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Words can hurt

August 30, 2008

OK. WE get it. We get that "Tropic Thunder" is satire. We know what satire is. We ourselves not only consume satire, but also produce it, in speech and in print. So to say that we missed the point is not true.

The real question is, do you get our point? Do you get that the word "retard" is offensive to a significant portion of the population? Do you get that that word causes real harm to real people?

What I would like to hear from Ben Stiller is this: "I get it. I get that words can hurt. I get that the use of the word 'retard' will cause pain and anguish for real people. I get that 'Tropic Thunder' may give rise to taunts on the playground, that the phrase 'never go full retard' may show up on T-shirts that will be worn in public and read by people who have intellectual disabilities. I get that that will hurt. But I think that the artistic purpose of using the 'retard' riff in the film more than balances the harm done."

What I have not heard from any of the principals in this film is any acknowledgment of the harm done.

Paula J. Stanovich

Portland, Ore.

The writer is a professor of special education at Portland State University.

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