Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sarah Palin, Retard

Just in case there was any fear that I would suddenly become a Sarah Palin fan, this whole "retard" controversy rears up. A few weeks ago, she called on Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel to resign because he used the word "retard" pejoratively to describe some liberal activists who were giving him fits. This bothers Sarah Palin because she has a son with Downs Syndrome, which you might know because she happily used the boy as a campaign prop throughout the 2008 election. And last Sunday's Family Guy cartoon featured a mentally challenged girl who was a love interest for the mentally challenged son in the Griffin clan, Chris. At one point the retarded girl noted that her mother was Governor of Alaska, and this predictably threw Ms. Palin into a tizzy. Like any mature grown woman she lashed out on Facebook. What she really should have done is spread a vicious rumor about the Family Guy writers during lunchtime at the cafeteria.

Of course, when conservative radioman Rush Limbaugh made cracks about Obama hosting a "retard summit", Palin said that was just fine since it was "satire". So if there was any doubt that Sarah Palin has no principles at all and is truly a pathetic blight on the conservative movement, she happily dispells such doubts. Either "retard" is an offensive word, or it's not (unless she thinks Limbaugh is mentally challenged himself, and it's okay "when we use that word, but not for others"?).

My own take on this is that Family Guy is often quite funny, often weak and derivative, but being outrageous is what they do. It does make me wonder where we draw a line though--we can laugh easily at a "dumb" character on TV (such as Charlie on "It's Always Sunny" or Homer Simpson) but once it's established that a character is genuinely mentally retarded it's not funny anymore. (Imagine if there was a "very special episode" of the Simpsons where it was revealed that Homer had Downs Syndrome?) We can laugh at those of us who should be held to our standard, but not those who are genuinely handicapped. The slow kid in gym class is funny, the kid who's slow in gym class because he's on crutches isn't funny.

As for whether "retard" should be dropped from our language, I'd have to disagree--it is a legitimate word used to describe the mentally challenged (as "idiot" and "moron" and "imbecile" once were--they were originally clinical terms which also evolved into insults used for the non-challenged). Perhaps a better question is what is that word's proper use--should we simply no longer use it to insult someone who does something stupid, like quit the Alaska Governorship with two years left on her term?


  1. Is it a double standard, or did it just completely go over her head that Family Guy, too, is satire? In other words, is she unprincipled or just not very bright?

    Either way, it seems pretty clear that she played right into Seth MacFarlane's hands. But I'm not altogether sure that by continuing to debate the word "retard" like this, we're not playing into hers.

  2. Mike--can't she be both? I have a hard time picturing her as either bright or principled. Though I have to say, even with her cheapshot insincere and oafish handling of this issue, she may have inadvertently raised a question worth pondering. How do we determine whether a word is inappropriate--the intent of the user or the reasonable understanding of the listener?