have ‘Tropic Thunder’ protesters actually seen the movie?

The only possible explanation for their complete wrongheadedness here is that they haven’t:

US groups that represent the disabled have protested at the premiere of Ben Stiller’s new film, Tropic Thunder.

Demonstrators who gathered outside the Mann Village Theatre, in Los Angeles, said the film “humiliates people with intellectual disabilities”.

What? The movie, quite clearly, does not do this, and it’s hard to imagine anyone honestly believing otherwise. Of course, it’s possible that the protesters do not honestly believe this and are merely taking advantage of the opportunity for some publicity. Either way, they’re making themselves look foolish.


Tim Shriver, chairman of disability group Special Olympics, said protestors were particularly offended by the use of the word “retard” regarding a character, Simple Jack, played by Stiller

“We feel that the use of the word ‘retard’ throughout the film, 15 or more times, is done without any regard for the dignity of people with intellectual disabilities,” he said.

Hmm. Yes, the word retard does appear in the film. But this is kinda like protesting that Huckleberry Finn is racist because the word nigger appears in it X number of times. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the point is, surely it’s the context that matters, not the word itself. Surely. Otherwise satire cannot exist.

“The caricatures of people with intellectual disabilities are you know, almost hateful, and we want this to be the beginning of the end. We want this to be the end of Hollywood treating this population as the butt of jokes.”

But that is the point of the “retard” jokes in the movie: they don’t make fun of retarded people, they make fun of actors who play retarded people as caricatures, who use mental disability cynically as a path to critical acclaim and awards. The caricatures here are the celebrities — in this particular instance, the actor played by Ben Stiller — not people with disabilities.

Of course, more people will hear about these protests than will ever see Tropic Thunder. So most people will never realize that the protesters are wrong. All they’ll remember is that Ben Stiller is mean to retarded people. And that doesn’t seem very fair.

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