Rahm Emanuel has been rightly criticized for his description of liberals activists as “f—ing retarded”, including a call from Sarah Palin for him to be fired as White House chief of staff.
“Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities — and the people who love them — is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.”
That’s just what you’d expect when it comes to the self-styled “friend and advocate” of special-needs families. Of course the fact that Emanuel’s comment enabled Palin to criticize her political opponents had nothing to do with it.
Palin also appeared to have taken a dim view of Rush Limbaugh’s repeated use of the word “retard” in discussing the Emanuel controversy on his radio show.
Here’s some edited highlights of Limbaugh’s “satire” for those that missed it. The full transcript is also available.
“But our politically correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are “retards,” “retards.”” “So now there’s going to be a meeting, there’s going to be a “Retard” Summit at the White House.” “Obama is taking a short bus, little yellow bus full of “retards” — “F-ing retards” — to Las Vegas for the weekend.”
Limbaugh was clearly taking the opportunity to draw attention to the inappropriate language used by Emanuel, but his obvious revelry in doing so suggests, and the following discussion with a caller to the show demonstrates, that he simply does not get it.
CALLER: The reason they were so offensive is because by using the term “retarded” or “retards” as a term of opprobrium or derision is insulting to all persons with mental disability… I just felt as though your comment, it seemed to me to underline the idea that the insult was to the Democrats, and it’s not, the insult is to the people with disabilities.
RUSH: No, no, no. I know the insult is to retarded people but those are not my words.
Either way, as Palin’s spokesperson stated “it doesn’t matter who says the “r” word: it should no longer be part of our lexicon”.
Except if the person who says its happens to be an influential opinion leader in the conservative movement, it would seem. “Rush Limbaugh was using satire,” said Down’s syndrome’s very own “Mother Superior” on Sunday.
“I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with “f’ing retards.” And we did know that Rahm Emanuel — it’s been reported — did say that. There’s a big difference there.”
She’s right, there is a big difference between someone using an off-hand remark, albeit a highly inappropriate one, in a private conversation and then apologizing for doing so, and someone repeatedly using a phrase they apparently understand to be offensive in order to score cheap political points.
I’m not going to say much about this as it’s not a word that’s actually used much over in the UK, and I do think some people have a tendency to get carried away about it. However, clearly the use of the word “retard” in a derogatory manner is to be discouraged, and in that spirit I encourage you to take a look at the Spread The Word website.
I promised some time ago that, unlike many of the bloggers writing about Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, I intended to see the film the first chance I got so I could make up my own mind about whether it is offensive to people with disabilities.
What with one thing and another, today was the first chance I got as my wife allowed me the decadence of an afternoon at the cinema. The initial response is that I cannot understand what the fuss was all about.
I previously wrote that “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” and that I couldn’t “shake the feeling that this was a protest looking for a target.”
Having seen the film I am more convinced than ever that this was the case and that a protest was the wrong strategy. I couldn’t help thinking about the claim made by David Tolleson (executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress) that he came out of the cinema having seen Tropic Thunder “feeling like I had been assaulted.”
The claim is as laughable as anything in the film. The target of the jokes is so clearly Hollywood, as opposed to people with disabilities, that I believe you would have to have a huge chip on your shoulder to think otherwise.
One of the main issues protesters had against the film was the portrayal by Stiller’s character (an action film actor trying to be taken seriously) of Simple Jack. In this article from The Guardian, David Tolleson described the portrayal as “shockingly awful”, missing the fact that that was, in fact, the point. The satirical portrayal is also criticised within Tropic Thunder itself.
Having seen the film I find it hard to believe that those leading the protests that had also seen it did not understand that Simple Jack was satirical portrayal of an actor playing someone with intellectual disabilities, as opposed to the sort of ridiculous portrayal of disability seen in other films.
Within the context of Tropic Thunder Simple Jack makes sense, although I can understand that in isolation it would appear offensive. It would appear that DreamWorks made a big mistake with the viral campaign based on Simple Jack that kicked off the protests against Tropic Thunder, and was right to pull it.
The protests could, and perhaps should, have ended there and some of the other complaints against Tropic Thunder are difficult to fathom.
In The Guardian article, Tolleson describes “a segment of the film involving Stiller and Matthew McConaughey. When Stiller’s character says he wants to adopt a child, McConaughey looks at a photo of himself with his arm around a boy vacantly staring into space – clearly meant to have an intellectual disability – and says: ‘At least you get to choose yours. I’m stuck with mine’.”
Like others I do not think it was clear that the boy was meant to have an intellectual disability. In the short period of time that the boy is on the screen I would suggest it is impossible to know for sure if he is supposed to have some sort of disability or just be uncool and uninterested.
If one assumes that protesters against the film understood that it was satire then one has to assume then that they chose to ignore it in order to draw attention to the campaign to eradicate the use of the term “retard”.
That is an honourable campaign and I agree that the word retard should be used sparingly in the media. The word is used many times within Tropic Thunder, but almost exclusively entirely within a single conversation between the characters player by Stiller and Robert Downey Jnr.
I previously argued that its use in this conversation was justified by the context of the characters and the storyline, and this is definitely the case. From that perspective the repeated use in the conversation is much more justifiable isolated use in other films for shock value or to get a cheap laugh.
I fully understand why those that protested against Tropic Thunder are concerned about the portrayal of disability in movies and in reducing the use of the word retard and wish to bring their concerns to the attention of the film industry, but I maintain that in Tropic Thunder they picked the wrong film to protest against.
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.