Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Decendants - The Word - The Change

Something is happening.

Really happening.

Several people have spoken to me about the fact that the Oscar nominated movie, 'The Descendants' has a scene in which the 'R word' is used repeatedly for, supposedly, hilarious effect. Everyone who has mentioned it to me was disturbed and upset. Many said that they liked the film up until that point but then were so angered by an unnecessary scene that they left the theatre wishing that they hadn't gone to see it at all. They felt that the movie and the experience of going to the movies had been ruined.

But, more than that, all of them - to a one - felt differently about George Clooney because of what they had seen. They understood that he's just an actor, not the script writer, but they also felt that he has the power to ask for a rewrite or to refuse to use words that denigrate others. One woman, only one mind you, said that she would probably not go to see another Clooney film.

There will soon be a cost to those who use language which hurts, language which hates, people with disabilities. I hadn't heard about this movie, nor it's use of the r-word. I did a quick check on the Internet and found the dialogue and thought it was distinctly unfunny and decidedly nasty. In the dialogue itself, which I will not reproduce as others have, it is acknowledged that the word shouldn't be said and then - it's said over and over. A wink to the audience about how daring they are being.

Daring indeed.

To risk a reputation for a cheap laugh.

To risk being tarred as a bigot for a paycheck.

To risk damage to one's perceived character.

Daring,daring, indeed.

I do not know Mr. Clooney, obviously. Now, I don't actually wish to. But here's the thing, I've always thought of him, because of how he carried himself and how he spoke in interviews, as one of the good guys. Whenever I saw him I thought that he was someone of integrity. Maybe it had all been an act, that is his job after all. Maybe 'the truth will out' as they say. Maybe Mr. Clooney is someone who is so used to his power that he no longer feels a need to consider those less powerful. Maybe. Maybe not. But he made a decision.

And that decision has tarnished him.

I've seen no big exposes about the film and the scene and the use of the word. Certainly no 'Tropic Thunder' style protest. Yet, until I searched the Internet, I've heard no buzz about this 'controversy' here on the web.

The buzz that I heard, however, is the kind that those like Mr. Clooney should really fear. It didn't come to me from activists, or from bloggers, or from professional letter writers. No, it came from regular folks who go to see movies. It came from people who plopped down in a coffee shop to talk with me and say, 'Hey, did you see the Descendants ... there's this awful scene ...'

Something is happening.

I know it.

You know it.

And one day so will those who's job depends on you and on me.


Kristin said...

The change is fabulous but, it disappoints me greatly to hear about that scene. I also had thought of Clooney as one of the good guys.

Anonymous said...


I think this post should be mentioned to the folks who nominated the film for the Oscars!


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I had not heard about this either and I had also thought George Clooney was one of the good guys - more fool me.

I think that this is the only way change happens - people vote with their feet.


Nan said...

I think I exited before my comment got posted. Only to say, I am disappointed that my only Hollywood crush (George Clooney)is no long available to me. I haven't heard much about this either, but I'm going to go look at the watchdog sites now... like Spread the Word to End the Word and hmmmmm there are a few others, but I can't remember them now!

Nan said...

Here'a link to a pretty good blog that says we aren't doing a good enough job speaking out if this still happens. For anyone who is interested.

CapriUni said...

My aide has made the decision to still use the R# word.

However, she no longer uses it as a label for people, but as a transitive verb that is done to people, when educators and doctors, and social workers respond to a diagnosis instead of the people they are supposedly "serving."

It's an interesting idea, and I have mixed feelings about it.

John R. said...

