Friday, August 15, 2008

Politically Correct

I write this wondering if I'm coming from a a sublime kind of denial or ignorance. I don't think I'm going to make myself very popular with this entry. I don't think I've yet acquired the personal experience needed to not be ignorant about this. So please, correct me if I need correcting. Email me or write me a comment.

There is a movement afoot to boycott Tropic Thunder due to its repetitive use of a certain word and the way they’ve used the word in its marketing. Politically, I know where I’m supposed to stand on this subject. I’m a part of this community. I’m supposed to stand with them.

Other than being empathetic though, I’m not quite sure where I stand politically.

People are angry. I think they are reacting the way they are because they deal with this word on a daily basis when it is spoken out of hate and used specifically to hurt and dehumanize specifically the people they love dearly.

It must become difficult after time to separate the people who use the word in a general and casually derogatory sense from the people who use the word purposely to the faces of specific people in public places. It must be become difficult over time to distinguish the laughter of those who laugh at a joke from those who laugh at a person.

I haven’t had this consistent and painfully personal experience to date. Perhaps this is why I’m not as emotionally charged about the subject.

I’m not na├»ve. I know there is hate and ignorance out there, and I’ve been witness to it on occasion. I’m on the fence however about whether or not bigoted language begets hate or hate begets bigoted language.

The C word and the N word have been censored in our culture. They’re not used in polite company. They’re beeped out on radio and on network television. Still, there is racism and sexism inherent in our country. Hate crimes still happen.

The only difference between the C and N words and the R word currently is the level of awareness. Bigoted and/or sexist or not, anyone and everyone knows those words are offensive and why. The usage of the words is policed, but it hasn’t ended the hate behind the words, has it? Has it even decreased? What will change in the world if the R word is censored?

I don’t know where I stand on this. I know people who throw the R word around thoughtlessly, and these are not people I believe who hate anyone or would ever do anything purposely to hurt anyone.

I believe a word can be used impersonally and without hate, even though that same word can be used in a different context to be an exquisitely personal weapon. Does that mean the word should be eliminated? Is it the word or the actions associated with the use of the word that are the real problem?

I think there is an inherent problem with attaching a stigma to the R word. The problem is, how do you separate the stupid from the retarded, or is there any culturally perceived difference?

Intelligence is measured by IQ. It is not an infallible measure by any means; do enough research and you might even begin to question whether there is any merit in it at all.

Still, historically, intelligence is measured in IQ. If your IQ is lower than 70 (or even 80 according to some interpretations), you are considered clinically and medically retarded. According to the way the system works, the normal range for IQ is 85-115 or 90-109, depending on which interpretation you choose to believe.

I haven’t seen Tropic Thunder, and I've read they haven’t allowed any groups to prescreen it to see how offensive it truly is. However, from the previews I’ve seen, the main players certainly act like they have a lower than average IQ (in other words, they’re stupid). Quite likely, they may even be clinically retarded. Most likely, they are just socially retarded.

But in any event, if they refer to one another as retarded, perhaps they are correct. If they are talking about others being retarded, being as they themselves are apparently lacking in IQ themselves, then that would be irony.

But is it offensive? Of course it is; they meant it to be. There is a certain kind of humor that dances on the edge of decency; it’s supposed to offend us, so that we open our eyes and look at ourselves and our presuppositions and maybe, possibly, just rethink things a little bit. South Park does this every episode about a whole myriad of topics.

Is Tropic Thunder successful in walking the line? I can’t know without seeing it; and then it would only be my opinion.

I know of movies that I believe have done this successfully. The Ringer comes to mind; it has an intentionally offensive premise, but because of the underlying respect in the script given to the handicapped actors in the movie and the handicapped characters they portray, the movie itself becomes a learning piece. The protagonist in the film is the one committing the offensive and bigoted act; he learns something about himself and the people he meant to exploit; he comes out a better and more respectful person. As an audience, we’re meant to make the same journey with him.

I don’t really see anything on that level in the previews I’ve seen of Tropic Thunder, but to be fair, I didn’t care for the previews of The Ringer either.
I’m not going to take a political stand on the movie.

I imagine as the years progress and experience shapes me, I’ll end up adamantly and inflexibly on one side of this specific issue. But right now, I’m not sure that being ruffled and indignant is any way to encourage people to think about particular things. And isn’t that the point of having a mission, to open people’s eyes to a different point of view?

2 comments:

YarnHacker K August 18, 2008 at 1:05 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
YarnHacker K August 18, 2008 at 1:11 AM  

I'm gonna be the sh** disturber, if ya don't mind. Because I have been and always will be, donchaknow.

I have a major problem when I hear people toss around the word "retard" as an easy insult ("God, what a retard!"). I have the same reaction when I hear people insult someone with "gay" ("Man, he's so gay!"). It's thoughtless and when used that way it means nothing but nastiness. Put that way, the words have just come to mean "useless", "worthless", "good for nothing" - and nobody is any of that.

But in humor? Then it's tricky - as you've pointed out. I think it's a little dangerous to lose your sense of humor. No... let me be clear. I think it's *really* dangerous. That's why I think your tag line, "My kid has more chromosomes than your kid" is SO great. Your sense of humor about the world is very well intact.

The humor line is hard to draw, I agree - what's just funny and what is hurtful? Depends on the person, the circumstance, the day of the week.

But I'll challenge you with this. You have a very thoughtful entry here - and one that I know is very true to who you are, Jeannie.

And yet in your right hand column you have a big red logo to "Ban the "R" word".

If you ban it, it can't even be used ironically. Humorously. Ever. Banning? Is contrary to what you just wrote.

So can we use the "R" word? Ever? Because if we can, it shouldn't be banned. Banning is serious business, as well you know. And if we can't use it, and you really do stand behind banning it, then this entry has to be seriously rethought.

(Please come to CA and smack me personally. You know I'd love to see you!)

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