Can We All Agree That “Special Needs” Jokes Will Never Be Funny?
I was scrolling through Twitter on my phone because it was the only thing keeping me from jamming a ballpoint pen into my left eyeball while I worked at a job that made me die a little inside every day. While pondering what would happen if I absolutely lost my shit and punched a hole through the nearest wall, I ended up browsing through the profile of someone I don’t know but a bunch of people I follow apparently do. The tagline after their name read, “Special needs child turned international fitness celebrity.”
I’m not sure what compels someone to decide that throwing in an arbitrary “special needs kid” joke is ever, like, the way to go. Of all the options they could have gone with as they sat in front of their computer trying to think of what to write in the bio section, they finally concluded, Yup. Special kids joke. So classic. Totally never been done before.
“Special needs” jokes aren’t funny. They’re really, really dickish. Super dick-like. Like, one of the dickiest, most ass-holey things someone could say. Which is fine, I’m not the joke police, if that’s the kind of thing that makes you laugh, great. But what’s even the joke there? “HAHA IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE THEY’RE DIFFERENT AND THEY CAN’T HELP IT”? That just comes across as super asshole-esque. And it’s fine to want to be an asshole, if that’s your particular sense of humor. You can want that. But just know. You’re being an asshole.
I try not to let this kind of thing bother me, but my all-season perma-bitch-face is just the crusty and acneic outer shell of an endless reservoir of warm, squishy feelings that I probably wouldn’t bother with if I didn’t have a sister with Down Syndrome whom I LOVE and would gladly chop off my own pinky toe for any day. I can’t imagine a scenario that would require me to do that, but I would. She warms the inner crevices of my cold, stony heart, and when people throw the word “retard” around or make jokes about “special” kids, it gets to me.
And it’s also just awkward. I have a close “friend” who regularly uses the words “retard” or “retarded” in conversations. I’ve mentioned to him that this is generally not a good look for anyone, but he usually freaks out with some Juan Pablo-type shit, insisting that he didn’t mean it in a mean way and that I should relax because I’m being way too sensitive.
I know I’m way too sensitive (see above: “endless reservoir of warm, squishy feelings”), but if I had a friend who asked me to refrain from using the word “creamy,” for example, because they were deeply disturbed by it for whatever reason and found its use to be unethical, I would forever erase it from my vocabulary as long as I was around that person, first of all because that’s what I think a good friend would do, and second of all because the word “creamy” is deeply disturbing and I find its use to be unethical.
And the only thing worse than using an ass-holey word is trying to explain and justify why it’s OK to use that clearly ass-holey word. Whatever we had been talking about before starts to fizzle out as I cringe into the uncomfortable silence created when my friend calls his iPhone “retarded,” which doesn’t even make sense, because it’s an inanimate object, and that’s just not the way things work.
I say messed-up things all the time, sometimes at extremely socially inappropriate moments, so I completely understand that word vomit does happen, and things can slip out before we realize we’ve said something we know is a bit unnecessary. And I totally get that “retarded” and “retard,” or even saying stuff like “I’m so dyslexic” or “I’m super OCD” as a joke are just things some people say because they genuinely think these are OK things to say. Sometimes people say offensive things without realizing it but eventually learn to not say these things anymore. Sometimes people say messed up things on purpose. I don’t think either of these makes anyone a bad person, like, at the essential core of their twisted little soul.
I still watch "Family Guy" despite the “Down Syndrome Girl” song, which I am still SUPER conflicted about. I don’t automatically hate any movie that happens to contain the word “retarded” or “retard,” even though I don’t particularly like hearing it or think it’s necessary. I don’t think that makes me a bad person either.
I’m not suggesting some kind of “political correctness” just for the sake of saying the right thing all the time. But using cruel language to describe any kind of people in general who have made it clear that they don’t want that language used to describe them, sucks. There are plenty of other words you could use.