Have not heard about the movie but real life is more painful to me.... I just had to deal with a disciplinary action at my work (I am an administrator/trainer at an agency that supports people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities). I was supposed to take me to a place of providing "sensitivity training" (which I detest and refuse to do) with a staff member who used the r word in front of the people with whom she was working and aimed it as an assault on a co-worker. I chose to move for terminating this staff member. She acted with intent using a word that she knew, from my training processes, was bigoted, harmful and painful. Zero tolerance is the only way I can see our community changing the paradigm. If she used a racial slur, religious degradation, gender bias language she would have been terminated. I worked with our personnel dept. to ensure her departure. I am not sad about her employment being lost. I am not even guilty. I know that NO amount of sensitivity training will change a bigot. She must learn from this that people with intellectual disabilities deserve to have staff who are not only genuinely sensitive to the various needs and demands that come being a Direct Support Staff, they also deserve to not be exposed to hate language. Lessons are tough. I hope someone fires the screen write for the film in mention and I hope Mr Clooney can begin to seek forgiveness for taking a role and using hate language.

Anonymous said...

Okay - I followed this post down a rabbit hole - literally. I just shake my head over the reaction to a scripted line in a movie. Mr. Clooney and company were following a script. To tarnish him or his fellow actors is ridiculous. He played a part - it is his job. Mr. Clooney's character was not at his best with his wife dying and having an affair - and played a person who chose to go low - a place we ofen go when stressed.

We all have areas in our lives that we are sensitive about - labels, violence, predjudice, whatever, and if we pick a movie, we take that into consideration. If you go to a movie, your choice by the way, you have to expect to be exposed to things. No one seems to be oversensitive about the infidelity that caused so much damage to the characters in the movie, nor the teenage drinking, or pulling the plug - just a word. A word - and let us say it - retarded - that is a word used clinically in medicine. It is also used in baking, engineering and music. It has many descriptions - but basically it means slow. Let us get some perspective on this. If the term is offensive, although still used by the medical profession and insurance companies, then go after agencies that continue to use it. Tarring Mr. Clooney will not effect change. I am certainly George is no more an insensitve man than Anthony Hopkins eats people for dinner (Silence of the Lambs). It is a movie! Oh - by the way - I have a disability.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anon from February 4th. Clooney probably never did surgery, but played a doctor on ER; he most likely knows little about robbing casinos but did so in Oceans Eleven; I don't believe he has ever been a Governor, like he was in the Ides of March; I'm sure he never took gold as in The Three Kings; I hope he has never been in prision and escaped as in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou; and despite what we may like to think, he is not Batman. Hmmmm...those are roles he played. Kudos to him for playing such a variety.

He did/does play baseball; he stood up for extras on the set of The Three Kings; he suffered from Bell's Palsy while in high school; he has been a champion of the violence in Dafur and has address the UN Security Council; his favorite novel is War and Peace; he says quotes like "You never really learn much rom hearing yourself talk"; and about the Academy, "We're the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered. And we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular."; a quote from the year 2000, "The truth is, most actors I know aren't assholes. They often get that reputation because people around them are assholes. The people around you can treat people like shit and pretend they are doing it to protect you. Once, my assistant was rude to someone. I said, "You know, you represent me when you talk to people." So you have to be careful. And that's not to say people don't treat people badly in this business. I once had lunch with a movie producer who was completely dismissive and rude to our waiter, which told me all I needed to know about him. I know that someone like that will be nice to me right now-I'm in a position where he wants to be nice to me, since he needs something from me. But what happens if I'm not in that position anymore? If he treats everyone else dismissively, he'll treat me dismissively. He isn't the type of person you want to work with."

This does not sound like a man who would toss the word retard or retarded in real life - but will reach to that level if needed for a role. Reality check people!

CreoleInDC said...

I have a relative who works for an Association of Retarded Citizens who do a LOT of good for mentally handicapped citizens.

That said...I don't consider it a "bad" word knowing how much good this organization has done for DECADES as has other organizations with similar names. If they haven't changed the name...why should we be so concerned? Anyone can make a word "nasty." Let's not give them that power. Making the word a source of empowerment and nothing to be ashamed of is as easy as turning it into something ugly. WE have the power. Teach people to not use it negatively and negative connotations won't be associated with it. IN MY OPINION. Some folks say the word 'BLACK' with disdain. Me? I say it with pride. Simple.