Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Should "Retarded" be Retired from the Comedic Lexicon?

Johnny Knoxville's thoughtful take on the subject.I learned about Spread the Word to End the Word on Ellen Seidman’s blog, Love That Max. Seidman’s son, Max, has cerebral palsy, and Seidman wrote a very thoughtful post about why the word "retarded," or the "R-word" as it’s called by the organization of the same name, should no longer be used. Seidman spent the day on Twitter yesterday sending users whose Tweets contained the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ a simple message: “Hi. Mom of kids with disabilities here. The word 'retard' is demeaning.” One user told her to go fuck herself, and another asked how the “photo wrecker” was. (Ouch.) Other users were more open to her message, apologizing for their lack of sensitivity. I’m a comedian who generally does not like to censor herself, but I’m also the mother of a 5-year-old girl, and Seidman’s project really forced me to ask myself: Is it ever okay to use the word ‘retarded’?

I can't think of the last time I might have described something as retarded. But I won't say that I've never used it as an adjective, or that it won't come out of my mouth again. I do remember the first (and last) time I was asked directly by someone not to say "the r word," though. I did a show a few years ago for a women's group in Westchester County on a weekday at 9 am. (That setup right there is, well, r…ough.) The "r word" is not in any of my written bits, but I always do a fair amount of crowd work and riffing, and it must have slipped out at some point while I was improvising. (I honestly don't even remember saying it, which shows you how little thought most people give to the use of the word in everyday speech.)

One of the women in the audience came up to me after the show and told me she enjoyed my performance, but that she hoped I would take the word 'retarded' out of my act. I told her I didn't even realize I’d said it, that I don't use it regularly and that I was sorry if I'd offended her. She told me her son had cerebral palsy, and that if I had a child with special needs, I'd feel the same way. She was angry, but it seemed as if her anger overtook her unexpectedly, as if she hadn't taken the time or had an occasion until that very moment to be angry about the fact that she was the mother of a child with special needs. She was having a moment of catharsis, similar to one an audience member is shown having in the Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work.

In the film, Rivers is performing for a small theatre audience, and she tells a joke that references Helen Keller. In a review of the documentary, Ty Burr of The Boston Globe writes, "After a heckler at one show protests a Helen Keller joke, the comedian tears into him." I wish the footage was online so you could see this moment if you haven't, but Rivers tells the audience member — who had just revealed he was the father of a deaf son — that her own mother was "deaf and howling." (And goes on to do a very unflattering act-out, no less.) She continues — having her own cathartic release — to say, "Let me tell you what comedy is about — comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with it!" Rivers then effortlessly segues into another joke and the moment is over. Except it's not.

When Rivers gets off stage, she confesses that she feels bad about lashing out at the audience member, and that she understands how hard it must be for him to parent a deaf son. But, she adds, she thinks she said something he needed to hear.

I couldn't agree more. Comedy is about deconstruction. Humor is a coping mechanism. Not just for comedians, but for everyone. The human condition is inherently pathetic, and without comedy — without the fearlessness being a funny philosopher demands — we'd be left exasperated, feeble lumps. If we can see our problems as being absurd, however, we can enjoy our pain a little bit. Or even a lot.

Comedian Marc Maron has a pretty good grasp, I think, on the absurdity of "the r word," and he shared it in a bit during his last Comedy Central Presents. I was at the live taping back in 2008 and never forgot this joke, which you can see on YouTube if you'd like. This bit starts at 1:35:

I know you're not supposed to say retarded anymore, but I like the word retarded and I wanna take it back. I grew up with the word retarded and I think we're all adults here and I think we know the difference between saying "That's sad, that guy's retarded" and saying "That guy's a retard." In all honesty, retarded people don't even call themselves retarded anymore, they call themselves mentally challenged. So they don't see themselves as retarded, which means there's an outside chance that somewhere in this country on any given day a mentally challenged person could be calling another mentally challenged person retarded, because he doesn't think he's that retarded. It's sort of like the middle class not thinking they're poor.

