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Movie Mom

Movie Mom

More on Language from the Las Vegas Review-Journal

posted by Nell Minow

“Language packs a punch in culture,” says a column by Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter John Przybys about the debate over Tropic Thunder.
Przybys and I had a long talk about this subject and he quoted me in the column:

Nell Minow, who writes “Movie Mom,” a column on Beliefnet.com in which she evaluates movies from a parent’s perspective, argues that protesters’ ire is misdirected.
“Tropic Thunder” doesn’t lampoon the disabled, Minow said during a recent phone interview, but, rather, the self-absorption of Hollywood and actors who offer one-dimensional portrayals of the disabled and then congratulate themselves for it.
“As a person with disabled family members and whose first job was working with what we then called the ‘retarded,’ I’ve been appalled at movies that get all kinds of critical praise, like ‘I Am Sam’ and ‘Forrest Gump,’ because I think they’re terrible portrayals of disabled characters,” Minow said.
“Too often in movies, the disabled aspect is the character’s defining trait,” Minow continued, and disabled characters exist only to “inspire people and/or give (other characters) an important lesson about compassion. That’s about it, and this is wrong. Disabled people are interesting human beings who’ve got really interesting stories to tell.”
In “Tropic Thunder,” the word “retard” is used to “show something about the person who said it,” Minow said, and the film makes “a very trenchant and powerful argument in favor of the disabled being treated well by showing that the person who didn’t understand was a nincompoop.”
Similarly, even as Downey plays a white actor who darkens his skin to play a black character, the film is “very intelligent in giving the actual black character the power and moral weight in the movie,” Minow said.

  • jestrfyl

    I have given this more than a little thought since reading your last pieces on the topic. Words have no intrinsic value. They have only the power that we grant them. Therefore no word is by definition bad or good. It is the attitude, the inflection, the context, and the intention that make it either a benediction or a curse. Lenny Bruce’s monologue on that 12 letter word involving motherhood and copulation (anyone who is counting the letters on their fingers knows which word I mean) shows this. He says the word in tenderest terms and it becomes a benediction. But if it is said by a teen (or an actor) intent on making someone angry, it becomes a curse. It has no power other than what it is given. The same is true with all the epithets toosed around mindlessly by people who really do not care what they say, as long as it makes them feel cool. Films like “Tropic Thunder” try to throw this whole lazy arrogance in our face like a bucket of cold —- (your choice profane, obscene, obnoxious word here).

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering why Russell Brand’s “retarded cowboy” line at the VMAs hasn’t generated much outrage by those who were offended by “Tropic Thunder.”
    Your thoughts on this topic are wonderfully eloquent and true.

  • Nell Minow

    I like Russell Brand but was very disappointed with his performance at the VMAs and especially with his use of the r-word, a good bad example of an offensive term offensively used. I found a number of his remarks offensive, including the way he mocked the Jonas Brothers for making a public statement about their commitment to moral conduct. I know that is Brand’s, well, brand — his shtick is to be outrageous. But there is a difference between outrageous and offensive; one is funny, the other is either sad or being a bully or both.

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