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12 Aug 08 Is it only a word?

A boycott of Ben Stiller’s latest movie “Tropic Thunder” is afoot here in the US. At the centre of the storm is the movie’s use of the term “full retard” to describe the character “Simple Jack”, an actor who is famous for playing mindless characters.

I’m not going to use this blog to lecture anyone on what words they should use or how they should use them. However, I do have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

On the one hand, “retard” is really only a word, defined in the Oxford dictionary as “make slow or late, delay progress or development or arrival or accomplishment or happening of; backward in mental or physical development”. This is a fair assessment. When used in practical terms, Nicole is mentally retarded. Her disability does slow down her development.

For me, the issue isn’t the use of the word retard, it’s the connotation that being mentally retarded or developmentally disabled automatically makes you ignorant, mindless or an idiot. Having a mental disability doesn’t make you any of these things. I’ve known a lot of “normal” people for whom the word retarded, if I used it that way, would be completely appropriate. Nicole is certainly less ignorant and less of an idiot than all of them.

The mother in me knows that Nicole’s road ahead will be a tough one and the last thing she needs is Hollywood affirming that using a word with this connotation to describe people like her is ok. Nicole is a complex package of many parts, just like the rest of us, and deserves to not be defined solely by her disability. I have many parts of my package that I wouldn’t want used to define me.

What surprises me is that no one at DreamWorks predicted that there would be an adverse reaction the use of this word. The communicator in me says that either they obviously didn’t consult their marketing department or I’m a better communicator than those making tons of cash in the film world.

In support of all those with development disabilities, I won’t see the movie. What I hope is that the proposed boycott will make us all a little more sensitive about the words we use.



Reader's Comments

  1. |

    You certainly have a wonderful way of expressing yourself. You are not critical of those of us who, without thinking, say the wrong words when speaking of others. We have learned so much from you when speaking of others who are not as blessed as we are. Thank you Karyn. We love you.

  2. |

    Hey Karyn,

    You are so very good at communications. You are sensitive, kind hearted and extremely passionate about the ones you love. It’s such a great trait.

    But I can admit, that the movie looked absolutely HILARIOUS and I was all for seeing it. Andrew and I were actually going to make a date night out of it. But now that I have read your blog, I’m going to tell Andrew that I’m not interested. I didn’t know any of this controversy! I had no idea about this. I can still laugh at other parts of the movie, but if what you are saying is true, I’m just not interested in seeing this anymore.

    Most people aren’t lucky enough to be blessed with that skill of communicating. Both you and Dave are great at it (well in fact you make a living at it). You’re right, there’s a small handful of communicators in the world that are able to get things right. You posess these magical traits to communicate both from the heart, from what’s true and good, and you do it well. You should feel really lucky to have those. It’s a gift.

    And Nicole is one lucky girl to have an advocate like you :)



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