Saturday, August 16, 2008

In response to critics

For those who disagree with the campaign against Tropic Thunder, here are my responses to some of the criticisms I've read.
You are promoting censorship.

Censorship is an action taken by someone with power to silence. What I promote is the sharing of information and exchange of opinions. I begin my part by saying, this is an offensive word, and it is time for society as a whole to start looking at what it means to use it so casually and with such frequency. I think we should send a message to writers and directors that this sort of thing is no longer profitable. Then someone says why it’s “no big deal,” and then I do my second part which is this, trying to explain better where I’m coming from.

Beyond not having the power to censor, I don’t have the desire to silence anyone. I support freedom of speech, and acknowledge that people have the right, in most cases, to use ugly, hateful words. I don’t want to see laws passed banning words in movies or books. I believe that people should think for themselves.

But thoughtful consideration requires that information be shared from a wide variety of viewpoints. My purpose in supporting the boycott of Tropic Thunder and similar ventures is to make people aware of what they will be buying if they purchase a ticket to such a film. Because the true power of words is not widely acknowledged by our society, there are many who may not have considered the real life consequences of devaluing people with differences.

This isn’t even about those people!

I know that some people see it that way. I hear it all the time. I hear it about the word “gay” (as in “that’s so gay”) too. Students at the university I attend deem everything they dislike “retarded” or “gay,” and defend their rights to do so, claiming these words, as used, have little to do with their more conventional meanings.

What do they mean then? Why not say, “that’s so purple,” or “that’s so garlicky”? Because “gay” and “retarded” can be understood instantly to stand in for anything else that someone would want to ridicule. Over time, the associations of ridicule are woven ever more tightly into the words. This is easily done, since the concepts already have negative connotations for many people. Consequently, those people are less likely to be treated with respect and dignity when applying for jobs, reporting crimes, or seeking medical advice.

A history of abuse and devaluation is ignored and invalidated with the casual use of the “R” word. To support this is to say that some people don’t matter. To say that the word has nothing to do with its meaning is na├»ve at best.

You are being too sensitive!

You say that like it’s a bad thing. I think the world could use more sensitivity. I understand that life can be harsh, really, I do. This needs to be approached from both sides. Yes, there is value in learning to be tougher, to stand up to bullies, to fight back when necessary. What’s wrong with also working to make our society a kinder place to live? What does it cost to make the choice not to support language that belittles anyone?

Having the legal right to act like a jackass doesn’t negate other reasons for not doing so.

You need to choose your battles more carefully.

I did. My choices may not be the same as yours. My choices are based on my experience of the world, a long-standing interest in language, and sincere efforts to learn about the viewpoints of others. What are the values on which your choices are based when you declare that language reflecting bigotry is “no big deal?”

24 comments:

  1. Eloquently written. Linking from my own journal.

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  2. I think that you've touched on many of the important issues, and I hope people take what you have to say seriously, but I also think that this conversation is getting confused by the fact that a lot of the people involved really are calling for censorship. As it happens, I live in Los Angeles a few blocks from where main premier was held, and so I saw a good bit of the protest connected with that, and the protesters were at various points shouting together `ban the movie, ban the word', and since then one of the leading public faces of this particular campaign, Tim Shriver, has since made the same ban calls in writing. the fact that some people are calling for censorship doesn't make the real points against this film any less legitimate, but i think its prominence in the protests has probably alienated a lot of people who would otherwise have been more sensitive to these issues.

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  3. Amen, Bev. I think it is high time we speak up against hateful language. Please read my posting on the issue, if you'd like.

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  4. If it's supposedly "censorship" to object to this use of language by using your own free speech, does that mean that whenever someone says the N word everybody should sit and act silent, because of course we know they're not REALLY using the word to demean anybody, and that people who would be offended at that are "too sensitive" because it's "just a word"?

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  5. I would have to see the film (which to be honest I'm not fussed about) to make a judgement. If it is clear that Ben Stiller's character is using that word because he is a d*ckhead and that we are expected to be offended by his use of the word, then that is fair enough, although I'd still be worried about people not picking up on this. If the word is being spoken for some cheap laughs and the writers don't see owt wrong with it, then that is very wrong. It would help if it could be made clear which of these it was.

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  6. Some of the people defending the film have said that a discerning audience should have no problem understanding that it is meant as satire. But the trouble is, movies like that aren't marketed to a discerning audience. They're meant for 18-year-old guys whose reaction is, "Ha ha, Ben Stiller is making fun of retards, where can I get me one of them T-shirts, ha ha."

    And everyone involved with the production of Tropic Thunder has been in the industry long enough to know all about their target demographic, and to know exactly what would happen.

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  7. "Some of the people defending the film have said that a discerning audience should have no problem understanding that it is meant as satire. But the trouble is, movies like that aren't marketed to a discerning audience. They're meant for 18-year-old guys whose reaction is, "Ha ha, Ben Stiller is making fun of retards, where can I get me one of them T-shirts, ha ha."
    Well if that's the case then there's no excuse.

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  8. I think that it may be satire, and so until I hear a statement from Ben Stiller, I won't judge the movie. It is true though, that the R word has gotten out of control. Anybody who has played World of Warcraft knows the situation. There, it is simply sickening.

    Excellent post.

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  9. abfh: On a similar point, one of the criticisms that's been seriously bugging me is the oft-quoted fact that the movie is rated R, which supposedly implies there won't be any kids coming in who'll totally miss the point.

    Two problems with that: There *will* still be younger folks sneaking into the theater, as there always have been. And as anyone who's visited certain college campuses will know, people well over 17 can still be quite immature...