There are so many words we claim only by their first letter (which reminds me of the great Cory Kahaney bit about her daughter saying "F" at school), from the n word to the b word to the c word to the f word. "Fag" is an f word, too, but I have a million gay friends who say it. (And I say it when I'm with them.) Fred Phelps says it, too — and in fact, he was just given clearance by the Supreme Court to say it at the funerals of military personnel. (Talk about a tough crowd, am I right? That audience is totally gonna be dead.) I feel pretty secure in the fact that Phelps and I mean two totally different things when we say ‘fag,’ which is why it’s so important to be able to distinguish the difference between a word’s definition and the intentions of its use.

That said, I would be an idiot (should I say the I word?) not to acknowledge the fact that the use of historically hot button words is welcome amongst members of certain communities, but not by outsiders. Use of the n word is generally frowned upon, unless you’re black. (And sometimes even if you are black.) There is a grey area regarding the use of the n word, though — or more like a brown one. Latino, Hispanic and other non-white urban kids use the word frequently now, as do some white kids raised in "ethnic" neighborhoods. Jeffrey Joseph, a black comedian who sometimes works with inner-city youth, says, "I know I've been teaching inner-city kids too much when I refer to myself in my head as 'this nigga.'"

Women have reclaimed the b word (and to some extent the c word), homosexuals have reclaimed gay and fag, but there was a scuffle recently over whether or not it was okay for Vince Vaughn to describe electric cars as "gay" in his latest film The Dilemma. The reference was deleted from the trailer but left in the final version of the movie. In the first season of Louis C.K.'s sitcom Louie, he asks a gay comedian (Rick Crom) if it bothers him to hear Louis use the word 'faggot' in his act. (Proof that despite having tough exteriors, most comedians are really very thoughtful softies at heart who sometimes choose to be abrasive anyway to prove a point.)

Reclaiming slurs has proven powerful to many oppressed groups of people, but the question remains: unless the physically disabled/mentally challenged community is willing to own the word retard, should anyone? The use of the word is protected under the First Amendment, but is it okay? I would never use it in a way that was meant to insult a disabled person, but I might use it in the same way people use gay or dumb, simply out of habit or to make a really specific point. After all, when something is the r word, it's generally really f'd up and worth b-ing about.

To reach a final verdict, I asked comedian Nelson Addison — who, like Seidman’s son, has cerebral palsy — what he thinks about the word retarded. Here's what he told me:

Addison: My personal opinion is that political correctness has no place in stand-up comedy.

Castiglia: Interesting. I would agree with you, but it's validating to hear that from someone who could potentially be offended by a lack of political correctness. The reason I'm asking is because there's a movement for people to stop saying retarded, in every usage of the word, not just in terms of being disabled. You have cerebral palsy. When you talk about that on stage, do you ever use words like disabled, handicapped, do you ever use the word retarded or talk about the word retarded?

Addison: I don't use the word retarded, simply because I don't have material about that. Would I censor myself from using that word? Probably not if the joke was funny. If it wasn't a pot shot. I would never maliciously make fun of anybody — except midgets.

Castiglia: (laughs)

Addison: I want to say something about the word handicapped. Of the words disabled and handicapped, I think the word handicapped is better because disabled literally means not able. I’m able to do everything; I just need a little head start.

Castiglia: So what about the word retarded?

Addison: A couple months ago when Jennifer Aniston said retarded on that talk show, everyone was up in arms about it, and I don't see why we should have to control Jennifer Aniston's language. She wasn't talking about retarded people. She was talking about herself and something stupid that she did. You know, she called herself a retard. I think we're taking our own ability to express ourselves and making it more and more difficult to communicate.

Castiglia: It gives us all a language handicap.

Addison: As an artist, I'm trying to offend. I do that in my act. Not significantly, but just a little so you say, "Oh, that's wrong." If you're gonna dampen my ability to say something that I shouldn't say, what are we gonna have left to laugh at?

