Reconsidering “the r word”
retard (plural retards)
1. retardation; delay
2. (offensive slang) a person with mental retardation
3. (offensive slang) a stupid person, or one who is slow to learn
(retardation): delay, hold-up, retardation (person with mental retardation): idiot, tard (offensive), imbecile (disused medical term), mental deficient (legal term), moron (disused medical term), person with learning difficulties (stupid person): See synonyms for “fool” in WikiSaurus
The protesters against Tropic Thunder have certainly made their mark – it was the lead item on the BBC’s entertainment news last night, and while I remain sceptical about the merits of a protest I’ve been giving more thought to the word “retard” and its use in popular culture.
I mentioned previously that I was largely indifferent to it given that the word is rarely used in Britain but the more I have read about reaction to the film the more I understand why people have a significant problem with it and the fact that its use in film perpetuates its use in society.
Clearly “retard” is as offensive as most of the synonyms listed above and its use in society is not to be tolerated. However, I am also convinced that the description of the term as “hate speech” or the suggestion that it encapsulates “an entire history of marginalization, neglect, murder and abuse” is ludicrous exaggeration.
I maintain that when used in context within film the use of the word “retard” is justified, as is the use of many other words that are not acceptable in polite conversation (and I continue to suspect that its use within Tropic Thunder is an example of that context). But I agree that the term should also be used as sparingly as possible.
The protesters against Tropic Thunder appear to be either misunderstanding or willfully ignoring the fact that Tropic Thunder is a satire in order to get their point across. I just can’t shake the feeling that this was a protest looking for a target and that the protesters are wide of the mark.
If the ultimate goal is changing attitudes towards “the r word” in wider society then I support that goal but I’m unconvinced that demonising Ben Stiller is the way to go about it.