“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unencumbered by knowledge...

Kathi and I have been getting lots of emails about the new movie Tropic Thunder regarding comments made in the movie that demean persons with intellectual disabilities.  I suspect that the movie is easily missed, however, it is important to note that the jokes are jokes and comments that many people routinely make.  I don't think that the movie is leading the culture in this area, but more likely is reflecting the culture.  I am confident that many people have either heard or hear others referring to someone as a "retard" or "retarded" but perhaps have not given it much thought.  But such jokes are easy.  Another post on this weblog has addressed this issue along with the presence of a video of an amazing speech that I would refer you to.

Although I too am angered by the jokes, they are reflective of a larger problem of speaking about things about which they have no knowledge.  Back in May of 2004, I related on this blog the story of David Hyde Pierce, who played Niles on Cheers and Frazier the Cheers spinoff.  He was back then a spokesperson for alzheimers disease.  Back then I wrote the following.
By contrast, David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane on the television program Frazier) has been a strong advocate for persons with alzheimer's disease. Recently, on the occasion of his birthday, there had been attacks on President Reagan by comedians regarding his alzheimers disease. Once again, without entering into the policital fray (I have no idea what Mr. Pierce's political affiliation is) he stated that there are two types of people who make jokes about others with alzheimers. First, there are those who have never experienced the disease. Wisely he says he hopes they will continue to be able to make such unkind jokes as that would imply they have never experienced the disease. May they live on without ever having to face the ongoing debilitation and humiliation of one you deeply love. Second, are those who make jokes to try to ease their own pain or the pain of their loved ones who do have the disease. 
Now, I wouldn't compare life with a person with alzheimer's disease with a life with a person with mental retardation/intellectual disabilities.  But the principle illustrated by Mr. Hyde Pierce's comments fits perfectly.  We will often make jokes about things that we don't understand.  

We will also make pronouncements, at times about things we know nothing about.  Recently the radio talk show host, Michael Savage, made ridiculous comments about autism and children with autism.  Savage is know for his inflammatory rhetoric about political matters, however, at least in this case, he ventured into areas about which he knows nothing.  I have had my heart broken by the insensitive people in grocery stores with their comments about controlling one's child as a parent struggles with their screaming child with autism.  They have no idea of the courage it sometimes takes for a parent to even take a child with autism to a grocery store, only to be criticized by onlookers, potentially empowered by comments from some radio personality who literally has no idea what he is talking about.  I have even heard the respected commentator, Michael Medved make comments about homeless mentally ill people and how they need to be in institutions.  I would easily embrace nearly any inconvenience they could cause me if it meant keeping them out of institutions that can be so horrible.  Are there people who could benefit from increased supervision of one kind or another?  Of course there are.  However, I might advocate for such supervision, not so they would be gotten out of my face, but more because of the manner in which the quality of their lives would be improved.  

But as a friend of mine, Dr. Bob Henderson once related to me, 
"Unencumbered by knowledge, they speak with great authority."
Once we do see the life of a person with intellectual disabilities or experience the love they give to others, we change our perspective.  Once we see the way in which they are discriminated against by society, we should change our perspective.  We begin to see these things as issues of social justice.  That is, jokes that perpetuate negative stereotypes about innocents are working against social justice for those who are the butt of such jokes.  So I think the issues are worthy of attending to and are worthy of bringing to the attention of those who make comments in the name of making someone laugh that demean others who are largely defenseless.  We literally demean people and support negative attitudes about people in the name of "fun".

I will not be seeing this movie or any movie that demeans persons with intellectual disabilities. I will not be viewing any television program that demeans persons with intellectual disabilities.
I will not be viewing any "entertainment" which uses the demeaning of persons with intellectual disabilities as a vehicle for laughter at their expense.



Anonymous said...

I can say I would never go see a movie called "Tropic Thunder" which was written by Ben Stiller. Which kind of makes me sad because I always used to run into his parents at my local Borders in Long Beach. I cannot even understand why a joke about mental retardation would be written into a screenplay. What is the purpose?
The movie has no class or culture so I would not be the least bit interested. Some people have a sense of humor that is sick, I have heard sicker things locally I can assure you but that may take the cake for today.
Has anyone written to you about their disability ministry?
I hope so!

Anonymous said...

I have to give you credit, you got the story out there before the Redlands Daily Facts.
The only ones who look like jerks are the ones smiling in the picture in the paper.