Ben Stiller has a new comedy movie being unveiled this week. The movie is called “Tropic Thunder.” But it is being trumpeted as some sort of evil incarnation of ancient bigotry against mental illness or the mentally impaired, or something like that. Apparently the movie uses the term ‘retard’ multiple times. The movie has an all star cast of Toby McGuire, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, and Ben Stiller.
I am one who is occasionally accused of being politically correct – and I admit that occasionally I find benefit in being careful not to hurt others. But I recognize that the world is what it is, and we have to live with it.
One of the things that I like about comedians is their ability to have fun with very serious issues. Black comedians make fun of their heritage. White comedians make fun of their hill billy upbringing. (I am one of those). We have a bazillion sayings to accommodate misfortune – like: ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Pretty cute, but not very satisfying when the tough lemons sour your life. Humor is the sugar that sweetens sourness.
My family has used humor to deal with life for generations. One of my grandsons has a incurable condition called Vitiligo. There are patches of his skin that have no pigment. He looks OK in the Winter – but when he tans in the summer his Vitiligo spots remain milky white. He loves to swim and he is a proud little thing – so he becomes self conscious about his appearance. His cousins call him Spot. One of his cousins, my granddaughter, has scoliosis – that very serious condition that causes a curve in her spine. She calls her cousin spot and he tells her to straighten up. They both laugh. Both are learning to make the most of their lives.
On of my children is an Epileptic. When she was a child we used to put our dirty laundry in a tub with water and soap. When she had a seizure we put her in the tub so she could agitate the laundry to cleanliness.
I had Knee surgery back in the day before arthroscopic intrusion. The orthopedic surgeon cut a twelve inch gash along the side of my knee, then tied the ligaments together with $75 worth of silver thread. I am now known to many as the 75 Dollar Man.
When I was a child in the 1950’s we told all sorts of ethnic and racial jokes. Polish jokes were particularly fun because of my Majewski cousins on the south side of town. We lived in a mixed race neighborhood and the racial jokes flew back and forth across the street. We had a whole litany of ‘Little Moron’ jokes. Why did the little moron throw the butter out the window? He wanted to see a butterfly.
I no longer tell or promote in any way any racial or ethnic jokes, except in the context of understanding humor – as in this post. The reason I no longer promote those jokes is that many people do not understand the humor – the joke serves to reinforce stereotypes, prejudice, and bigotry.
Does anyone believe that Ben Stiller is a bigot? I don’t. How about McGuire or Black or Downey? Probably not. Humor is a ticklish thing (Pun intended). Robert Downey Jr is in ‘black face’ makeup, playing the role of an African American – is this a slap or an insult? Most Black people who have seen the movie think he is pretty funny.
The real measure of humor is in the eyes of the beholder. If someone is offended then perhaps they should lighten up a little, and perhaps the joke teller should wise up and be more careful. But sometimes humor is the only option in dealing with life tragedies.