A Little Something Extra

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The movie and the "r" word

I’ve been attempting to organize my thoughts about this subject and it’s not working. So maybe if I just start writing I’ll figure out what I want to say.

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.


Amy said...

Jennie, I'm glad you posted about this. Some months ago, someone I won't name used this "r" word around Jonathan and I stopped it right away. I don't want our son to know that word. I know he will at some point, but he will know it on our terms, not the terms of the culture.

Jessica said...

I also don't think it's funny to use the "r" word, and am offended and saddened when someone uses it out of context. I hadn't heard about this movie yet, but I won't see it either.

Mindy said...

Well said, Jennie.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you. And, here's the thing....you are the type of person who would have been offended by the movie/word prior. Because that's just how you are. And that is why God gave Micah to the special parents that you are.

Jean said...

So well written. I am ashamed to admit that in my younger years I too have used this word without thinking of the consequences. Something happened when I became a parent knowing that I am a living example for my children. This word is as cruel and crude as any other swear word.
Children and adults make fun of others who are different than them just to make themselves feel better. If we all raise loving and secure children, well, I'd hope the world would be a better place for it and we'd cut back on the cruelties.

Princess Abigail said...

Hear hear hear!
I couldn't agree more. The 'r' word flips of the tongues of youngsters and adults alike - and then suddenly they will give Abigail a quick glance and cover their mouth with their hand as if to say 'ooops', there's an 'r' right there, silly me.
Its wrong. Society doesn't accept words used for other minorities, so it makes me really angry that 'retard' has such a casual place in daily vocabulary.
Thanking you for airing this one - its been on my mind for a while!
of the Bernard Bunch

Andrea Marcks said...

That our society even tolerates a movie like this, makes me ill.

LauraBethRN said...

How funny that I just stumbled across your blog this morning-I was just having this conversation with a co-worker yesterday and telling her she needed to stop using that word-we're nurses for pete's sake! It REALLY bothers me when I hear people use the "r" word or gay. Even though I believe most people are good at heart and don't "mean" anything by it-it needs to stop!

Jeanette said...

I am a mother of a sweet one year baby girl with DS. I have written about this same topic on my blog as well. It has been so sad about the movie. I am a fan of most of the cast, but I am severely dissapointed not only in their decision to make the movie with those scenes, but their reaction to the Down syndrome community. I myself am not acticipating the day that someone says something so mean to my sweet baby. Thanks for speaking out on your blog. Every bit of education helps.

Ava said...

This is such a good post...I read your blog often b/c it is linked to a friend of mine. The "r" word is SO unacceptable and it is extremely disappointing to see our media making a buck at someone else's expense! Thanks for the great post! I enjoy reading about your sweet Micah and think he is as cute as can be!!

Kasey (Ethan's Mommy) said...

We don't know each other, but I stumbled upon your blog by accident. I just wanted to leave a comment about this particular post and how beautifully you shared your heart. I don't have the same journey as you, my son is sick with leukemia, however I understand the sincerity in which you expressed yourself. Thank you for that...

Princess Abigail said...

This post inspired me to write one on the subject myself on my personal blog (http://alisonmullsitallover.blogspot.com/)
I'm still seething about the film.
Thank you for the impetus and motivation! I'm on a big hobby horse now!

Sunshine Eyes said...

Wow, Jennie. This is my first visit to your blog so I'm catching up on a lot of things in your world, all at once. Thanks for sharing your ongoing story with us here.

I'm particularly moved by this post. I'm re-thinking the things I say casually, Lord knows there's probably stuff I should edit immediately, esp knowing that our little Brooks is learning everything from me.

What a lucky guy Micah is, having you for a mom. I love seeing your "fight" and your tears on his behalf. I look forward to meeting him one day soon.