Seriously. You are guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.

Let’s have a heated debate! Opening salvo in the Irish media on Tropic Thunder. I spoke to Newstalk early Thursday about my problems with the movie. You’ll have to overlook the nasty case of cotton mouth I got at the start of the conversation. I ain’t no media-savvy talker. But I think I covered what I wanted to say. Eventually.

Newstalk 106 on Tropic Thunder

More here from Lisa and from Peter on Newstalk

As I suspected, there was a barrage of ‘Well don’t go and see it then’ type comments, but the funniest for me had to be when an emailer with red hair likened schoolday name calling (Rusty? Ginger? Dunno. S/he didn’t elaborate.) to the ‘Never go Full Retard’ conundrum. Even to the point of saying they were ok now, and what’s the big deal exactly? I know that’ll be a huge comfort to those who have Down syndrome. When they eventually grow out of it they’ll laugh and hoot at other ‘retards’ and there’ll be cotton candy for everyone and-

But how will they defend themselves without the right tools? Oops, pics of right tools included.

Oh enough sarcasm. My head is tired with this yin-yang. I want to thank two people tonight. Firstly Hammie, who’s been hammering home all the pieces of the debate that I dropped (and there were lots) on forums all over the place. Secondly rock on to Sharon who made some superb points across a few forums. Not only is she concerned and vocal, but she’s also thorough. (She posted this at her place and I’m hijacking it.) Here’s where Stiller got the inspiration for his inspired and inspiring send-up of Tinseltown, actors and egotism:

And more news reports :

And on the other hand…

From the fully informed perspective, Tom at Narrow Ridge has seen, and has written a very balanced view here. He also has a son with DS, Ian, and so his perspective is relevant. Read part 1 here…

And from Suzie Smith in Utah, first hand opinion on the movie here.

Taking this retarded fight to the national airwaves

Tomorrow morning between nine and eleven, national Irish broadcaster Newstalk 106 will debate the upcoming Ben Stiller movie Tropic Thunder. It ought to get lively. Opinions will be sought, including mine. The film opens today in the US. Its premiers have attracted crowds of protesters who wish to ban it.

I haven’t seen it, and I’m not in favour of banning it, or proscribing the words used in it for that matter, although the ‘R word’ (as the US euphemism is known to the disability lobbyists) has much more weight there than it does here. More on that at a later date. What I do have a problem with is the way that DreamWorks has manipulated the content of this movie, to the point of making a dedicated website, trailer and even merchandising for the fictitious movie within Tropic Thunder called Simple Jack. Its strapline read ‘Once there was a retard.’ References to it on the web have pretty much disappeared. Step up and take a bow, US Disability lobbyists.

(In my utter naivete, I know) I see studios as being a type of moral barometer in these issues. Or at least I want to see them that way. The tone they set will in turn be adopted by the more impressionable, especially the young. The fact that a stellar cast of great comedic talent is involved makes this all the more likely. Fourteen year olds don’t give a flying monkey’s about the scriptwriters’ determination to lampoon Hollywood. They’ll think ‘retard’ bashing is an open sport, and vulnerable people will be hurt. That’s the point for me. Just that. And I want to make my point known. Thanks to people who have opened up the debate so far, including here and here. Apologies if I left you out.

If you want to voice your opinion for Newstalk’s debate you can email yourcall@newstalk.ie and mark the subject Tropic Thunder.

Major thanks to Hammie for the push on this one. She is queen of everything, you know.

Been there, done that…

This is the taste of mini-victory, troops.

Our friends at CafePress, having made the egregious but short-lived error of putting up a t-shirt with an intellectually challenged message on it, have bounced back with the ultimate vindication. Whoop it up for a minute, then get back to work you lot!

And well done CafePress. I’m keeping the link. Next time do the thinking before the duhing, huh?

Never go full retard

Sept 19 sees the Irish release of Tropic Thunder, starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr and Matthew McConaughey. Apparently Tom Cruise is in there somewhere too.

I’ll be washing my hair. It’s a pity, because the assembled cast has given me quite a few chuckles over the years. It’s a bridge too far this time however.

The movie is about a bunch of actors who are researching for a Vietnam-era war movie. It’s a send-up of actors and studios and the whole Hollywood pancake in theory, but unfortunately the makers of the movie, DreamWorks and Paramount, have stirred up a hornet’s nest with the US disability lobby.

The actor character played by Ben Stiller, Tugg Speedman, has key scenes in the movie which recreate a character he has played called Simple Jack. Jack is a ‘retard’. This element of the movie gives rise to a slew of objectionable phrases slanted directly at the disabled. Take the following, a conversation between Downey Jr’s character and Stiller’s, revolving around Stiller’s decision to play said ‘retard’:

Stiller: There were times when I was doing Jack when I actually felt retarded. Like really retarded.

Downey: Oh yeah. Damn.

Stiller: In a weird way, I had to sort of just free myself up to believe that it was okay to be stupid or dumb.

Downey: To be a moron.

Stiller: Yeah.

Downey: To be moronical.

Stiller: Exactly.

Downey: An imbecile.

Stiller: Yeah. When I was playing a character.

Downey: When you was a character.

Stiller: Yeah, I mean, as Jack. Definitely.

Downey: It’s like working with mercury. It’s how science makes art form.

Stiller: Yeah.

Downey: You an artist.

Stiller: It’s what we do, right?

Downey: Everybody knows you never do a full retard.

Stiller: What do you mean?

Downey: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rainman, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks to your cards. Autistic. Sure. Not retarded.

You know Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and he won a ping-pong competition? That ain’t retarded.

You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.

You know what I find most interesting (in the I really mean disappointing sense)? That Ben Stiller co-wrote this. He wrote out the word retard or retarded eleven times, just in those few lines quoted (and a whole lot more, believe it), and it never occurred to him that he was training a bazooka on an incredibly large gathering of relatively helpless people? I can’t believe that. He’s a funny guy, he plays to his strengths, he’s not afraid to be unpopular, but I cannot remember him ever going out of his way to deliberately target or hurt people who are already at several disadvantages: physically; mentally; within society at large; financially, and on and on. Taking the piss out of models in Zoolander almost counts, but it doesn’t.

There’s no excuse for it. If you don’t know or aren’t related to someone with a disability you may possibly fail to see the creeping clawback here of gains made by thousands upon thousands of people with disabilities and their advocates over the last few dozen years. But items like this movie, unchallenged, are representing just that: a diminution of the full rights of ordinary people who happen to have enough on their plates already. It’s a pernicious slide, and I don’t think I’m being a stuffy old PC crust for bringing it up. It matters to me at a gut level.

I’ll be back on this topic again. Meanwhile the movie is scheduled to be released in the US this Wednesday 13th August. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, expects a boycott in Hollywood from a cross-section of disability advocacy groups, which you can read about here. If you want to inform yourself some more on it, Pat Bauer has plenty posted on the subject.

I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. I’m not going to tell you to boycott this movie (made incidentally through the usually most sensitive Steven Spielberg’s production company). I do suggest that you consider what I’ve just said and then make an informed judgement