Binky Betsy (cookie77) wrote in binky_betsy,
Binky Betsy

New insight on Shannon on the Tabletop

Okay, you've no doubt heard about the controversy surrounding the movie "Tropic Thunder" and the role that Ben Stiller's character played prior to the timeline of the film. And it's made me think of Shannon, especially since I went to Crown Princess to read the TT thread, where one poster was particularly upset about the film (don't know how she feels about Shannon). She provided this link:

To sum up:

Blogger: "TT is a horrible movie! It makes fun of special needs people and uses the R-word! Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves!"

Twenty other posters: "You go, girl!"

Anonymous poster: "No, it's satirizing Hollywood's attitude towards special needs people. The characters are supposed to be callous. Grow a skin, will you?"

Other posters: "How dare you defend Hollywood! You're as bad as the rest of them!"

Anon: "No, I'm not. You just can't handle the truth."

Other posters: "He's a coward! We're right and he's wrong! Fight the power!"

Okay, look. I don't want to dismiss these people entirely out of hand. I know that parents of special needs kids have a VERY hard row to hoe. I can hardly blame them for being extra-sensitive. But what I'm unsure about is why cloying, glurgey portrayals, such as Shannon, are apparently AOK, when from what I understand, they're not realistic. This is so complex, I'm going to go point by point.

-- The film "Simple Jack": The thing is, I wonder if the offenderati would be so upset if they saw the film all the way through. Spoiler if you haven't seen it...

Stiller played a retarded guy in the film "Simple Jack." Huge bomb, didn't get him the Oscar he wanted. But when he's stranded in Thailand, he finally gets acclaim, on account of it's the only movie this community knows. He almost doesn't want to leave, because he's playing to a packed house and standing ovations every night. Kind of like a certain cartoonist? Who hadn't been lauded for her bravery since 1995 when a certain dog character died heroically?

-- The character Simple Jack: Yes, it's way over the top. But this is a satire, and I know the films that are being satirized. Now, I remember when "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was out, someone on the net, who taught SN kids, was very critical of DiCaprio's character as played, and the film in general. Because, she said, the film focused only on the heartwarming, quirky, "Aw, isn't that poignant? He doesn't understand!" aspects of the character. But in fact, SN kids are not made of Hallmark moments. For instance, if something upsets them, it can take a LONG time to get them calmed down, during which the class is pretty much derailed. Whereas Shannon merely wept quietly when she lost track of her mom at the mall, and relaxed as soon as All-Knowing April showed up. (Imagine if she'd had to go to the bathroom during that incident?) The most upset she ever got was when April asked her if she wanted to be in the Christmas show, and even then, all April had to do was bring her to the office and get reassured that she'd done nothing wrong. And 2 1/2 years later, Shannon is confident enough to give a speech on the cafeteria table? Uh-uh. Does. Not. Happen.

-- "Once upon a time...there was a retard." I'm not sure, but I can't see how that would have been the tagline for TT. It must have been the tagline for SJ. At any rate, it's offensive on the face of it, and it wasn't entirely wrong to remove it. But it must have been intended as a jab at the "Look at me; I'm playing a disabled person! Give me an Oscar!" attitude the film is deconstructing. And yes, retard is a cruel word. But, what I said already: portrayals of SN characters are often biased to begin with. And as someone said earlier today, Lynn has never been specific about the nature of Shannon's disability (except that she had a cleft palate). She's just Different, and that gets Lynn off the hook quite easily: she doesn't have to worry about an accurate portrayal of this or that. Shannon's Just Different. But Inside We're All the Same.

(And look at it this way. The word REtard is used multiple times in TT. But no one ever said tard. A fine distinction, I know, but "tard" would have REALLY been crossing the line.)

-- The poster on Crown Princess was worried about the potential for "Don't Go Full Retard" to become a catch phrase. Maybe, maybe not; I don't know. But the anon poster on the linked blog dared to say that "people are not going to go around saying DGFR" because of this one film. And was promptly swamped by a wave of outrage: "People say it all the time! My daughter was called a retard just this morning!" But that was anon's point: if the term is already out there, what difference does it make if one film uses it? I dunno; we'll see. At any rate, though, it's the hand some people have been dealt. No one should be made fun of, and when people DO get made fun of, you deal with it as it comes up. Like, for instance, telling your boyfriend that he was rude to your friend and he should apologize? And that it's not true, as he believes, that "these people can't understand us"?

-- And as far as dealing with it as it comes up. I honestly don't think that includes standing on a cafeteria table. If Shannon was able to make such an eloquent speech, then she's not retarded. At most, she has a MILD learning disability. I can sympathize with the bloggers who say they "have to be a voice for those who don't have a voice." Really, I do; don't get me wrong. BUT, I think that what we saw last year in Foob is the only portrayal they'll accept. Riotous cheering and applause, followed by people worming up to Shannon and saying "You were right; we are scum"? I honestly think that's as far as it has to go to satisfy parents of special needs kids.

-- And finally. If you're still reading. There was ONE bit in TT that made me uncomfortable: when McConaughey's character envies Stiller's choice to adopt, because "I'm stuck with mine" (looks at photo of apparently SN son). But, and I'll say in advance that I'm probably the biggest bitch on the planet for saying this, I've skimmed the blog I linked here, and some of the ones cross-referenced, and I'm boggled by the relentless cheerfulness. To hear these people talk, having an SN kid is THE life. Every moment is special. Every millimeter of progress is a joy. Even setbacks are wonderful, because the kid is wonderful. I'm not, as I said, entirely cool with the attitude of feeling "stuck," but for potato's sake, doesn't it EVER get these people down, what they're dealing with? Don't they ever have bad days that are just bad days? Not bad because some other kid made fun of their kid, or some bureaucrat stonewalled them, or some customer-service person was callous, but bad because they just wish their kid could talk or something?

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