Whether or not you're offended by the use of the word "retard" in Tropic Thunder, it's hard to deny the difference between the intention of the humor and the ire of the groups protesting it. When Ben Stiller's character, Tugg Speedman, learns that he was mistaken in going "full-retard" with his miscalculated awards-bid performance as a mentally challenged man in Simple Jack, you either laugh or you don't, but you definitely get it. Stiller's point is that self-important actors often take crass or poorly formulated roles on the basis of subject matter simply so they can get a chance at the podium. At no point are we forced to laugh at a character meant to be taken as actually retarded; instead, we only get Tugg Speedman's really bad, really offensive interpretation of one.

At his Scanners blog, Jim Emerson gets this point, and smartly rails against complainers like the Special Olympics for making such a big deal out of a scene before even coming to terms with its purpose. He also brings up a brilliant historical parallel: In 1977, Randy Newman's single "Short People" was pulled from the air because it supposedly offended, uh, short people. "If you do satire or parody, you have to expect there will always be fools who will take it literally," writes Emerson. "Those people are called 'literalists.' And there ought to be a law against them."