Carolyn Castiglia is so bitchin' and winning she is her own goddesses, bro.

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  • JoshUng

    Very interesting. I think something is overlooked a lot is, that even when somebody is being mean, they aren't making fun of the word, they are making fun of the condition. If people stopped saying retarded, it isn't going to stop mean people from being mean. I think the same goes for midget. I'm not aware of either word having some sort of etymology where the word itself can be offensive (like faggot), so I think there really isn't much of a difference between retarded and handicapped, or midget and little person, except that it may sound a little awkward to call a stupid movie (or whatever) "handicapped."

    Its a little different, but growing up, when tought about political correctness (or whatever they called it back then), we were told not to use words like fat (instead use "pleasantly plump") or occupations like "gravedigger." For janitor, it was "custodian" and then something else after that. Assuming people don't want to be janitors, and some people feel its okay to make fun of them, it doesn't matter what the word being used is.

    That being said, I try not to use any words like "retarded" because there is always some chance I'll offend somebody, and there is a zero-chance that I'll actually get anything out of it.

  • http://popcornapocalypse.blogspot.com colinfisher

    For me this isn't a political correctness issue at all. The word retarded has inherent meaning separate from describing a person. For example, if I call the NYC MTA fucking retarded, that's in a total different category from calling it gay, which a lot of people would do. If I call it gay, I'm comparing it to a homosexual person and saying they're less-than. If I call it retarded, I'm just saying it doesn't work right. Which is accurate.

    I'm not normally a "PC is destroying our language" guy. I think the n-word and f-word etc rarely justify their usage (though if done properly, of course they can be funny and justified) and should mostly be retired.

  • grovberg

    I really enjoyed this piece. Nicely written.

  • saythatscool

    I gave this to my cousin Gerri to read and she was just dumbstruck.

  • Ben

    First off I'd like to say I love this blog. Following this blog on Twitter has allowed me to keep up-to-date on what's happening in the comedy world. This is my first comment here also (I think).

    Anyways, it's certainly appropriate that I tell a little bit about myself. My older brother is only a year and a half older than I am but he was born with an extra 21st chromosome: Down syndrome. I also volunteer multiple hours per week working with organizations such as Special Olympics and Best Buddies.

    Here is the thing about when people use the "R-word", it is very hurtful to my brother, me, and those like us that either are disabled or are very close to those that are. To use an example of how this is hurtful, let me give you an example from the blog post you linked to in the article above (http://www.lovethatmax.com/2011/03/if-you-ask-people-to-not-use-word.html). You see those tweets? In every single one of them, these people are essentially saying, that something or somebody (often times themselves) is as stupid or mentally "disabled/handicapped" as my brother is. Guys, my brother is medically "retarded"; it says that on the papers when he was born, and the word is used in his papers at the school he attends to describe the "condition" he has. So yes, even if you don't mean to compare these things to my brother, you are.

    You mentioned other words that are or have been harmful in the past. In the ways ALL those words are commonly used, it is used to be derogatory. You know, it would be one thing if this was years ago when the "r-word" was only used in a medical sense. However it is no longer this way. I flinch every time I hear somebody use the word. I automatically lose respect for these people when they compare how "stupid" something is to my brother. When the word is used, they essentially mean "stupid". That persons phone is stupid, Justin Beiber may or may not be stupid, drivers in LA traffic may be stupid… Essentially that is why the word is hurtful, it is equated with stupidity or a lack of function.

    I don't consider my brother to be "stupid" in the least though. THAT is why it is offensive. The "n-word" is used the same way. When used by racists, it means "you're stupid because of the color of your skin".

    My favorite comedian is Jon Stewart, I don't think I have missed a show in YEARS. However the most memorable moment from the last year or two for me (other than his awesome Glenn Beck impression), is that one time he used the "r-word". It was hurtful. Here is this man that I respect as a person and a comedian, and yet here he was comparing something's stupidity to a medical condition of my brother.

