I hope that the larger point I was trying to convey isn't lost. Regardless, I apologize to those who felt slighted by my limited perspective. Like any other parent advocate, I stand astride two communities, those of the neurotypical and the disabled, and I don't always feel like I fit in or represent either one of them all that effectively. But I do try, and I will continue to try to improve.)
Well. Let it never be said that the entertainment world isn't committed to providing material to blog about.
From "The Change-Up", from Universal Pictures
Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds), about his friend's twin babies: "Why aren't they talking? Are they retarded? This one looks a little Downsy."
Let's dispense, for the moment, with the usual debate about freedom of speech or how comedy supposedly works or whether or not anyone needs to lighten up or pull a stick out of their butt. Instead, let's write a story. We can even pretend it's fiction.
Imagine a parent with a child who has Down syndrome. I actually have one in mind, a strong and positive writer whom I've become friends with over the past few years. But you probably have your own friends or acquaintances you can imagine.
So let's say it's a mom, one who spends her days, her years, taking care of a child, a very special child in every sense of the word. She loves this child the way most special needs parents love our children, which is to say, with equal parts gentleness and ferocity. She understands what the lesser of her fellow citizens of this rough world thinks of her kid when they see the evidence of disability stamped on a child's face but don't bother to look beyond. Perhaps she knows better than most how this attitude diminishes the shallow observer, not her child. Maybe she's found that peace.
Let's imagine that this mom likes comedies, and not just polite ones, either. Like most special needs parents, she probably engages in quite a bit of dark humor herself, the jokes and remarks made to her spouse or other special needs parents and no one else. She appreciates edgy humor, and she liked The Hangover, so when a new movie by the same writer comes out, she decides to take a few hours out of her weekend and go see it.
Perhaps her husband watches her child for her while she's at the movie theater. It would be nice if they could go together, but that's a luxury that's not afforded to every special needs family. If she's single (as so many special needs parents are; about 75% get divorced, according to a recent study), she's had to find a babysitter. This simple act for a typical family is one fraught with anxiety for the special needs parent. Qualified babysitters are hard to find; trust is even more difficult to build. Perhaps a member of her family will watch her child, but that's not a given, either. Many special needs parents have family members who don't get it, who have declined to watch our kids or who have made statements that we'd expect from fussy old ladies at the grocery store. (For me, it's always the old ladies, and it's always at the store.) So a family babysitter isn't a given, either.
But however it happens, our imaginary mom finds a way to go see The Change-Up. She's there, sitting in the dark, laughing at the movie, enjoying herself and pushing down the guilt, that feeling of abandonment that we feel when we dare to spend time doing something for ourselves. Perfectly reasonable, this time away, yet it's hard not to feel as if we've left our child unprotected somehow.
That feeling of leaving her child undefended suddenly swells when she hears it. "This one looks a little Downsy." Our imaginary mom is suddenly confronted with a room full of people, laughing right along with famous faces on the screen, in a multi-million dollar production worked on by thousands of people, approved by studio executives, writers, actors. All those cinema professionals, and none of them, NOT ONE, ever said "You know, we're making fun of purely innocent, absolutely blameless people here. We're making a shitty joke about people with disabilities, people who are brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the moviegoers who are going to pay money to see this film. That strikes me as a dick move. Maybe we shouldn't do this."
Because this simple recognition of the absence of basic human dignity has not occurred to any of the decision-makers of this giant Hollywood production, our imagined mother sits alone in the dark, and she understands all over again, as if she could ever really forget, that a large segment of society, of the people she walks with and works with and attends church with right alongside her child, this chunk of society finds humor in her child's disability. They think her family's pain is appropriate as a punchline. This mom was right here with them, and does that make her complicit? She thinks maybe it does. Maybe she gets up and leaves the theater in the middle of the movie. Maybe she goes home to her child, feeling more than ever that her place is here, not out there with this great invisible THEM, the ones who will always place her and her child and her family apart.
But if people laughed, I suppose it works out okay when you do the studio executive math.
Again, I'm not asking you not to engage in this kind of humor. It's your soul, after all. You're the one who has to figure out what you're willing to do for a laugh, to fit in with the cool kids, and still sleep at night. But here's what I would like for you to do, if you're asking, which you're probably not.
If I ask you to close your eyes and imagine the kind of person who would casually use the word "nigger" to describe another human being, there might be some variation of the character that any one of you would build in your imagination, but I seriously doubt it would be someone you'd admire. I don't think you'd create the mental image of a person you'd trust your kids with, and I certainly don't think you'd imagine yourself.
When the greater part of society reaches the point where that exercise of the imagination would have the same result with the word "retard", we'll be on our way. That's what I'd like. It really is exactly that simple.
And "downsy"? That's vile. If you laughed at that, please go live in a hut somewhere, far far away from actual human people.