I’m sure this is the fifteenth thing you’ve read today about the TROPIC THUNDER scandal, vis a vis “Once upon a time, there was a retard…” but if you haven’t, it involves mentally handicapped groups rising to protest the film within a film “Simple Jack,” which boasts the tag line, “Once upon a time… there was a retard…” A simple google will lead you to more poorly spelled criticisms than you’re likely to find this side of a Britney bashing… here’s some choice (but correctly spelled) outrage from a certain Steve Gorelick just to catch ya up:
Because what this whole shameful episode makes clear is that this entire promotional campaign – the posters, the web sites, the trailers, everything – made it through the entire DreamWorks production and promotion process without anyone, not one person , ever stopping to ask themselves: Sure we can say anything we want. Sure we can use the word “retard.” But do we want to? Should we? Is it right? Is it kind? Who would we hurt?
The idea behind the whole “retard” aspect of the film is, apparently (I’m also presuming having also not seen it) to satirize Hollywood’s cheap Capra-esque sentimentalizing of the mentally handicapped (FOREST GUMP, I AM SAM, RAIN MAN, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY–which also starred Stiller–anything with Jerry Lewis or Jim Carey, (pictured) etc.) I can understand, of course, being riled up over the “R” word, if you’ve been bullied and so forth in a society that doesn’t understand you…etc. But despite a mental handicap, one should be able to see that this not as an issue of “is it kind?” but of satire. It’s not Simple Jack who is being dunked here, it’s those sanctimonious wheatgrassers in Tinseltown. All this backlash hooplah does is prove their low opinion of the movie-going public right–that they are too dumb to get sophisticated satire, that humor belongs in the bathroom and the mentally challenged belong on altars and podiums where we can worship their benevolent simplicity… and win Oscars!
Not to be overly patronizing, but this sort of thing is supposed to create an ironic self-reflexivity! Such intertextually self-reflexive chocolate boxing is meant to champion the thing it allegedly attacks… it’s even meant to help diffuse stereotyping by calling attention to it. In that sense “Once there was a retard,” works to illuminate and diffuse “subtextual” prejudice, such as the kind found in FOREST GUMP, wherein being mentally challenged is regarded as a gift, as the only way one can, perhaps, respect and grasp American’s governmental policies. The straight-forward unironic way GUMP was appreciated by so many Americans was a bad bad sign… but luckily the SIMPSONS and SOUTH PARK have in the years since been slowly educating us all in the finer points of satire, most of us…. TIMMY!
To ask “is it kind?” is to ask whether artists have a right to be intelligent and subtle or must hammer every point home in didactic literal terms. Think of “Springtime for Hitler” in THE PRODUCERS… is Mel Brooks the recipient of protests because he glorifies Nazism? No, and you know why? Because it’s old hat. Like Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller comes from a line of “Borscht Belt”-comedians, Jewish comedy tends towards the self-lacerating, and to make a sweeping generalization, oppressed peoples know that if you ban jokes about oppression you are halfway to becoming an oppressor yourself, so acidic–even hurtful–satire should not only be permissible but ESSENTIAL for a free society. If the Simple Jack stuff seems too extreme and vulgar, just remember that jaded mass consumer tastes have forced comedians to continually push the envelope of the socially acceptable… by now that envelope has exploded into a pulpy splatter. But we must protect and defend that splatter. Otherwise…. well, if a Forrest Gump in the White House is what these people want then… oh wait.
Moving on… I believe this whole Simple Jack scandal is being played up in the studio-backed media to smokescreen any possible African American extremist backlash (due to Robert Downey Jr’s post-modern black face gambit in the same film). I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Those lovable little bastards in Hollywood know no shame. I for one however can’t wait to see Tony Stark get all Superfly on yo ass when TOPIC THUNDER comes out… on DVD!