  • Ben

    I'd like to say one final thing, this word is different from the ones listed above. Why? Because this is a group where one of the common things that makes them "different" is that they quite often have a hard time speaking for themselves. That is why this movement is headed and run and voiced by those like me that have friends and family members with disabilities. Unlike other similar movements, this is a group that really has a hard time speaking above the crowd and getting heard. I really suggest you guys read this blog post that I found a few days ago. It's a fantastic piece, and one that really hits close to home. http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/2010/08/people-who-are.html?spref=fb

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyn-Castiglia/658482478 Carolyn Castiglia

    Hi Ben – thanks for that link. It is a very moving post, but I think the distinction people are trying to make is that the meaning of the word has evolved. Granted, there are some people who might still use the word as a slur, but I think that for the most part when the word is used it's not being used in that way. I might feel differently if I was caring for a person with special needs, but I can understand to the extent that I'm female, and I hear the word bitch used incessantly. I don't take it personally and I use it myself. I'm not trying to change your mind here, I respect your opinion. I just don't think most people are using the word with derogatory intentions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Max-Rulestheworld/100000131465449 Max Rulestheworld

    This is a thoughtful, well-written post; interesting interview with Nelson Addison. I'm glad the post I did inspired discussion. I'm in Ben's camp. Obviously, the use of the word has evolved–but it evolved from a word that means a person with disabilities. And when people say "That's retarded" (i.e., that's stupid/dumb), it perpetuates the stereotype of a disabled person being stupid. Even when it's used in a whole other context, jokingly, whatever-ly.
    For me, this isn't about being politically correct. No, this is really, really personal. My son has enough obstacles to overcome in this world. Just use a different word.

  • http://asianniceguy.com El Sabor Asiático

    Something Ben said in his comment above helped turn me around on this issue, and I think it's something those who defend the word ought to consider. One reason why words like "retard," "fag," "nigger," and so on are so hurtful to the people they're describing is that they're generally people who are in a less powerful position compared to the majority. Hearing that word from those who are in a more privileged, powerful position is not just insulting, it's a reminder of just how little respect or value that society offers them. This is something I don't think many people who are in the majority often appreciate, because you don't really sense your own privilege.

    Coming from the South, I grew up around people who regularly used words like "nigger," "wetback," "chink," etc., and most of the time? They weren't using them in a derogatory way. To them it was just descriptive. The father of one friend of mine would refer to black people he LIKED as "niggers," and if he had been challenged on it, he would probably protest that he didn't mean it in the "bad" way.

    So, as someone who habitually uses the word "retard," I think I'm done doing that. Even if the word has evolved, it hasn't evolved beyond being descriptive of people who, frankly, have a tough enough time in this world being crapped on by assholes, without having that word thrown in their face all the time.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    I remember seeing an ad campaign a few years ago that equated the r-word with the n-word and f-words, which HONESTLY, I'd never thought about. As a black person who's not quite straight, I wouldn't want to be called either.

    It took me a while to do it, but I stopped saying it in conversation soon after. I realized I was using it pejoratively, and it was just as bad as saying "that's so gay" when I meant "that's so dumb".

    The question of what comedians SHOULD do is a tricky one, though, so I'll stay out of that… But as an individual, I don't use that word.

  • Anthony Coro

    I avoid using it personally but there are times when it admittedly does seem like the best word to punctuate a joke (kind of like how "ass" sounds better than "butt" in many contexts). That said, I can't remember the last time I ever heard it in reference to handicapped people. The only instance I can think of is about a decade ago, when I saw a medical facility that used the term.

    The idea of completely taking any word out of the general lexicon is incredibly misguided, impractical and downright dangerous IMO. I don't want to say that using the R-word should be encouraged by any means, but it's taken on such a completely different meaning that I would think people would be better off if it simply became a synonym for "stupid" and the original meaning forgotten and antiquated (as it basically is now, except for a few people with a cause that I respect but can't help but feel is an ultimately ill-thought-out endeavor).

