Many people predicted that this Wednesday's opening of Tropic Thunder would generate a lot of premature hysteria and protest over Robert Downey Jr.'s "black face" character. But after trailers were released, the context of that character made sense and, to my knowledge, little outrage has surfaced.
But now there is anger over Tropic Thunder's use of the word "retard", which has recently been classified as hate speech by groups like The Arc. I understand the sensitivity and intentions of mentally handicapped groups like The Arc, but I have a real problem with people throwing the "H" word around anytime they hear an utterance of the "N"-word, "F"-word, "R"-word, "D"-word etc.
I mean, what is the context in which the word is used? Surely, if Ben Stiller walked up to a mentally handicapped person on the street and yelled, "Get out of my way you fu*king RETARD!!!", then yeah, I think you could argue that that might be hate speech.
But In Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller plays an action movie star that's striving for respectability by playing a mentally handicapped character in a film called Simple Jack. I haven't seen the movie yet, but in the trailer it appears that Stiller is spoofing Hollywood actors and the fawning adoration of the Academy and not people with disabilities.
However, the president of AAPD sees it differently:
“I saw the film this morning,” said Andrew J. Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, one group calling for the boycott. “It was even worse than the hateful stuff they used in promoting it.” (NY Times)
This opens up a discussion for how certain taboo words are used as slang in pop culture.
For example: people use "gay", "ghetto" and "retarded" as negative adjectives for things. I use these terms. Am I being insensitive? I don't know. I guess that depends on the people who are hearing/reading me. I can tell you I'm not homophobic, anti-poor, or whatever "phobia" goes along with the mentally handicapped, but if someone thinks I am, that's fine. I'd rather talk it out and debate it instead of walking through life with my hand over my mouth and eggshells under my feet.
One thing seems certain though as Wednesday approaches: Downey Jr. appears to be off the hook... for now.