Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hate Crime or Comedy

So...it wouldn't be a good year of film without some controversy.

I've been hearing some about the controversy caused by the movie Tropic Thunder.

I would have thought that the controversy might be based on the fact that Robert Downey Jr. portrays an Australian actor who is portraying a black Vietnam war soldier. Yes...if you haven't seen a picture yet, that man is Robert Downey Jr as a black man.

Yet this is not the controversy. The controversy is over the word "retard," and specifically how it is used in the film.

The protest is led by Special Olympics chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver who, although he hasn't seen the full film, is encouraging protest and boycotts of this film for it's use of the word "retard" 17-20 times.

As I understand it, there is a film within the film called Simple Jack, in which Ben Stiller, an actor in the film, is portraying someone with a mental handicap. As a comedy the discussion about this film and it's role make light of the handicap.

What's your thoughts on this controversy? Is this a hate crime, or is it just something potentially offensive in an R-rated comedy?

Honestly, I think many comedies are offensive, and you can watch them with sensitivity and be offended, you can chose to not watch them, or you can be insensitive and laugh along.

It seems to me (without seeing the film, only hearing some of the film clips) that Shriver might be taking this too seriously.

I don't think he's taking it too seriously by criticizing the message of the film, and using the opportunity to encourage people to be more aware of the struggles that mentally disabled people have...BUT...I hate the term "hate crime" because it's a dangerous word. A crime is a strong word, usually associated with punishment, courts, and legal action.

Ben Stiller's comedy about a group of actors trying to play baity roles to win Academy Awards is sure to be offensive. Yet, I have a hard time saying that they have committed a crime.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Well, they clearly haven't committed a crime by using the word retarded like that. If that were the case there would be hundreds of thousands of arrests made on middle school and high school campuses every day for all the "hate crimes" being committed. Not to mention quite a few arrests over at the Hollywood studios.

Crime is the wrong word. Abusing it's only going to rob the word of weight for when real crimes really are committed.

Besides, it makes whats-his-face sound ignorant.

That been said though, it's possible for a film to appear to be making light of something, but when looked at with the scope of the whole movie in mind, actually being quite positive. It's hard to judge when we haven't seen the movie yet.

Of course, it's also possible for them to make fun of disabled people purely in bad taste for no other reason than to ruffle some people's feathers.

I dunno. It seems like a boycott is a bit strong and likely ineffective.

Maybe instead of getting culture not to go and see this movie, he should work on getting culture to not think that kind of thing is funny. That way he might actually make a lasting effect.

weepingsam said...

It seems first that the film is making fun of stereotypes and the like (maybe badly, but that's another question) - so - there's a pretty good chance the film is making the same points the boycotter think they're making. Second - calling a silly movie a "hate crime" is pretty irresponsible - never mind trivializing real crimes - it trivializes real hate crimes. You need a crime, after all, before it can be a hate crime.... "Hate speech" maybe, an altogether wobblier concept, and one often designed for the sort of cynical and opportunistic response we see here.... basically, "hate speech" is a form of name calling - "hate crimes" is a relatively meaningful class of offense. So - I don't have any patience or sympathy for the people protesting this film. (Even if it turns out to be a joke, or a publicity stunt - it's a waste of time all around.)

Loren Eaton said...

"Hate crimes" is such a strange term. Should the government be prosecuting what's in one's mind?

Dad said...

I only boycot love crimes.

Well, I don't know if they did it on purpose (um they DID preview the movie to someone who works for the rights of the mentally handicapped), but they sure have stirred up a lot of free press for the movie. The studio knows that if they get boycotted they will appeal to the rebellious side of our culture. In other words, if its naughty 12-26 year olds can't get enough of it. A boycot is the perfect publicity stunt to draw in all that shiny disposable income.

Not to mention all the internet buzz. Perhaps bloggers need to retard their entusiasm.

By the way, it seems like all the streets in my town are getting retarred. I guess the hope is that the rate of snowfall this year will be retarded.

See what I did there. Huh?? This stuff kills.

weepingsam said...

"Hate crimes" is such a strange term. Should the government be prosecuting what's in one's mind?

They always have. I don't think the concept is all that different from "pre-meditated murder". The notion of crime itself depends on motive, choice, etc... So - I don't think it's that big a departure...

Darrell said...

People are far too sensitive these days. And it seems to me that there are people in every collective ... including whatever collectives I'm naturally a part of ... who just LOVE to get offended. I get the impression that, on some level, Tropic Thunder is designed to lampoon that kind of hyper-sensitivity. It could be that the people who are encouraging a boycott are actually helping the film-makers prove their point.

Anonymous said...