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  10. aspieboy:

    Speaking as someone who has never played World of Warcraft (or even heard of it) and therefore doesn't have a clue of the situation there, can you elaborate?

    Thanks

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  11. "What do they mean then? Why not say, 'that’s so purple,' or 'that’s so garlicky'? Because 'gay' and 'retarded' can be understood instantly to stand in for anything else that someone would want to ridicule. Over time, the associations of ridicule are woven ever more tightly into the words."

    Exarrrctly.

    And abfh, yes, yes, that's just what's been making me cringe -- not the satire itself, but the fact that it's not explicit enough, and that the movie's audience will in fact *not* get it, and dissolve into "HAR HAR HAR -- he done said REE-TARD! Stupid ree-tards!".

    And that is very much the same mentality that generates "HAR HAR HAR -- that's so GAY!" as well as the collective -- real, physical -- harassment of people who fall under presumed category. It's sickening, and it's in fact very scary. Because against a mob of that demographic, I am quite helpless indeed.

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  12. Tried to stay up to watch the Charlie Rose show last night, which featured an interview with Ben Stiller. Unfortunately, I fell asleep after about 10 minutes, in which the "R" issue was not touched on; they were focusing on the Vietnam theme. No protests were mentioned in the lead-in to the show, either.

    Bev, as usual, this post is extremely well written and makes a good case for your point of view. The movie is playing at my local theater; I don't intend to go, as it's not the kind of thing I'd have wanted to see anyway, even before knowing about the "R" part. TV promos for the film did not include clips from that material, by the way.

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  13. I'm an artist and all for freedom of expression. But I think the points on this movie supposing the form of satire is hard to argue because some people won't see it that way (as described brilliantly by abfh). Brings to mind the 70's TV show with Archie Bunker...he was a bigot and ended up being a hero to other bigots which I'm sure was not the intention of the writers. I just think we, as a society, know better now and it's a shame that people in positions of power do not take their influence more seriously.

    Excellent post, Bev. Thank you.

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  14. Andrea S. said:
    Speaking as someone who has never played World of Warcraft (or even heard of it) and therefore doesn't have a clue of the situation there, can you elaborate?

    I have noticed that there's a lot of obnoxious banter in some of the in-game chat channels, basically. It probably varies depending on the server (and type of server) you are playing on, but in any case, players who don't like seeing people calling others "retarded" and "gay" as insults would probably do well to turn off the Trade channel. There are other ways to trade items if you want to, and plenty of ways to have fun in-game without having to read endless scrolling obnoxiousness.

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  15. These are great responses Bev.

    I really liked what you said about sensitivity.

    When you said this: "What does it cost to make the choice not to support language that belittles anyone?" I thought:

    I think some people think if they don't belittle others it cost them their illusions of being big themselves.

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  16. Tropic Thunder doesn't make fun of disabled people. It makes fun of non-disabled actorsand they're empty, stereotyped ideas abput disability.

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  17. I realise that abfh already commented in response to the argument I made in my last comment. I will only say this:
    1. Your views on young men are bigoted. I assume from your soments you are neither young nor male. You assume that all young males cannot appreciate satire and are incapable of respect and compassion towards disabled people. You give absolutely no factual basis for this view, you merely state it as if it were a fact that is already prved beyond doubt. I know many young men (including young men who like Ben Stiller movies who aren't like that.) I also know a lot of bigots who are neither young nor male. Judging by your comments, you are one of them, abfh. (By the way, I am young and female)
    2. Your argument sets an impracticable precedent. You seem to beleve that information and opinions should only be shared with those sufficiently "discerning" to be incapable of misinterpreting them. I don't believe that's moral or possible. Language is too ambiguous for that to be possible.

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  18. Anonymous,

    1. I don't know who you intended that comment for. I am going to assume it was not for me. My post says nothing about sex, gender or age. Nor have I implied that anyone is incapable of respect or compassion.

    2. Again, I have not made this argument.

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  19. I think the anonymous person was referring to abfh's comments about 18-year-olds watching the film and making fun of "retards".

    I agree with everything you said. However, I do kind of understand the thing about "picking your battles." I am sure that more people will have heard of the campaign against "Tropic Thunder" than can name a single disabled film-maker.

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  20. I really enjoy reading your blog and would like to give you an award to put on your blog. Here's the link to my site if you would like to collect it: http://wheresthesun.org/2008/08/21/im-a-winner/

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  21. yes!

    i agree w/ what abfh said-- it's not like the movie is advertised as some sort of brilliant satire that will make life-changing claims about hollywood and society's views of people...

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  22. Bv, I am so behund reading your blog! I scrolled down to this post today and I just wanted to say 'thank you'.

    Thanks for putting into words what I have not been able to articulate. I have had this discussion with many friends who do not understand where I am coming from, mainly because I do not usually get offended by other comments, but I always take issue with using the words 'gay' and 'retarded' in such a negative manner. Also, I am neither 'gay' or 'retarded', so I guess that means I shouldn't get offended?? If people used 'cripple' the same way, it would sound ridiculous, right?


    I am going to add this to my blog, and hopefully, get more people to understand my side of the arguement.

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  23. You know, I thought a little more about the "You need to pick your battles" mentality. Do folks say that because they themselves don't care enough about the battle? Or because they instantly see the battle as a very difficult one to win. If it's the former, the battle is worth it. If it's the latter, the battle is imperative.

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  24. Evonne,
    The people I encountered in this category seemed to all be saying stuff like, this is just a silly little movie, who cares, why not work on something important. I have always contended that the "little stuff" really is the big stuff. It's what makes up most of our lives. It piles up so easily when ignored.

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