Salon article: The “retarded” renaissance

By Lynn Harris (ST: with acknowledgement to be given to Lawrence Carter-Long)

“Never go full retard” was the catchphrase of the summer. Activist groups aren’t laughing. Should you be?


Image of Ben Stiller playing “a retard” from a past Dreamworks marketing site.

Sept. 18, 2008 | When I was in fourth grade, someone you liked was a “good kid.” Someone you didn’t like was a “retard.” (Or, in the colorful patois of my native Boston, a “wicked retahd.” That, or this withering shorthand: “a wicked re.”) We did not use the term for the special-needs kids. They were “the special-needs kids.”

Basically, we used the word to describe any annoying person (or rule or homework assignment). There was also the timeless “loser,” of course, and the more ephemeral “dink” — “douche bag,” for its part, came later — but “retard,” and “retarded,” with all their variations, packed the most playground punch. And today, pop culture and the Twitterati, tirelessly mining those formative years for irony pay dirt, have spurred — for descriptive better or for derogatory worse, depending on whom you ask — a “retard” renaissance.You’ve probably read, heard or even said the word (and/or its “‘tard”-based spinoffs) if you watched this year’s MTV Video Music Awards; saw “Napoleon Dynamite,” “House Bunny” or the trailer for the new Michael Cera movie (“I love you so much it’s retarded”); listened to the Black Eyed Peas; heard Howard Stern on Gov. Sarah Palin and work-family balance (according to a listener, he said, “For the sake of that retarded baby, I’m not going to vote for her”); discussed John McCain’s plan for health insurance reform; or visited, like, any blog comments section ever.

Oh, or if you’ve read word one about the most recent Stiller-tacular, “Tropic Thunder,” whose vast coalition of detractors — including the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society and the American Association of People with Disabilities — are currently leading the “for worse” troops, protesting the use, and use and use of the word “retard” in the movie. The coalition has also objected to the portrayal of the “retard” in question, Simple Jack, played by Stiller’s Tugg Speedman in a film-within-a-film, which itself spawned the straight-to-novelty-tee catchphrase of the summer. “You went full retard, man,” Robert Downey Jr.’s character — in blackfaceadmonishes a deflated Speedman. “Never go full retard.”

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