I didn't feel offended. It's satire. It doesn't have a mean spirited fell about it either. They ( the actors and screenwriters ) really are making fun of themselves. As for the Downey role, if enough people knew the real synopsis of his character before they see about it and cry foul, they'd know that the guy is an Australian, over the top method actor, and for him to truly become this soldier he has to darken his skin for the role. They are taking a poke and a " wink, wink " at method acting. I thought the film was a solid comedy, that had very sharp and witty dialogue. People are way too easily offended these days. If they aren't offended with this then they are offended with that. Lighten up. It's just a movie.

oscartracker.blogspot.com for a no-nonsense, basic look at Oscar predictions and movie info.

Out Of Jersey said...

It is Soul Man all over again! I think that if we really looked at what was going on in the film we'd realize it isn't what we'd like to think.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Yeah, that seems foolish. If you tried to censor all such comedy there would be no comedy. It doesn't mean I or you have to find it funny (I have not seen it either) but hitting those nerves is what comedy is all about. Name me a comedian who doesn't target at least one group with his/her routine? I can't think of any personally.

Loren Eaton said...


Agreed -- sort of. But doesn't it seem strange that yelling a slur (racial, sexual or whathaveyou) during a violent crime yields a disporportionately greater sentence than a crime committed sans slur? Dunno, just doesn't quite jive.

Anyway. Curious to see what happens with this movie ...

elgringo said...

I was surprised that there wasn't more "HE'S WEARING BLACKFACE???" responses to the film. That's certainly what I thought when I first saw press for Tropic Thunder. I started getting Ted Danson flashbacks. But then, I began hearing that it wasn't as offensive as I thought it would be. I'll bet that that's how the "HE'S SAYING RETARD?" responses will end up.

Hell, if The Love Guru can get released, then Tropic Thunder shouldn't have any problems.


weepingsam said...

Loren - I think the logic goes, a hate crime is a crime that targets a type of person. Because it targets the type, it creates added risk to that type of person - it makes all people of that type less safe. That sounds reasonable to me.

Though again - when the idea of hate crimes starts to spread to the idea of hate speech, it gets iffy. Calling people names isn't the same as hitting them. And when people accuse movies making fun of stereotypes of advocating stereotypes - maybe there should be Logic Crimes as well. (Though the way some of the reviews look, maybe Stiller should be glad there aren't any Art Crime Laws on the book.)

b13 said...

This whole controversy is just... well... retarded.


Anonymous said...

nice post about the acking of Australian actor also visit my new post in Amazing blog ,
jack ,
deaty.please add my blog in to your fiends link list.

Magnus said...

I have yet to see the film, but I have a hard time seeing what the to-do is - especially the complainant hasn't seen the full film.

Magnus said...

Oh, I also cannot stand the very concept of "hate crimes".

Um Naief said...

i don't think it's a hate crime... just comedy and the R rating.

it's getting to the point that ppl can't use any word w/out it pissing someone off... it's ridiculous really. i understand some of it, but really... when is enough, enough?!!

Lets_Rave_89 said...

I personally don't think it was a hate crime. The correct term is "mentally challenged"..

Most people use certain terms to express other feelings or whatnot.

I use the term retarded if i think my fiance is being stupid. Being stupid and mentally challenged are two completely different things. Everyone can be stupid/dumb sometimes. Soon it will be a hate crime to even say "stupid" or "dumb"!!!

I have yet to see this movie, but I have heard many things (mostly great reviews) about it!

Out of my 19 years of being alive, I have heard WAY too many people say the word retarded and no one really had a problem with it back then.

I could understand if they were more upset if "mentally challenged" had been used..but it wasn't!

I also have said retarded in this tense: "Wow, that's so RETARDED that your parents grounded you for no reason!" Retarded meaning: lame. Lame meaning: stupid.

People have freedom of speach. You can't control what comes out of everyones mouths, neither can I. I grew up knowing "right from wrong" or what my parents thought were right and were wrong. Some people were taught to say what they think. Others were taught to hold their tongue. Some people grew up having manners, others didn't.

Some people don't know any better. What's it to you. I wish people weren't bullies..that could very well be considered as a hate crime..because people are doing the act of hating!!

Just because someone makes a funny joke doesn't mean you should take it so personally. GET OVER YOURSELVES!!! You want to start a boycott...be prepared for a riot.

Yes, some people do say hateful things just to get satisfaction or just to get a rise out of people. Stop being so selfish and think you are the only ones who have problems or whatever. There are more important things than who said a silly word. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS WORD FOR DECADES, I'M SURE OF IT.

Try forcusing on things that actually matter in life. Don't be such a Negative Nancy.