There’s been some heated discussion about the movie, Tropic Thunder, with Ben Stiller portraying a character who is an actor who was playing the role of an intellectually challenged man. I, like most of you, appreciate satire/parody/whatever you want to call it. This movie was made, supposedly, to mock the film industry, not the mentally disabled. But here’s the problem with the movie: the word “retard” or “retarded” is used often.
Okay, so it’s all about the satire, right? Stiller isn’t REALLY mocking the disabled, is he? He’s really mocking the film industry. But is that all he’s mocking? The incessant use of the “r” word perpetuates our society’s inappropriate use of the word. How often have you heard someone say, “Don’t be such a retard,” or “Oh, my gosh, I’m so retarded.” The problem is that mental retardation is a true medical diagnosis, and many individuals with that diagnosis are unable to defend themselves from the mocking they receive.
This hurts a bit more these days, given Micah’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. It’s about a 95% certainty that he will have mild to moderate mental retardation. I just cried and cried when I read Patricia Bauer’s story at the beginning of an article she wrote for the Washington Post:
“Margaret and I were lingering in front of the multiplex one evening last summer, a mom and her adult daughter laughing about the movie we'd just seen, when a gaggle of cute pre-teen girls sauntered past.
The one in the lead jerked a thumb in our direction and made a goofy face to her friend. "Look. Retard," we heard her say, and Margaret wilted. Her chin trembled. One by one, the other girls turned to look, nudging one another and whispering. The last girl spun all the way around as she slowly walked by, eyes fixed on my daughter.
In her size 6 jeans and Old Navy shirt, Margaret hadn't done anything to attract that unwanted attention. But then, my blond, blue-eyed daughter lives every day behind a face that can be a lightning rod for such talk. The beautiful face I've loved for 24 years displays some of the characteristic signs of Down syndrome, a chromosomal anomaly associated with varying degrees of cognitive impairment.”
That scenario could happen to my son someday. It probably will. And though I can’t protect my children from ridicule their entire lives, the perpetuation of acceptability of inappropriate use of the word, like being disabled is something one can control, is something I’d like to nip in the bud at all costs (as if I could control it).
So the next time you consider using the “r” word out of context, please think of my sweet little boy and his peers, and realize that they will understand what you’re saying and it will hurt their feelings. And by all means, please don’t buy the unfortunately popular t-shirt from the film which states, “Never go full retard.” Sickening. I won’t be seeing this movie. I think I’d cry listening to others laugh.