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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Tropic Thunderstorm

    Since the beginning of the summer, I was hopefully excited whenever I caught a pop-up snippet on imdb.com or saw a TV commercial promoting the film ‘Tropic Thunder.’ Judging from the vague montage of clips, it seemed like it had everything. There was an all-star cast of comedic actors, a clever plot, and witty dialogue to piece it all together. I mean, what more could you want than Robert Downey, Jr., playing a crazed actor locked in the role of a black Vietnam War soldier? There was something that bothered me, however, something I read more than once that seemed to bother a great many others about this sure to be summer blockbuster hit.

    This was my introduction to groups of activists who protested the release of the movie because of the film’s portrayal of retarded people, particularly through its use of ‘the ‘R’-word’ throughout the film. I was amazed when I began to read more into these organizations that actively oppose such word usage. Check out: http://www.r-word.org/ and see for yourself. I will admit that upon hearing such stories, I myself initially thought, ‘Wow, this seems pretty R-worded.’ I mean, come on, ‘the ‘R-word’?’ Who ever heard of that?

    But it did get me to start thinking about how lax and common this label has become in modern American colloquial speech. Maybe it’s me, but I remember blurring the boundary (in the linguistic sense) between the word ‘retarded’ and those who I thought ‘acted retarded’ as far back as during my elementary school years. It’s not as if I ever meant to hurt anyone’s feelings when I called them that — it’s just one of those descriptions that always seemed interchangeable, like ‘dumb,’ which I’m also sure must offend people who are sensitive to the misuse of that word as well.

    After seeing the movie during its first week in theaters, I only grew more puzzled on what to make of the whole situation. Without giving out spoilers for those of you who have yet to see the film, let’s just say that there is a valid argument against how they use the ‘R-word’ with one scene in particular repeating the word over a dozen times. Overall the movie was still funny in my opinion — ridiculous and absurd, but full of laughs. Much of the dialogue is inappropriate, easily justifying the R rating. Anyone who saw it and remembers the scene with Jack Black tied to the tree knows what I mean.

    The main problem that the movie runs into is not so much the fact that they use the ‘R-word,’ but that they, like so many, casually blur the line between retarded people and people who act or play stupid. This is seen particularly in how the characters interchange the words, ‘retarded’ and ‘stupid’ multiple times. The point was clear, and cleverly delivered to give credit where it’s due, but I can see where someone with a child, sibling, or other loved one who is retarded would take offense to such references and sources of humor.

    All of this raises the question as to why we take offense to words when in reality, they are just abstract sounds that humans have attached meanings onto. Maybe the best answer is because of just that, that we have glued on these associations and so they in turn, do affect people’s feelings and emotional well-beings. In the end, the film is only as guilty as anyone who has ever used the word as an interchangeable adjective for someone they perceive as less intelligent than themselves, despite their actual mental condition. I’m sure some will continue to protest the widespread distribution of this film all the way through when it’s finally released on DVD this fall, and they have every right and reason to do this as I respect their work to strive toward the respect and justice they feel is needed. All I can say, however, is that at the end of the day, a movie that uses the ‘R-word’ is aptly ‘R-rated’ for this exact reason. You can raise awareness of your beliefs but if you don’t like it, your best option is probably not to go and sit through it. Judge and decide for yourselves though.

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