    I once wore a John Lennon shirt that happened to have a peace sign on it and some crazy woman stopped me and told me that the origin of the peace sign was some satanic symbol or whatever and that I shouldn't wear it. I told her I had no idea (which was true) but neglected to inform her that I really couldn't have cared less (and I'm Catholic). Because it's never had that meaning to me and I'll go out on a limb and say that the same probably applies for most people.

    By trying to censor the peace sign, the R-word, etc. all it does is reiterate the supposed negative connotations and origins when it's just so much more sensible to allow new meanings to emerge over time. Words and symbols themselves only have as much power as we're willing to give them…it's the intent behind them that really matters.

  • alexandjef

    I echo the comments made about political correctness having no place in comedy. It's important that comedy must never have these conversations. Comics and comedy writers should never need to have discussions about what's right and wrong to say, that's for an audience to decide. In my opinion, the only place caution should appear is on issues of intent. If someone uses racist language, or is homophobia, or uses the word 'retard', they should have the level of intelligence to understand when how it's intended can be dangerous, such as calling a disabled person a retard, or being obviously homophobic. I can understand how someone with a disabled child can find the word 'retard' offensive, but you would hope someone clever enough to actually work in comedy can understand the danger, to comedy, of using how something effects them personally to try and set rules. I hope that makes sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Dufrisne/1468291345 Tim Dufrisne

    A couple years ago, I became a suicide survivor, twice over. Less than a year apart from one another, two of my very close family members took their own lives, both with gunshots to the head. I mention this because now whenever someone unthinkingly mentions that they had such a bad day at work that they wanted to "blow their brains out," I have a strong emotional reaction, and I can't help but be a little upset at them.
    But then I try to relax, and remember, what happened wasn’t their fault, or anyone else’s.

    The reason I can’t get on your team to put limitations on how people communicate is because whether you’re joking about suicide or racism or sexism or religion or the mentally challenged, no one’s pain is any more or less real than anyone else’s. Everyone has legitimate arguments for why you should use this word over that word or why certain topics should just be off limits. If we’re seriously going to talk about this, the real question can’t be whether or not we should joke about the handicapped; the real question is, can we joke about anything?

    My answer (shocking coming from a comedian) is an unqualified, unapologetic YES.

    The reason I answer this way is because I feel that by pouring so much attention and energy into the inert words of strangers, you are ignoring the true source of your pain that’s deep down at the heart of the matter. It’s not so much that people are unfair and insensitive and shitty, it’s that life at its core is unfair, insensitive and shitty. We all expect or hope for a life full of joy, good luck, equality, meaning, but very rarely can the universe afford to give us any of it. So we’re all just trying to deal with it, hopefully together. That’s why art is so important. It brings people together and helps them find some beauty in the incomprehensive cruelty that we all try so desperately to ignore. Humor is how people face the absurdity of life head on and still continue living in spite of it. Humor doesn’t degrade the sincerity of life; humor redeems its shortcomings. To attempt to take that away from even one person is a bigger outrage to me than even the most offensive joke that anyone has ever heard.

  • Matthew

    I am very much in Ben's camp here. I think the issue that those who defend, or dismiss, the use of the r-word miss, is that the very acceptance, or ambivalence towards, the use of the r-word reflects, in very real terms, the way that society, as a whole, is dismissive of those with intellectual disabilities. I mean really, do you not see the irony when an entire segment of people say "Stop using that word, it's offensive and hurtful" and they are told "no, it's really not, you just don't get it." Trust me, they get it–more than most will give them credit for.

    Tim, you wrote that humor doesn't degrade the sincerity of life–that it redeems its shortcomings; True, but there is no redemption, or humor, in harming those who are asking you to stop.

