Monday, September 01, 2008
5892: Reacting To Tropic Thunder Overreactions.
Tropic Thunder, the latest Ben Stiller flick, faced protests from at least two camps. The first group expressed outrage over the disrespect shown to intellectually disabled people via a character Stiller portrayed in the film, as well as multiple utterances of the word “retard.” Another group griped about the Blackface character portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr.
On the one hand, no one can ever dictate whether or not anyone should be offended about anything. These matters are very personal, based on individuals’ perspectives and experiences. So the people appalled by Tropic Thunder are completely within their rights to be angry.
But here’s the lowdown, IMHO (In MultiCultClassics’ Humble Opinion).
Tropic Thunder uses both broad humor and dark humor to essentially blast Hollywood. Stiller skewers the stereotypes via stereotypes, ultimately slapping the shallow, self-absorbed folks in the movie industry. If anyone should be insulted, it’s the real-life stars, producers, directors, screenwriters, agents, moguls and more. Don’t bet on that happening. The rest of us can laugh along with and/or at Stiller and his compatriots.
The intellectually disabled and Blackface caricatures are literally poking fun (or disgust) at the A-list actors and actresses who’ve transformed themselves to collect awards. For the intellectually disabled, think of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Radio, etc. For roles incorporating physical changes, think of Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Charlize Theron in Monster, George Clooney in Syriana, Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire, Nicole Kidman in The Hours, etc. Hell, the movie’s most outrageous chameleon isn’t even credited in the advertisements (MultiCultClassics won’t play spoiler here).
Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder isn’t like Johnny Knoxville in The Ringer—indeed, Knoxville’s movie appeared to anticipate and address its politically-incorrect nature by being overly reverent, depicting the Special Olympians as savvy heroes. Besides, Stiller’s main character, Tugg Speedman, is arguably a dimmer bulb than the intellectually disabled Simple Jack secondary character. Go figure.
As for Robert Downey, Jr.’s Blackface Kirk Lazarus/Sgt. Osiris, well, they’re on the same level as Stiller’s Tugg Speedman/Simple Jack characters. Plus, another cartoonish character—hip-hop artist Alpa Chino played by Brandon T. Jackson—keeps Downey, Jr./Lazarus/Osiris in check by constantly dissing the Blackface act.
Oh, yeah, there are Tropic Thunder characters that insult Asians too. And armed services veterans. And GLBT activists. And animal-rights backers. And others we were probably too insensitive to notice.
You’ll need a stereotype scorecard to keep everything straight in this movie. Better yet, simply enjoy the guilty pleasures of laughing out loud at Tropic Thunder. Unless you tend to be offended by such things, in which case you should stay away.