Whenever I despair that true courage — the willingness to take on the powerful and the intimidating — is nowhere to be found, I have a couple of weeks like these.
Last month it was the courageous Michael Savage.
Where, after all, can you find a man willing to fearlessly ridicule autistic kids and show the moral fiber it takes to make fun of the defenseless and the disabled? Others may hide behind such gutless concepts as compassion, empathy, and – YUCK!! – love, but at least Mike wasn’t afraid to be proudly and shamelessly cruel.
Now that takes guts.
I think Savage may have inspired the most recent courageous person of the week.
Today we salute the compassion of Stacey Snider, a senior executive at DreamWorks, who has stood firm against those who would criticize “Tropic Thunder,” a film from Ben Stiller that has used its right to free expression to nail those annoying little kids that the film bravely calls “retards.” Check out the tag-line on the poster: “Once upon a time…there was a retard.”
That’s right. While others might have knuckled under and admitted they had done something unspeakably hurtful, Ms. Snider has honored herself and her industry by announcing that she is “proud of the movie. It is hysterically funny. I do think it’s got its heart in the right place.”
And not one to be intimidated by the forces of compassion, she defends the film’s depiction of disabilities by suggesting that “The star-studdedness of it, and the absolute playability of it, trumps it all.”
That’s right: Miss Snider asks us to accept this profound hurt because of the film’s “star-studdedness,” which “trumps it all.” It might be disgusting, but at least it is stars being disgusting.
Just out of curiosity, Ms. Snider, whose concerns and hurts are trumped by all these stars? The hundreds of thousands of children who already get called “retard” at school, on playgrounds, in shopping malls? The kids who get stared at? The parents who struggle to protect and defend those kids from emotional pain?
Here’s what really kills me. Do I think that any production executive or Ben Stiller sat down and thought: How can we make fun of kids with cognitive disabilities? How can we cause their parents unnecessary pain? How can I make sure the word “retard” echoes across the cultural landscape?
Of course not. It is worse than that. Much worse.
Because what this whole shameful episode makes clear is that the 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?
Nobody asked. Nobody asked.
Nobody gave two seconds thought to the possibility that someone might be hurt; that some kid might come home and ask why another kid called them a “retard” after seeing a movie made by Ms. Snider’s company.
I wish I was pure. But there is not a soul on earth to whom I would confess all the disgusting nonsense I have laughed at. I actually appreciate that we live in a society that grants artists the creative freedom to make an audience sick.
But never, ever — if you claim to have even a minimum of guts or decency — mess with people who cannot speak back.