Some people just can’t take a joke. Then again, some jokes just aren’t funny. Ben Stiller’s upcoming comedy Tropic Thunder recently came under fire for one of its many viral promotions, a fake movie called Simple Jack, which is supposed to be a drama in which Ben Stiller’s character, actor Tug Speedman, plays a mentally challenged child. After disability rights advocates complained about the fake movie’s tagline “Once Upon a Time… There Was a Retard”, Dreamworks agreed to pull the viral website off the internet. However, it seems that was not enough. Since Simple Jack also appears briefly in Tropic Thunder itself, 22 different disability groups across the U.S. are now protesting the film and asking people to boycott it altogether.
Peter Wheeler, spokesman for Special Olympics, had this to say: “We are asking people not to go to the movie and hope to bring a consciousness to people about using derogatory words about this population… We will continue to be vocal about the destructive effect of this film.”
Dreamworks has since responded by saying they will not make any cuts to the movie: “Tropic Thunder is an R-rated comedy that satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the top characters in ridiculous situations. The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities.”
I have yet to see Tropic Thunder, which is obviously necessary before a proper judgment can be made, but from what I’ve seen, I agree with Dreamworks that the movie is more poking fun at Hollywood actors who try to win critical acclaim by portraying mentally challenged characters, rather than poking fun at mentally challenged people themselves. On the other hand, I do think the way they used the term “retard” seems unnecessary and is only inserted for a quick low-brow laugh. Either way, in cases like this, the free publicity from a proposed boycott only seems to help the movie get more attention than it normally would have, and I’m not sure it’s going to accomplish much. What do you think, is Tropic Thunder pushing the envelope too far, or is it well within the realm of decency and respect?