Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The R-Word: Reprehensible

For all that YouTube offers, it also appears to be an outlet for insulting, offensive commentary on our culture and our people. Where it succeeds as a platform for educating the public, specifically with channels dedicated to political and informational programming, it fails as a representation of culture sensitivity and respect for all members of the human race.

Having utilized YouTube in the past for any number of projects, posts, and distractions, I would consider myself a fairly up-to-date user of the service. However, I was surprised to find that entire series are being created for publication on YouTube alone.

One such series and the catalyst for this observation is a creation of Greg Benson of Mediocre Films*, yes, the name says it all. "The Retardid Policeman," found with both the correct 'ed' spelling and the spelling that appears on their merchandise (yes, they have an online store), stars a young Down Syndrome man as the lead character. Following the premiere of this distasteful show, the young man, Josh Perry, and his sister appear in a video post where they clarify that Josh is an actor and he wants to act for a living. Josh, with his sister's approval and urging, goes on to say about those who are offended by this series, "I may have Down Syndrome, but you people are f*****g retarded!"

This is a show that proudly announces an opening tag line that I find beyond repulsive: "He is a cop and he is learning impaired. He's the retarded policeman!"

There are so many problems with what is being portrayed in this creation of Greg Benson's amateur film studio. Obviously, I, and many others, have a genuine problem with and objection to the use of the r-word in casual conversation. I have written about this in the past and Special Olympics on a national level has asked for pledges of support to take the r-word out of daily conversation.

r-word.org

Beyond the offensive use of the r-word to portray this young man, supposedly supported by he and his family, "The Retardid Policeman" also represents an entirely different argument, the argument of our personal responsibility to those most vulnerable to encouragement of this nature. Just because Down Syndrome people are fun-loving, gentle, generally witty, and people-pleasers does not mean we, as their friends, siblings, or simply as bystanders, should take advantage of their personalities. It is, as some have pointed out in discussion surrounding this series, exploitation in every sense.

Surely a few of you are asking why it matters so much if Josh and his sister apparently approve of this series and his behavior in front of the camera. Why it matters is something deeply personal to me. What Josh and his sister find funny may not be in the best interest of Josh. As I may have mentioned in my last post on this issue, my developmentally disabled brother had a roommate, a beautiful and sweet Down Syndrome man who I considered to be nothing less than a brother to me. To his credit, he had the trademark fun-loving Down Syndrome personality and was quite funny. He would do nearly anything for a laugh and unfortunately some took advantage of that. His own brothers, as teenagers and young adults, took advantage of his people-pleasing behavior and often took him on camp outs as well as to parties where they would get him drunk and proceed to laugh at his inebriated antics. This young man was taught to think these things were funny. He started smoking at a young age, something horribly detrimental to what many Down Syndrome individuals inherit, heart and lung problems. Aside from the health risks of drinking as he did, he was often put in situations that compromised his personal safety, compromises that left him with many scars. Unfortunately, he was like so many individuals with Down Syndrome, he died shortly after his thirtieth birthday, a life certainly shortened by the life he had been taught to lead.

While some debate the cultural acceptability of shows like "The Retardid Policeman," concluding that funny is funny regardless of who is presenting it, they neglect to realize they are supporting an entirely dysfunctional and irresponsible trend in a population all too susceptible to exploitation. And for those who say that we should let people like Josh Perry do what makes them happy, I say, should we let you run naked and screaming through traffic with your physical well-being in jeopardy as well as the well-being of those on the road just because some might find it funny and worthy of posting on YouTube? No, because most of us have common sense.

Please join me in pledging to take the r-word out of the conversation and help me flag these horrendous videos* for the disgusting content they display.

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*This content is reprehensibly offensive, strong caution advised.

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