  • hshore

    I kind of felt I was reading your term paper here defending the use of the word retarded. I believe that if you want to use it go ahead. You should be reminded however that the people asking you to stop have the same freedom of speech and should be allowed the same courtesy to speak out and say why they feel that way. Quoting Joan Rivers or that loser comedy central "comedian" doesn't cut it for me. Having a deaf parent, Joan could still defend herself. Mocking the disabled leaves them little opportunity to say how they feel about the word. It's no different than bullying which I'm guessing you also think is okay. Did you know that 75% of kids with special needs are bullied in school? Called retards and made to feel less than human. I guess you think that you aren't responsible for this but you are first in line to be blamed.
    Do you use the N word? What about kike when you make jewish jokes? I could go on and on but you get what I'm saying.
    Let's just hope that your daughter stays perfect. We're all one step away from disability and it shouldn't be that the only parents out there who get why the word retard hurts is when it affects our own kids.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Meagan-Belcher/23806029 Meagan Belcher
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Dufrisne/1468291345 Tim Dufrisne

    Since you seem to think people need to give their credentials before expressing an opinion, here are mine.

    I worked with a Crisis Call Center for almost five years where I helped council mentally challenged individuals as well as victims of all kinds of abuse and hardships. I also worked briefly teaching sign language to autistic children in college, and one of my older cousins who I love deeply is autistic. I'm also no stranger to being bullied and called names like faggot, fat-ass, and retard. I was also in special ed my whole life and was friends with all the kids in that class.

    I learned, more than most, I would guess, to hate words like "retard" and "short-bus" because I associated them with the pain I felt growing up. Kids are really cruel, no doubt about it. And it doesn't seem to change much when people get older. I understand the desire to say, "Let's just not have people make fun of this thing anymore or use these words anymore because it hurts me and the people I love." Believe me, I get that. But the issue is more complicated than that. This isn't just about bullying, this is about comedy in general.

    To answer your other questions, hshore, yes, I have used the word "nigger," on stage, in Oakland, to a crowd of predominantly black people, and yes, they laughed, because the joke was funny and made fun of white people. I have also used the word "Kike" on stage in a diss rhyme that I wrote for my good buddy Jack Solomon at a going a away roast for him. He loved it more than anyone.

    The reason why these jokes worked well is because jokes, and the words we use to create them, are inherently neutral, it's only if there is real hatred behind them that could ever make them offensive. A joke takes something true about the world and then heightens it. If it isn't at least partially true, or if it isn't heightened in a clever way, the joke won't be funny. End of story.

    The joke about the "photo wrecker," for instance is really funny. Is it in bad taste? Yeah. Could it be used to hurt someone? Oh yes. Could it also be made by a mother of a special needs child to that child and they both laugh? Absolutely. The offensiveness of a joke isn't determined by which words are used or necessarily by what true element of the real world is being heightened, but rather, by who is telling it and how. If there's no malice, it's not that they're picking on you, it's that they're bringing something up that you're insecure about and don't feel comfortable making light of.

    I'm not defending bullying and I'm not defending hate. I also loved the majority of the writings on the website that Ben linked. It was poetic and beautiful and everyone should read it. What I didn't like, what I didn't appreciate, and what I can't defend, is the idea that we should elevate this pain we feel about these words or that topic above that of everyone else and feel like we are in a position to dictate which words people can use and what topics people can make light of.

    I feel this way not only because of my love of comedy as a healing and coping mechanism, but also because I don't think that trying to limit what people say really gets to the root of your pain. I think that even if no one ever made any more off-handed comments or jokes in poor taste, it still wouldn't really make you feel any better. Because really, your pain probably has nothing to do with them. If you face it on your own terms, without endowing these words and these strangers with so much power over you, I think you'd be better off.

