Monday, August 18, 2008

My Art Hurts... Who Again?

Okay, before you view the video below, please keep in mind the context. I work in Hollywood. So, the following story is kind of big news. For months and Months, you have seen billboards and teaser trailers, appearances and all kinds of hoop la for a movie called "Tropic Thunder". It's the latest creation of Ben Stiller, and as a comedy it's one of the big three this summer that is being praised for it's satire and wackiness (Pineapple Express and Hamlet 2 being the other two). However, this comedy has elicited some heavy criticism from certain groups because of a joke involving Ben Stiller. Stiller's character is a riff on Tom Cruise. There is a joke in the movie where characters give Stiller a hard time for his 'lack luster' portrayal of a mentally challenged person in a movie called "Simple Jack". This joke has created a proverbial 'shit storm' of controversy, because the N.D.S.S. (National Down Syndrome Society) has asked for a boycott of the film for a negative portrayal of people living with Downs Syndrome and the use of the word 'Retard".

So, in typical Hollywood, P.R. fashion the film makers have been mildly defensive and heavily apologetic towards the use of the work and the connotations of the joke in their P.R. junkets.

So, coming to their defense, sort of, are the boys who brought you the Internet sensation "Retarded Policeman", the Perry Boys. The Perry boys produce a comedy show featuring Josh who has Down Syndrome. They call the show "Retarded Policeman" and it's one of the biggest hits on YouTube. It might be bigger than that cross dressing kid who does video blogs under his covers (tee hee, that's my little joke for this blog). Anyway, there is no doubt that "Retarded Policeman" boldly plays off of all the jokes and snickering lauded towards those folks who face a variety of mental challenges. However, they make no apologies about what they are doing, and feel it should be a statement of empowerment. You can make your own call on that.

Anyway, History aside, the issues is the joke in the movie, the boycott and now this response posted on YouTube by the Perry Boys.

It's interesting to me that they've decided to compare the use of this word with the 'N' word, and how the African American Community has 'taken back' the word and turned it, into a word reflecting strength and a cultural identity. I don't know exactly how I feel about the analogy. However, I do believe they have a unique point of view on the issue.

It's an interesting debate the occurs within social groups who find themselves the victim of 'stereotyping' and subsequently media exploitation. One side always says, "This is wrong, and your portrayal of me is offensive." The other side says, "Lighten up, we're getting a chance to step in and re-write how we are perceived in society. Let's exploit the exploitation to our own benefits."

It's this latter statement, that I feel is the hot button issue in our country, and it's one that does not go away. When Michael Richards used the "N" word several years back in a stand up routine, people crucified him. However, many of the top of the chart Hip Hop artists use the "N" word routinely in their albums and they are rewarded for it.

In this case, look at a show like Retarded Policeman. Is is okay to 'poke fun' at folks with mental challenges, because the person doing the poking is a person with Down Syndrome?

I don't know, but I do know this... I love it when artists create this stuff either intentionally or unintentionally, because it does what good art or creativity should do... it pushes us to make a choice, or at least forces us to discuss it, either around the water cooler, dinner table or in a heated debate in the comments section of a video.

Damn as a blogger who loves art and what it is supposed to do, I love this stuff!

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