13 August 2008

I Have A Different Opinion, So You're Wrong

There's controversy surrounding the movie "Tropic Thunder" released in theaters today. The Special Olympics and the American Association of People With Disabilities are just two of the many organizations protesting the film's portrayal of the mentally disabled in general and the use of the word "retarded" in particular. A spokesman for Dream Works, Tropic Thunder's distributor, has said no changes or cuts will be made to the film as a consequence of complaints. I say both sides have it right.

If something in a movie, TV show, song, book or advertisement offends you, you've every right to say so and say why. Ask supporters and friends to boycott, join your protest and send nasty letters. That's what democracy is all about. Meanwhile artists should listen to those complaints with an open mind but not feel compelled to make the asked for alterations or accommodations.

In a best case scenario a dialogue follows, both sides are heard. Maybe the general populace becomes more sensitized to an issue or condition.

The one aspect of this affair I find unsettling is the protester's chanting of "ban the movie, ban the word." Really, folks, fascism is not the solution. Banning movies is as undemocratic an action as one can imagine. Banning a word is downright ridiculous. Recently one word has come under a partial ban. White people must now use the term "n word' for nigger. Meanwhile African Americans have carte blanche with the same term. The achievement gap in schools grows, poverty and crime rates for Blacks are disproportionate yet the best some people can do is quibble over a word. Excuse the digression, but something is clearly not working here.

I hope the offended groups continue to protest Tropic Thunder and I hope not an iota is changed. All that should be changed is the general public's perceptions and understandings. I say: ban censorship.

On a not unrelated topic I was sipping a coffee in Peet's a little bit ago and trying to read. But there was a discussion at the next table that kept interrupting me. It was about a conference at which transgender folks gathered. What I gathered from the chat was that there was considerable disagreement among the transgenders about protocol, language, and other relative minutia. This is typical of splinter groups on the left. They're are plagued by in-fighting, most of it over trivialities. Meanwhile the right stays together and on message. Their unity on simple basic issues has made them all too successful. Of course this is largely because conservatives have very simple issues that are framed simply for simple minds. The left becomes factionalized largely because they are dealing with such nuanced and complicated issues and respecting each others' diverse opinions and feelings.

One last barely related topic is opinions. When I discuss or write here about my opinions regarding films I'll often come across people with different opinions. I should hope so. But what baffles me is how some people posit their opinions as if empirically verifiable fact. If I say that James Cagney was born in Toronto in 1921 and starred in The Thin Man I am wrong on three counts and those errors should be pointed out. However if I opine that Cagney was the most engaging actor of his generation, that he could have a stellar career as a song and dance man and that his performance as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) was his best, you can argue with me all you want. But to say I'm WRONG is a waste of our time.

Some people's arguments about film is akin to telling another they have the wrong favorite color or that strawberries do not in fact taste better than grapes.

Someone recently posted a comment on this blog disagreeing with my assertion that Fred Astaire was a good singer. My hearing must be off.

1 comment:

R.D. Finch said...

The post raised a lot of really interesting issues, and I find it hard to disagree with you on a single point. I haven't seen "Tropic Thunder" and doubt that I ever will, so I acknowledge that all I know about the movie is what I have read. I can see why some rights groups are offended. But what they should be offended by is not the movie, but the way it is being used by unenlightened viewers. (Whether or not the movie was aimed at least in part at these viewers is another issue.)

Isn't this the risk that all satire runs? In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal," in which he proposed that the solution to the "Irish Question" was for the British to use the population to breed meat, i.e., human babies, for food. Many readers missed that this was satire and that its point was to ridicule the idea held by many British that the Irish were less than human. Some people thought it was a grand idea; others were outraged at what they took to be a serious proposal.

I can sympathize with the person who asked how she was to explain to her mentally handicapped son the meaning of the T-shirt with the tagline from the movie ("Do the Full Retard") printed on it. But I fully agree with you that the answer to such dilemmas is never censorship. Bad taste and narrow-mindedness may be loathsome, but they are not, and should never be, illegal.

Another good point you raise is how intolerant some people are of dissenting opinions. Maybe this is the legacy of "shock jock" radio and TV, that any contrary opinion must be responded to with vitriol and ridiculed rather than respected and countered with reasoned disagreement. I wish that everyone could distinguish between fact and opinion, and between supported and unsupported opinion. Then maybe real dialoque would be more respected and hateful rant would be shunned.