The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Tropic Thunder

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The Political Correctness movement has generated a lot of hype about the offensive content of Tropic Thunder in the past week. I watched the film yesterday and created a non-exhaustive list of people who could be offended by it:

Substance Abuse Counselors
Drug Rehab patients
Vietnam Veterans
Disabled Vietnam Veterans
African Americans

the physically and mentally disabled

Child Labor advocates
Southeast Asians

the British
theatre directors
the obese
Russell Crowe
Gansta Rappers
Al Pacino
Hollywood agents, producers, and actors
Special Effects technicians

When a film works purposely to offend so many people, how can it be taken so seriously? Anybody has the right to be offended by something, but I wonder why other groups haven’t been as vocal with their feelings as those who were offended by the films’ use of the word “retard.” It may be that others don’t feel as empowered as those offended by “retard.” It may be that others didn’t make the first headlines about the films’ objectional content and now they won’t be heard or as seriously considered. It may be that others are focused on issues of more significance to them. But it may also be that other people have a better understanding of the concept of satire and don’t wish to portray themselves as ignorant if they waste their efforts defaming this film. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that PC Nazis have established enough influence to generate the amount of press they have regarding broadly satiric films like Tropic Thunder.

As I watched Tropic Thunder, I kept thinking about Blazing Saddles. The political incorrectness of that satire makes Tropic Thunder pale by comparison. If Blazing Saddles hadn’t been made years before the PC movement established its influence, it probably wouldn’t be made today for fear of PC retaliation to its thoroughly offensive nature (despite that, the American Film Institute notches Blazing Saddles at #6 on its list of the 100 funniest films in American cinema). Blazing Saddles purposely offends everyone, but by doing so manages to point out the ridiculousness of racism and sexism. Tropic Thunder works in a similar manner. Personal and societal insensitivity is at stake in the film; the satire shows how ridiculous we are to think and behave in insensitive ways that seem to be of no consequence, and to accept that behavior in others.

What I haven’t heard much about is the brilliance of the film. This is especially true of the screenwriting. The frame of narration, its self-referential nature, and the way many of the roles are written as characters-within-characters all point toward the screenplay having a definite postmodern slant. The film also works effectively at making fun of the combat film genre. It attacks the solemnity of Platoon and Saving Private Ryan within the first 5 minutes, then sets its sights on Apocalypse Now, the Rambo films, and Uncommon Valor in both blatant and subtle manners, and mocks the popular uber-violence of lesser films like Missing in Action. In the least, Tropic Thunder borrows cliche dialogue from the other films; at most, it copies entire camera shots from them and slams the Hollywood notion of copying what is popular to make a few bucks.

The commentary Tropic Thunder makes about Hollywood personalities is no less than its blasting of the combat film genre. Characters with obviously insinuative name like The Pecker and Les Grossman are the power brokers behind the scenes. The pretty-boy looks of Matthew McConaughy are facile cover for the egocentric agent he portrays; pretty boy Tom Cruise is slathered in makeup and masked behind prosthetics to help him portray the ugly exterior of the films’ producer, who is as equally ugly on the inside. The casting of the former “Sexiest Men Alive” is a particularly cutting commentary on celebrities whose eccentricies and shallowness are forgiven because of their physical attractiveness and the entertainment value they possess. Both actors manage great public relations maneuvers for their images by their willingness to satirize themselves so savagely.

If there is anything that disappoints me about Tropic Thunder, it’s Ben Stiller. If he is capable of producing this type of genius, why does he put effort into forgettable trash like Dodgeball, Starsky and Hutch, and Blades of Glory? My respect for Tropic Thunder isn’t enough to turn me into a fan of his, but it is enough to heighten my expectations of him and to anticipate his next film.


Written by seeker70

August 20, 2008 at 2:20 am

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