Ben Stiller, who hasn’t been able to elicit even the tiniest of laughs since Zoolander is set to release a new movie next week and across the entire spectrum of the politically correct world, panties are bunching over the repeated use of the word “retard,” throughout the film.
Yes, friends and family, it’s been at least a week since I last ranted about people being hypersensitive over silly little words, so fasten your seatbelts, grab a strong cup of coffee and enjoy.
I’ll start by saying that I’m coming from a place of complete and total ignorance regarding the movie and the usage of the word in that movie (nothing like writing and publishing on the internet a diatribe on a subject matter about which you’re completely ignorant is there?).
Then again, I don’t really need to know how the word is used in order to properly rip the people of this world who have nothing better to do with their lives than protest the openings of Ben Stiller movies. One more bomb and Stiller would be going direct to DVD in his next release anyway, but I’m sure the press for this issue will fill the house with frat boys and tragically, force us to endure yet another Stiller movie in a few months.
I’ve written at length about how words only have the power that we give them and how a word’s meaning and depth can and does change over time. As we become desensitized to a word, it’s edge disappears and it’s ability to be mightier than the proverbial sword is lessened. The word retard is one of those words.
Only the most base, most uneducated and ignorant portion of our society uses the word retard to describe someone with a mental handicap. It just doesn’t happen. The unwritten rule of thumb about a word like retard is that it’s perfectly acceptable to use as long as you’re not using it to refer to someone with a mental disability.
Okay, I know, that defies logic on many levels, but stay with me here. Retard doesn’t mean the same thing it used to mean. When we were a more ignorant people, we called mentally challenged people (and if you’re counting, I’ve used 3 different euphemisms for that population so far—I’m all about the hypocrisy) retards because of their seeming stupidity. Of course being stupid is an upgrade from being demonic which is what we thought of them right before we upgraded them to stupid.
Then, we grew up to be the medically advanced, forward thinking, feeling sensitive people we are today and realized that they aren’t stupid at all, their mind’s just function in a way that is different from the norm. We are now kind to those with mental disabilities. We speak loud and slow and use exaggerated lip movements to emphasize this point and shake our heads smiling at their parents or friends to let them know we are sympathetic—and that we would never call them a retard.
And here’s the catch. While we may still be slow-talking idiot fools in the presence of a mentally disabled person, we no longer think of them as stupid. We understand that their parents weren’t first cousins, they aren’t devil spawn, they aren’t purposefully being dense—it’s just something that some of us are born into and cannot escape.
That said, the word retard has retained its original meaning to us. When you tell someone they’re being retarded now, you’re telling them that they’re being stupid, acting foolish—you’re not comparing them to a mentally challenged person. That thought doesn’t even enter your mind.
But it’s still insensitive because of the past usage of that word! Right? Sensitivity sensischmivity I say! We all need to just get the hell over ourselves. Certain words just lose their sharpness over time. And I’m not saying that they aren’t still used as weapons, but come on people!
I’m guilty. I’ve called friends retards for doing something dumb. I’ve used the word gay to describe someone who was being or doing something different—and I really don’t feel bad about that one since gay actually means happy.
It’s a byproduct of our language. Words can and regularly do have multiple meanings, they carry different weights. The entire English language depends on context. It’s a grammar thing, not a political thing. A word used in hate by one can be used in jest by another and in description by a third.
That brings my back to my own ignorance. I don’t know how Stiller uses the word in his movie. Maybe he’s making fun of mentally disabled people? Maybe he’s so desperate for laughs that is his new tactic for box office success. Comedy today seems to be about outdoing the outrageousness of the other guy. Maybe making fun of the mentally challenged is Stiller’s way of one upping Will Ferrell’s recent movie where he rubs his balls on a rival’s drum kit.
I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m tired of being offended for people. Perhaps if we saved our outrage for events that really and truly deserved it, I’d be more likely to care, but as of right now, I simply don’t.
Kind of retarded, isn’t it?