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Learn to love

Letter to the Editor | Sunday, November 16, 2008

This summer, Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder,” which satirizes actors who take themselves too seriously, sparked a nation-wide controversy for its jokes about people with special needs. Just prior to the movie’s release, many groups, including Special Olympics, American Association for People with Disabilities and the National Down Syndrome Congress, organized a national boycott of the film because of its casual and repeated used of the r-word and callous imitations of people with intellectual disabilities. The creators of the movie predicted that they might be into hot water with the character of Robert Downey Jr., so they previewed the movie with members of the NAACP and other test audiences. It did not even occur to them to screen the movie before groups advocating for the massive – as well as massively ignored – population of people with special needs. In fact, they were entirely surprised by the above groups’ adverse reaction. This lack of foresight epitomizes the ignorance on display throughout this film. The satire fails and people who love and respect their friends with special needs feel violently offended and terrified that the ones they love will suffer these “jokes.” And it is not because we lack a sense of humor. It is because we have a sense of human dignity.In Colin Keeler’s Nov. 12 Letter to the Editor (“Learning to laugh”), he claims that he does “not mean to downgrade any of the great challenges those with disabilities encounter.” Well, you do, and saying “no offense” doesn’t make it OK. Asking people to put the lines like, “Never go full retard!” and “Once upon a time … there was a retard …” into context does not remove the painful sting of such a crude insult. Parallels cannot be drawn between the way “Tropic Thunder” abuses people with special needs and the way “Legally Blonde” pokes fun at a stereotypical dumb blonde because when you make a joke at the expense of a little girl with Downs Syndrome, she is not laughing with you; you are laughing directly at her. People with special needs do not participate in these jokes and they aren’t given the opportunity to defend themselves. These jokes feed our very serious social problem of an entirely restricted view of people with special needs, seeing only their handicaps while ignoring their extraordinary blessings, like a capacity to love wholly and purely, by which they far surpass you and me.As Soeren Palumbo pointed out in his letter on Nov. 7 (“Lessons from a beloved sister”), “our treatment of people with intellectual disabilities” is “one of the greatest remaining barriers of ignorance and hatred left in our society.” Tropic Thunder’s hurtful representation of “Simple Jack” is not a noble or productive satire; it only reinforces the social acceptance of casually mocking those with disabilities. The group fighting to change this is small; their calls for respect are barely heard and hardly register with the general population. At times the struggle may seem futile, but then I see Theresa laugh. Our only recourse is to pray as the Special Olympians do: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Love your neighbor.

Mary Pat BrogansophomorePasquerilla West HallNov. 13