I taught a bunch of structural linguistics to the grad students this week, so bumping into the excellent Chicago Reader article on Retards struck a chord.

One of my favorite parts is the discussion of actor John C. McGinley’s article “N*ggers, K*kes, F*ggots, C*nts, W*ps, and the R-word” in which McGinley makes the somewhat conventional argument that “retard” is a slur like many others. Although Wilcox doesn’t object to the argument as such, he does object to:

the ridiculous notion he perpetuates in his next-to-last paragraph: “The millions of people with Special Needs (around the planet), who are on the receiving end of this hate speak, are genetically designed to love unconditionally. These ‘retards’ are NEVER going to return our vitriol. Ever!”Read what he’d have you believe again: people with special needs are “genetically designed to love unconditionally.” As if they were Care Bears or something.

His point is essentially that denying the human ability to hate, be impatient, petty, intolerant, etc. to those with special needs (ugh, that term!) denies their full humanity in just the way that those slur words are intended to do. (Or maybe not “just the way”, but “in a similar fashion.”)

The article offers a good discussion of “retards in film” including the much-discussed episode in Tropic Thunder where Ben Stiller’s character is told his previous acting in a film called “Simple Jack” failed because he “went full retard.” Wilcox points out this episode in the film is intended as a parody of how Hollywood represents disabilities on film. Critics thought the joke was at the expense of the disabled, but it clearly was directed toward able-bodied idiots.


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