Eric E. Johnson published this last fall regarding the pathetic misunderstanding of what free speech does, and doesn’t, mean:
Ben Stiller stars in the DreamWorks picture [“Tropic Thunder”] as a struggling actor, the high point of whose career is taking on the role of a man with mental retardation, seen as a film-within-the-film. Stiller’s portrayal of the mentally disabled man is an over-the-top caricature played up for laughs, which it got plenty of when I saw the film. . . .
Downey, for his part, defended the film on the basis of the First Amendment.
“You know, if I want to protest something because it offends me, that’s my right as an American,” he said at the movie’s premiere. “And it’s also any artist’s right to say and do whatever they want to do.”
Co-star Jack Black offered a similar defense.
“Everyone’s entitled to their [sic] opinion,’ he said. “Obviously, that’s what America is all about. If you’ve got something to say, you are free to say it.”
We all cherish the First Amendment. Playing the free-speech card in this circumstance, however, is a dishonest way of trying to deflect criticism. The question is not constitutionality; it is civility.
He’s right. Then there’s the fact that these statements are essentially lies. No one in Hollywood thinks for a second that if in this day and age you’ve got something negative to say about its protected classes — mainly as defined by political correctness — you are in any meaningful sense “free” to say it. Or did I miss that Technicolor extravaganza about Stalin?
One Reply to “What the First Amendment isn’t”
I could take Johnson’s criticism more seriously if he had recognized the Stiller character’s character (umm… is that right? Yeah) for what it was – a satire of the way “serious” actors like Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, and Billy Bob Thorton use retarded characters which are little better than the stereotypes Stiller used to get their hands on Oscar gold.
I’d offer that Sean Penn’s retarded character (and accompanying condescending storyline) in “I am Sam” is more offensive as anything Stiller did in “Tropic Thunder” because Penn was playing up stereotypes with such gravitas. As someone with a retarded brother, Johnson should applaud Stiller for criticizing that trend rather than make him the target of his own criticism.
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