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Another Group to be Offended

 

"Going too far is what the Brave New Workshop always has done. But this time has it gone a step beyond too far?

On Friday night, the nation’s oldest comedy/satire theater unveiled ‘Rise of the Celebretards: A-crotchalypse Now.’ The production satirizes celebrity and celebrity worshippers, including the media.

Certainly, ridiculing the rich, the shallow and the media is worthy work. But advocates for people with intellectual disabilities wonder how the country’s most vulnerable population got dragged into this skit.

Here’s the deal: Retarded is a specific condition, and the noun ‘retard’ is pejorative.

‘As bad as the “N” word,’ said Pam Carlson, director of community relations for Arc of the Greater Twin Cities, which advocates for those with disabilities.

That’s not a small group. Carlson said there are 79,000 people in the Twin Cities with intellectual disabilities. One in 10 families can understand why use of the word ‘retard’ is painful.

It should be noted that Arc was formed as Association for Retarded Citizens but, because of the connotations of the “R” word, changed to simply Arc in 1990.

By using ‘retard’ in the title, Carlson said, Brave New Workshop is giving legitimacy to a word that causes pain. ‘Why do that?’ she asked. ‘Their skit has nothing to do with the subject of intellectual disabilities.’

The word ‘celebretard’ was ripped from the tabloids, according to Erin Farmer, director of marketing for Brave New Workshop. That it would offend anyone came as something of a surprise. ‘You never know what will be considered objectionable,’ Farmer said.

Well, sometimes Brave New Workshop has a pretty good idea what will offend. For example, it has had productions with such titles as ‘Ripped Off the Cross! The Last Crusade of Bill B’Jesus.’

Not surprisingly , some Christians weren’t amused. But Christians, and other groups pilloried by Brave New Workshop, represent power. Mental disability equals powerlessness.

Caleb McEwen, Brave New Workshop’s artistic director, said he can’t be too concerned about offending. ‘People have the right to be offended and we have the right to be wrong,’ McEwen said. ‘If we can’t use the word “retard”, does that mean we should not use idiot, moron, or crazy, either? Eventually, we can’t say anything.’

McEwen pointed out that the word ‘celebretard’ is never used in the script. But that, according to Sherry Gray, is part of the problem.
Gray, a St. Paul women who is guardian for her sister who has intellectual disabilities, is the person who put a national spotlight on the title. She saw an ad for the production and posted her thoughts - ‘This is wrong’ - on an international website for people who have family members with disabilities. Not surprisingly, most of the website users share her despair.

‘It’s the use in the title, with no context, that bothers me,’ Gray said. ‘I’d like to see them change the title. But if they can’t do that, I hope this can at least be a teachable moment.’ “


“Brave New Workshop’s satire title hits a nerve” by Doug Grow. Star Tribune, May 13, 2007 p. B2


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