Set for release next week, Tropic Thunder, is already creating a buzz from coalitions who are protesting the movie for its insensitivity toward the mentally disabled.  Claiming that Ben Stiller’s character perpetuates negative stereotypes, some disability advocacy groups are now picketing the Hollywood premiere and suggesting the movie be boycotted; all of this before any of them have actually seen the entire movie.

And we wonder why the the rest of the world laughs at our hypocrisy. Using taboo words and sensitive subjects in comedic satire has been a common practice since long before the invention of cinema.  The key component (and what these special interest groups fail to grasp) is context.  In this case, fully understanding the context is virtually impossible to them as the movie has not been released yet. So instead of writing about the actual film I will base my comments off of the trailers and reviews, as the protesters have done.

I glean that the most important issue to put into context involves Ben Stiller’s character Tugg Speedman: a character portrayed as hyperbolically moronic and offensive. That said, his use of the word “retard” and his discussion of the portrayal of characters with disabilities aims its ridicule on shallow performers and the entertainment industry. To say he is offensive to those with disabilities is correct, but misses the point.  His offensiveness makes a statement about how ridiculous it is to refer to disabled people in such ways.

Furthermore, these protests and boycotts only exacerbate the negative stereotypes by drawing attention to them, rather than to the intended aim of the satire.  The lack of outrage over the fact that Robert Downey, Jr.’s character is a white character playing a black character using an updated version of blackface proves this point.

Oh, but what about the children who see the movie and think it’s cool to call disabled people names? Simple. It’s rated R, case closed. The same censorship laws that apply to every other movie apply here.   At some point we need to take responsibility for how our children act.

Written by Guest Writer Christie Ko

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