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. Continue reading

Documentary: “Offense Taken”

Jerry W. Smith of the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota has drawn attention to this documentary of one community’s response to use of the word “retard.” Produced by Self-Advocates of Minnesota (SAM), “Offense Taken” is 26-minutes in length and closed-captioned, with a shorter version available for workshops and classrooms. The film is premiering this evening in Minneapolis and will be available on DVD in early September.

For more information, please visit the website:

As Smith points out, although the film was produced in response to a Minneapolis theater group’s use of “retard” in one of its performances last summer, it has nevertheless garnered attention again given the release of “Tropic Thunder”. Anyone who has questions about the documentary or its distribution, can email Jerry Smith at smith495@UMN.EDU or contact Advocating Change Together ( by phone at 651-641-0297.

Tropic Thunder Protest Effect?

In spite of the entertainment industry’s attempt to claim that Tropic Thunder had a good opening and that protests by people with disabilities and their advocates made no difference, Tropic Thunder las week with disappointing box office sales. Continue reading

Tropic Thunder and the R Word

Following up on dsobey’s post on Tropic Thunder: From insult to injury, a brief review of what’s being said about the film on Slate in a post on my blog, Words, Words, Words. I’ve been reflecting on the “r word” and on hateful speech so casually applied to persons with intellectual disabilities—to the point that many people think it fine and well that a movie like Tropic Thunder is “questioning stereotypes” when it’s rather simply reconfirming them, and showing why we do need to look so very closely at how we use words like “simple” and “different” and, yes, “retarded.”

Tropic Thunder Box Office Expectations

This weekend Tropic Thunder opens amidst some protest by people with disabilities. It is expected to have box office sales of $36 – $41,000,000 over its first weekend. The following chart shows public confidence in the film’s ability to hit this mark: Continue reading

Tropic Thunder: From Insult to Injury

In today’s Washington Post, Tim Shriver joined the growing chorus of voices asking for a boycott of Dream Works anticipated blockbuster Tropic Thunder, “I hope others will join me in shutting this movie out of our lives and our pocketbooks. We don’t live in times when labeling and humiliating others is funny. And we should send that message far and wide.”Shriver’s willingness to criticize the film industry is more telling considering that he has close ties to the business including being co-producer of another Dreamworks film Armistad. Continue reading