  • steponitvelma

    Multiple people have pointed out that it's much better to say something is "dumb" than that it is to say it's "retarded". I think this proves what a tricky thing language is and how hard it is to go about any of this rationally. If I were to say that, for example, Mike Huckabee's arguments regarding gay parents are dumb I would be factually incorrect. They aren't silent, they come through loud and clear. But if I said they were retarded, that would be correct. The development of the ideas are not fully thought through, they are stunted, retarded. So if I said they were dumb that would be saying they are like mute people, implying some derogatory feelings toward mutes. "Retarded" in this situation carries no such implications since I'm using the word because of it's meaning, not as a simile.
    Obviously this is a very specific example, but I'm only using it because I think it shows that language is about much more than words. I've tried to avoid using the word "retard" because I mostly try not to hurt people with my language, but that doesn't mean I think there isn't a proper way to use it. This makes it different than the n-word and f-word. I also think it is important to remember that most of the words we have describing things we think are not especially smart also come from an un-PC place. So to get mad every time you hear the word retarded, regardless of context, is probably due to an extra sensitivity on your part (I mean the ubiquitous you, not a specific poster) instead of a rational argument. Yes some people use it as a way to deride people with disabilities, and those people could often use a lesson in how words can hurt, but that's not the only way the word is used and it shouldn't be treated as such.
    That being said, comedians are in a whole other group and I feel have more reason to say things I would never say myself. Also, sorry if this comment was too ponderous, I've been writing a lot of grad school application essays.

  • Rich Bachelor

    My only credentials here are as a person who interacts with lots of other people, and I'm here representing a point of view that I think has so far been overlooked: this particular use of "retarded" has nothing whatsoever to do with disability.

    When I use that word, I am using it to describe the willfully ignorant. I wouldn't -nor would anyone I know- actually use that on a person who is actually developmentally disabled. You use that on people who are being stupid, generally loud and stupid.

    Words used in the past to denote the developmentally disabled -cretin, idiot, stupid and others- have all since passed into general use that roughly translates to "There is no credible reason why this person reasons so poorly, since there is no biological cause thereof." Usually when someone (or their actions) are being described as "retarded", it's because they're trying to impose their bad ideas on the rest of us, and we choose a strong word to convey that. I have no problem with that, just as I also don't make fun of people who are actually disabled.

  • rcshowman

    Using the word 'retard' and 'retarded' reveals the speaker's laziness. Rather than actually describing given person/action/situation's crappiness, the speaker relies on unfortunate and negative stereotypes of mentally challenged folks.
    When using the word 'retard' and its derivatives: instead of calling someone a stupid asshole because she is acting as such, the speaker is instead comparing her actions/behavior to those of someone who is mentally challenged (that is, through no fault of her own). So rather than calling a spade a spade, the speaker maligns MCs. The stupid asshole has agency–she *chooses* to act like a stupid asshole. An MC does not have that kind of agency.
    Same goes for a given situation–for example, "That decision is retarded." Rather than "That decision was poorly made" or "That decision soars at great heights of dumbfuckery", the speaker has said "That decision was made as if the decider was not of a mental/intellectual level to handle it on account of unlucky genetics/etc."

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyn-Castiglia/658482478 Carolyn Castiglia

    Tim – I'm a suicide survivor twice over, too, also due to gunshots. And I agree that no topics are off limits, though that doesn't mean anyone can successfully make anything funny. For some comedians, edgy jokes work. For others, they're a miserable failure. Comedians have a responsibility to know what things they have the authority to say, and unfortunately not every comedian has that awareness. Most who stay in comedy grow into it, some never do. A seasoned headliner once told me we're responsible for everything we say on stage. I don't take that to mean that we're responsible for the audience's reaction, but we have to be able to back up why we say the things we say.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Dufrisne/1468291345 Tim Dufrisne


  • Rich Bachelor

    Or how about this: lots of words have multiple meanings. When you say that someone has "turned a blind eye" to something, you aren't ridiculing the un-sighted. When you describe something as "lame", you aren't trying to make the injured feel bad. All the same, there's blogs that won't let you use those terms (and many others) for those very reasons.

    As if to say that we all must behave as if no one else in the world has the capacity to reason and differentiate. That actually *is* offensive.