection to the character. This references Tom Hanks’ and Dustin Hoffman’s similar films that won acclaim because being their characters were just dim enough to maintain connection with the audience without going “too retarded”. However, I think once again, advocacy groups are missing the point of the satire in this film.
I don’t remember “Rain Man” drawing fire from autism advocates, but this film exploited –and in an almost vaudevillian manner — the character’s mental disability to critical acclaim. Last time I checked, Dustin Hoffman might have a higher IQ than I do, and I was in gifted and talented class.
So, to be fair, shouldn’t the Special Olympics and ARC of the United States retroactively decry “Rain Man” for its exploitation of a stereotype?
No, of course they shouldn’t. “Rain Man” is a great film. And “Tropic Thunder” is at least a good film that shines light on many of Hollywood’s excesses, including its manipulation of Middle America’s near-subconscious guilt about the mistreatment it levied against the retarded kid in high school.
This brings me to another lesson that I learned in high school, all the way in Jefferson County, West Virginia– a state at which much similarly stereotype-driven humor is often lobbed– satire isn’t for everybody. Fewer and fewer people in this country actually have the intellectual capacity to understand when they are watching or reading satire. Even a comedy film-within-a-film, depicting hyperbolically absurd characters drawn on various Hollywood stereotypes, which begins with obviously fake trailers, is apparently not cue enough for some people to realize that they are watching satire, or the purpose of satire. Satire rarely targets the victims of oppression in society (i.e. the mentally challenged) but the victimizers (i.e. film producers who want to tug at your heart strings with tales of the triumph of “Forrest Gump” so you will buy a movie ticket, a DVD and a soundtrack full of recycled hits from the 1960s and ’70s).
And to those who I view as intelligent peers, who might for what they see as good reason, oppose the victimization of the mentally challenged for amusement, I leave you with this: If you don’t want to see a movie, don’t see it. But, don’t feed me a self-righteous reason for not seeing it, either. This sort of reverse-bigotry (let’s call a spade a spade here) is no less absurd than religious folks boycotting ” Dogma” or ” Saved” — both excellent commentaries on the hypocrisy of organized religion which nevertheless advocate a nuanced spirituality — because they are ” anti-religious” or rejecting ” Brokeback Mountain” because “they’s gays in it.”
This sort of assault on freedom of expression, if people take it seriously, I think seriously jeopardizes the comedy genre. If people aren’t offended, they won’t think, and if we aren’t allowed to offend each other in a playful way, we will be left with nothing but bland reiterations of TGIF for eternity. While I like re-runs of Full House as much as the next guy, I prefer a little more variety, and yes, a little more shock value every once in a while.