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Disability Humor Shakes Up Public Radio!

Yours truly spent an hour on the phone Thursday evening with the folks at the "Weekend America" public radio program doing an interview re: depictions of disability in media. If you haven't heard the show, it is -- in my estimation -- something of a mash-up of This American Life, Studio 360 and To The Best of Our Knowledge.

The producers seemed particularly keen on addressing comedy, as in "what should or shouldn't be allowed." As you might imagine, our discussion was, at times, very lively and not quite what the producers expected.

Topics addressed included not only the current buzz over the upcoming Farrelly Bros. movie 'The Ringer,' but also South Park, Million Dollar Baby, the protests over "Mr. Magoo" (anybody else remember that?) and the recent screening of Channel 4's "I'm Spazticus" that the Disabilities Network was a part of here in NYC.

The only time the interviewer and I really butted heads was over the casting people without disabilities in roles which, in my humble opinion, would be more often than not better performed by disabled actors.

The segment is set to air in most markets the weekend of December 17th. Of course, you never really know how these things turn out until they air, but my impression of the interview overall was positive. I'm very curious to discover what material will make the final 6-minute cut.

Those who may be interested in tuning in, and I hope you are, can find out more about the show and view their schedule online.

To those unlucky folks whose local stations do not (yet) air Weekend America, their website states you should be able to download a podcast of the program around 3pm PST on Saturday, December 17.

Don't hesitate to let us know what you think.

Posted by Lawrence Carter-Long


How disapointing to hear of Carter-Long's comments on the radio show regarding the word "retard". As a mother of what is supposedly a "retard" I am offended through the media literally every single day by the mis-use and abuse of this word that some people use to describe "jerks", stupid behavior, mistakes.....this list is too long to continue but the bottom line is that it is always mean and derogatory.PLUS IT PLAIN HURTS! The question was what is and isn't funny and you had the chance to say "retard" isn't funny. Obviously by the way the woman asked the question when she said "the R word" she has a sense it isn't ok. But your response gave her and others an opening that sometimes it is ok. I am especially baffled when a member of the disability community does not get it. C'mon. The reason I read Ragged Edge is because I want to make sure I get it. I don't have a disability but right now my job is to be an advocate for a person with a disability. When he was born our family became members of this community. We are doing our best to advocate for the whole not just our own little part of the disability community. Please help me stand up for my son and others with cognitive disabilities and stop this de-valuation. I guess what I want to say is something to the effect of what Phillip Seymour Hoffman said at the SAG awards about actors being there for each other and having each others backs. We are so much more powerful when we have the strength of each other. I got your back - do you have mine?

Be angry, Rachel. I'd be disappointed if you weren't -- and that's the point. The grey and often tumultuous area of context is sometimes difficult ground to tread, but crucial to consider. Asking why someone may find a word offensive, may be as important as the fact it is.

Let's look at the quote in question:

Across the board the word retard is found to be hurtful and offensive to everybody. I think a distinction should be made between a situation where, let's say, South Park might be using the work retard to show what a jerk Cartman is, as opposed to simply using that word as a descriptive or as something that is derogatory without that sort of intention.

As you can see, I stressed the word retard is "hurtful and offensive to everybody."

I've had people comment to me after hearing the show they had never thought of the word 'retard' as offensive before and now won't use it. I can only believe it is, in part, because they don't want to be seen as a jerk. I doubt this would've happened if I had, without explanation, simply said, "nope, don't use it."

Where we differ in opinion seems to be in the question of context, which to my mind if examined, can be of enormous value. For example, if offensive words are used to expose a character for the bigots they are, or if an offensive word is used to highlight a situation in which the person on the receiving end of the offensive name is portrayed sympathetically, in an artistic context (which is, of course, relative) the merit becomes more clear. Who does the reader or viewer identify with in these scenarios? Most often it is the person being called the offensive name. That creates common ground and in doing so fosters greater understanding. Using an offensive word to denigrate or mock someone does not have that intention, and quite likely, the same effect either. That's why I stressed the difference.

In a perfect world I'd prefer offensive words weren't used at all, but we don't live in that world - yet. I am also aware that words I find offensive might be just peachy to someone else. If the use of words some people find offensive can lead others to read books like "Huckleberry Finn" (as the controversy surrounding the book did with me) then I have to allow for the possibility the very discussion we're having, or the one I had on the radio, may provoke someone else to consider the words they use as well.

I may fail in that task, but the intention remains.

I'd much rather that people have the difficult conversation about using difficult words than to say we should never, ever use them. Because it is only after reflection, not politically correct dictation by others, that someone's decision to not use an offensive word comes from a place of better understanding -- and as such, has any real meaning behind it.

Thanks for your comment, and the opportunity to claify further.

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