If you're easily offended by words, this isn't the rant for you. If you're looking for an uplifting message about how to deal with small people using big words they don't understand, then maybe this is...

What About This Word "Retarded?"

August 14th, 2008 - By Eric 'Renderking' Fisk

Ren's RantsIt's a "drop everything and rant about something in the news" kind of morning. Let me explain...

Part of my morning routine is that I wake up as early as I possibly can (which is usually a few minutes after my wife starts making noise after she wakes up) and I make coffee. This early in the daily process I'm hardly awake and can barely pay attention to anything besides what song is playing inside my head.

I can't do anything right this early in the morning, like make coffee. I can take the old filter and grounds out and put a few filter in - trying to separate one single paper coffee filter from the whole stack. Where I lose it is the number of scoops of new coffee grounds that I put in. I'll literally start thinking about what I have to do today for The Fedora Chronicles or my family and within mere seconds I've totally lost track of how many I've put in... was it two, or three? Or maybe four?

Then I'll dump the entire contents of the filter into a brown coffee mug that I use to store the scoop. And I'll start again while being careful to count the number of scoops of coffee grounds that are in the old mug, and then add more scoops - if needed - from the bag.

And then, as part of the process I start beating my self up and I ask "What am I, retarded?" It's a question that's rattled around in my brain since I was in elementary school. Why mention this now? Let me explain...

Ben Stiller's latest movie "Tropical Thunder" - a parody of War Movies and those in Hollywood - has caused the ire and scorn from some special interest groups, advocates of the mentally challenged... because of the use of the word "retarded..."


  Chicago Tribune: "'R-word' sets off protests - Movie execs defend the repeated use of 'retard' as satire in Ben Stiller's new comedy 'Tropic Thunder,' but advocates for the intellectually disabled aren't laughing," By Rex W. Huppke | Chicago Tribune reporter - 2:43 AM CDT, August 14, 2008

The way some people are griping about the jokes in that hilarious new Ben Stiller movie " Tropic Thunder" is totally retarded.

What? That sentence offended you? C'mon, it's a joke. It's satire, thus the flippant use of the word "retarded" is perfectly fine.

At least that's the logic Hollywood executives are relying on to explain the "retard" gags scattered throughout Stiller's new flick, a satire about actors and the absurd lengths they'll go to for fame.

But that logic isn't sitting well with many who have intellectual disabilities and the wide array of advocacy groups that represent them. Special Olympics and other organizations are calling for a nationwide boycott of the film, holding protests outside some theaters and decrying the movie as a shining example of how a derogatory term has muscled its way into acceptable everyday slang..."


... When I was in Elementary School, we had a Physical Education "Teacher" named Mr. Russell. He was a tough customer and even tougher task-master who ran gym similar to how R. Lee Emery ran boot camp in "Full Metal Jacket." He used to yell, and taunt and persuade students into doing what he wanted or kids to perform better by using insults.

Once in a while (meaning once a week) he would ask the now classic question that rings in the ears of everyone who was in his class...

"Are You Retarded?"

I used to hear this the most because I had it rough. I didn't know anything about sports besides 'run real fast,' 'catch the ball,' and 'make the goal.' What galled Mr. Russell wasn't my lack of knowledge about sports, it was my apathy. I was ignorant and apathetic: meaning I didn't know and I didn't care about what he was teaching us. And that made Mr. Russell angry. Very angry.

So there were variations on his age old question: "Are you retarded? "how retarded are you," and "are you the most retarded boy in this class?" The word "retarded" flowed out of Mr. Russell's mouth the way water rolls off a duck or poop out of a goose's tail. Any way you can use the word "retard" or in combination with other words to enhance it's meaning, I'm sure Mr. Russell used in reference towards me over the course of the few years I was in his Physical Education Class.


As you can imagine, I asked myself if all of this was true? Am I retarded? Imagine the boy who would be Renderking, all of 12 years old and lying in bed awake each night wondering if he was really "retarded." During the day and the rest of the week, others in my class, if not the rest of the school used to ask me the same question, "Are you retarded?"

My grades slipped (not only because of Mr. Russell's taunts, but that was a factor) and eventually I needed special help in school such as a tutor on the premises and elsewhere after school.

Eventually, towards the end of sixth grade while we were all standing in rows and isles for calisthenics, I caught a ball in the face that he threw at me because I wasn't paying close enough attention. He knocked my glasses off my face and almost broke them. I yelled back. I think I called him an "asshole." It's hard to remember what I exactly said but I stood there and I yelled at this guy, the one who had berated me and either questioned if I was a retard or simply stated that I was.

A few weeks later, I did something stupid and the same question came out of his mouth: "Fisk, are you retarded?'

" I have some learning disabilities. So, yes, I am retarded. Just like you..."

The gasps from my fellow class mates were deafening...

There is no real ending to "the saga" of Mr. Russell. Besides what I already wrote, there was no other "major confrontation." There wasn't any huge show-down between me and Mr. Russell - no war of the words or me throwing a ball in his face after the last class during the last week of elementary school.


It's been more then 25 years since the last time Mr. Russell asked me if I was "retarded." And for the most part I'm over it since I've obviously gone on to do other things and achieved a few great things in my life. But there are times when I use the word "retarded" in reference to something that doesn't make sense or people's stupid behavior, especially my own...

And maybe that's wrong to use that word as a generic pejorative, since "retarded" is a clinical term to describe a mental condition or someone's disability. It's become one of those words that are over-used and used incorrectly - much the way people use the word "irregardless." Mr. Russell was an idiot. He couldn't find a better and more creative way to motivate someone besides calling kids "retarded?" I think the words he was looking for were  "clumsy," "inattentive," or "uninterested."

Thanks to Mr. Russell, or in spite of him - I pushed myself. When ever his voice echoes in my head asking me if I'm "retarded," I force myself to perform that much harder. Whether I'm doing something physical or athletic, or academic and intellectual. I often catch myself saying - don't prove Mr. Russell right, don't make the answer be "yes."

Mr. Russell also taught me something that the advocates for the retarded need to learn. The world is a bitter and cruel place sometimes. Often, that cruelty is sanctioned by an industry or it's ingrained in an institution. By saying you are outraged and demanding that they stop only lets them know that agitates you and that's how best to get your goat.

The world can be and often IS a cruel place. There are those among us who are mean spirited and insensitive. Too often these people are in charge or have a voice that's louder then the rest of us. We have no control over what they say, but we have control to how those words make us feel and how we react to them. I'm paraphrasing Eleanor Roosevelt - nobody can insult you or make you feel bad unless you grant them the permission to do so. People with limited imaginations use put-downs with out understanding the connotations or misunderstanding what the words actually mean. It's a difficult thing to "turn the other cheek" when someone challenges your mental status or just plain insults you. But it's a harder thing to do to elevate yourself after you stooped to a lesser person's level. If you don't like what someone says about you, respond with positive actions and quietly prove what everyone else already knows...

The person handing out the insults is the real dope. So keep your cool with your fedoras on.


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More articles from Ren can be found here: The Rant Archive