Yesterday I commented on my friend’s site, and her response to me touched on two of my favorite topics: entertainment and language. She and I will never see eye-to-eye on most subjects. What I like about her blog is her compassion, her sincerity and her skill.
She wrote about a boycott/protest some people were organizing on Facebook against the film “The Change Up.” According to the person organizing the protest, a character in the film uses the word “retarded” and suggests that a child looks “kinda Downsy.” My blogger friend has a daughter with Down Syndrome and takes these slurs personally. Here is my comment on her blog (edited for typos because I’m not using a stupid touch screen here)
“The problem with criticizing and condemning something you haven’t seen is that words are taken out of context and divorced from their intentions. Ryan Reynolds’ character in this film is despicable and ignorant and this line is meant to make him unsympathetic and hateful. The filmmakers are not promoting this kind of slur, they are ridiculing the kind of people who make it. I think it’s great that you want to educate and spread compassion, but I think your disgust is misplaced here.”
She responded that she doesn’t agree. Then she proposed that Hollywood (or “Hollyweird” as she puts it) has dumbed down our language and asked if I experienced that as a teacher.
I do see the deplorable denigration of the English language, but I don’t know if movies and television have caused it, or if they reflect it. It’s the age-old debate: does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? When it comes to language, I think that it flows both ways.
To answer her specific question about what I see as an educator, I think music has more influence than television or film. I’ve had the disconcerting experience of students who have been in the country for only a few weeks calling each other “dawg” and imploring me to “chill.” They constantly have earbuds either in their ears, or the new fashion, dangling off the top of their ears like jewelry. Music is everything to teenagers, especially boys who aren’t allowed to emote publicly.
I think films have people use words like “faggot” and “retard” because that’s the way people really talk. If you want your movie to have a ring of truth to it, then people have to use language that’s real. The hip-hop-ification of language would have me say the filmmakers of “The Change Up” are just “keeping it real, yo.” I cannot dismiss the counterclaim that people may use such words because they saw them in a movie. Or that it is hurtful to the special needs community to hear a theater full of people laugh heartily at the word “retard.” If we can stop people from using the word in life, then we will no longer see it in entertainment, because it WON’T be the way people talk. Just like we got rid of the word mongoloid.
Kids learn their values from their parents. They test those values with the things they learn from their friends and in entertainment, but if the parents have instilled a solid core, it generally stays intact. Nothing has more influence on the education of a child than the parents. My husband and I are going to make sure our daughters learn, so they could have the most “does not meet standards” teachers in the profession and they will still get great educations. I watched movies and tv shows all my life where kids and teenagers talked back to and disrespected adults, but I never did those things. I was not raised that way. I knew the difference between tv and life. My father also works in television, so Hollywood put me through college, and I’m grateful. The fact is, parents don’t read. They don’t value language. Reading is “gay,” especially for boys. No one writes anything anymore. Plagiarism is the rule, not the exception. Our entire culture is anti-intellectual. People prefer a president whom they can sit and have a beer with rather than one who is smarter than they are. “Ivy League Elite” is an INSULT, not a compliment. The world’s done turned upside down.
I think we’ve made progress if the best way to make us hate a character is to have him be cruel to a child. It says that cruelty to children is unacceptable. Only a real jerk would call someone a “retard.” And if it’s offensive, then I fully support people’s right to boycott. But someone in the group organizing the boycott should at least read the script. It gives authority to the protest. “I think that’s wrong, but I haven’t seen it” isn’t a weighty argument.