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Those Insulted at ‘Thunder’ Don’t Get Joke

August 22, 2008

By Chris Hicks For the Deseret News

Political correctness has its place — but I’m beginning to think its place has been elevated to a ridiculous level.

Two recent complaints that seem a bit over the top are the movement to boycott the film “Tropic Thunder” because it allegedly demeans people who are mentally challenged, and last week the Deseret News printed a letter to the editor decrying the comic “Lio” because a specific Saturday strip “was degrading to women.”

In both cases, what’s being lampooned is Hollywood, not people with disabilities or women, respectively. And in both cases, the jokes have been misinterpreted.

In “Tropic Thunder” it’s an elaborate gag about how to win an Oscar. If an actor wants an Academy Award, Robert Downey Jr. explains, he should play a mentally handicapped person with special abilities, such as Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” or Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump.” But if the actor plays someone who is mentally challenged without a special ability, such as Sean Penn in “I Am Sam,” he’s going to lose.

It’s a dead-on spoof of something we’ve all noticed in Hollywood’s self-congratulatory awards process.

OK, I realize the protest is over the use of the word “retard,” and I don’t disagree that the word is offensive. But if that’s all that bothers you about “Tropic Thunder,” you haven’t seen it. The film offers enough offensive material to be boycotted by a dozen different groups.

Let’s also remember that “Tropic Thunder” is rated R, so, in theory, young people who might hear the word and repeat it shouldn’t be seeing the film in the first place. Besides, there is so much more in the movie that you don’t want your kids to see, it shouldn’t even be up for debate.

“Lio” owes a debt to Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons (“The Addams Family”), with the title character portrayed as a precocious young grade-schooler who loves monsters and horror. And the comic strip often lampoons old movies about mummies, vampires, etc.

In the one that was cited as “degrading to women,” Lio is in his yard sitting behind a makeshift desk labeled “Lio’s Lost and Found.” The Creature From the Black Lagoon comes to the desk and Lio gives him a woman, and the creature carries her off.

This is meant to spoof Hollywood’s penchant for having movie monsters pursue women, which harks all the way back to “King Kong” and perhaps even earlier. It’s something that often shows up in posters, and there’s a classic poster for “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” that shows the creature carrying off Julia Adams.

Equally famous among film buffs are posters that show Robby the Robot in “Forbidden Planet” and Gort in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” similarly carrying the respective female stars of those films.

In both of these cases, those who are complaining don’t get the jokes. It’s important to understand intent, and in these cases the object of ridicule is Hollywood silliness, not mentally challenged people or women.

Personally, I’m much more offended by real-life offenses, such as the recent photos of Spain’s Olympic basketball teams (both the men and the women) posing for the camera with their hands forcing their eyes to “slant,” in a mock depiction of their Chinese hosts.

And instead of apologizing, the team has defended itself by saying it was meant to be funny.

Now there’s a group in need of a boycott.

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com

(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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