You’ve got to think that Ben Stiller and the studio behind his new movie about a movie, Tropic Thunder, are overjoyed about all the controversy the film is stirring up. After all, when you’re trying to promote a movie, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?
This article from the Chicago Tribune explores the reactions about the film from people with intellectual disabilities and their various advocacy groups. If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, it pertains to the recurring derogatory use of the term “retarded” by characters in the film.
I haven’t seen the movie (and probably won’t anytime soon), but everything I read about it makes it clear that it’s a satirical take on the bloated egos of Hollywood actors and filmmakers and the absurd lengths that they will go to hold on to their fame and relevance. As Ben Stiller notes in this interview with NPR, the “joke” is ultimately on them.
If I do end up going to see Tropic Thunder (or renting it down the road), it will be mostly due to my intrigue over Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of an Australian method actor who undergoes a radical pigmentation surgery to turn himself into a black man for a role in the fictitious Vietnam war film being made within the movie. I find that whole premise, along with images of the “black” Downey, simply hilarious (since I frowned upon a white church’s blackface fiasco last year, I suppose I’m opening myself up to charges of hypocrisy on this one). But the use of the R-word seems to fall under a different category.
What do you think? Should we make exceptions for the use of offensive terms like the R-word when it’s done in the service of satire and subversive art? Or should this kind of thing always be off limits?