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Silencing "Thunder?"

For six months, long after the film crept into box office oblivion, a Hindu group has been sending me and I guess everyone else who writes about movies a manifesto condemning Mike Myers's "The Love Guru,"  demanding it be banned or censored, asking for an apology, or all of the above. I don’t know whether they saw the film, but I didn’t, so I’ll say no more except I think that  kind of action serves only to get publicity, if not for the film itself than for the group making the complaints.

“Tropic Thunder,” on the other hand, I have seen, and if those disability groups calling for a boycott of the film because of its depiction of an actor trying to depict a mentally disabled man have indeed seen the film, they have totally misinterpreted it. As with the character played by Robert Downey, Jr., a white actor playing a black character in the film within the film, the targets of the satire are not mentally disabled people or African Americans but Hollywood’s crude and often exploitative portrayal of them on the screen. So these groups calling for the boycott should instead encourage people to see the movie. Or at least develop a sense of irony. But that’ll be the day.

So this whole brouhaha has gotten me thinking, do Hollywood films, misinterpreted or not, have an impact on the behavior and attitudes of the audience? The rare nutcake like David Hinckley aside, could  a trend like the increased presence of gays in movies and TV over the past few years have had anything to do with gay marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts and California? Could the frequent portrayal of the President of the United States as an African-American in movies (often by Morgan Freeman, though his Presidential stature might be diminished —  or enhanced — by this ) have helped produce a climate in which an African-American could run for President for real? And could the recent spate of stoner comedies (of which I have written at length in a dopey upcoming feature story) have clouded the brains in Washington enough to get them to legalize the drug?

Maybe so, but I think it actually works the other way. The movies try to appeal to and reflect the mood of the public; that’s how they sell tickets. Pushing for social change just doesn’t pay off at the box office. Nor does being too subtle and ironic, as the “Tropic Thunder” people are finding out.

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