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Feb 12, 2012

Elsewhere – why shouldn’t Joe Hildebrand cruelly mock the disabled?

Joe Hildebrand on Twitter the other day:

Joe Hildebrand on Twitter the other day:

It’s funny because these people already suffer prejudice and disadvantage and adding to it and making light of it makes me feel edgy.

Stella Young at the ABC responds:

Hildebrand’s tweet is offensive because it uses disability as a shortcut to mean “crap”. And in doing so, he reveals a subtle and no doubt unconscious contempt for disabled people that is still rife in our culture. At best, it displays a blatant ignorance of the very real barriers faced by people with disability, some of which, ironically, are employment and air travel. At its worst, it assumes that jokes like these are okay – because they’re not about anyone important. Perhaps it’s assumed that people with intellectual disabilities won’t ‘get it’ anyway. That they can’t be hurt by a joke they don’t understand.

Let me assure you, intellectual disability does not preclude you from being aware that you’re being made fun of. It doesn’t stop that kind of bullying from being hurtful. And sadly, this kind of ridicule is all too familiar for people with intellectual disabilities. It doesn’t stop when they leave the schoolyard because, unfortunately, they continue to cop it from their adult peers for the rest of their lives.

Joe sees how he’s unnecessarily hurt vulnerable people and apologises defiantly fights back for the right of the privileged to crush the spirits of the disadvantaged:

“Just want to say how sorry I am for using the words “mentally handicapped” in a tweet. That was really retarded of me.”

“Just want to say I’m sorry for offending so many people by using the word “retarded” in a tweet. That was really Irish of me.”

“Sorry I just offended so many people by using the term “Irish”. Just having a blonde moment.”

He’s a comedy god, isn’t he?

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66 thoughts on “Elsewhere – why shouldn’t Joe Hildebrand cruelly mock the disabled?

  1. Indiana Jones

    @ Mondo Rock 63:

    There is a crucial difference here that applies. Mentally handicapped is forever, childhood is temporary.

    Because one expects a child to grow up and become an adult, no disrespect or insult applies to children, as a group, when the epithet ‘childish’ is applied to an adult. Even if at the same time time ‘childish’ is insulting or disrespectful to that adult.

  2. zoot

    mondo rock @63: Hildebrand did not tweet “you’re acting as though you are mentally handicapped”.
    I know it’s a subtle point, but someone of your intelligence should be able to discern it.

  3. Fran Barlow

    Marty said:

    [Please don’t do that – people experiencing psychotic symptoms are completely different from those who lack empathy and the confusion in terms adds to the ‘madness = badness’ misconception that stigmatises the mentally unwell.]

    While your general point — psychosis = evil — is an important one, I don’t think the specific objection stands up.

    It’s certainly possible for criminals to be driven to their acts by psychosis or for psychosis to aggravate acts that are regarded as criminal. Descibring someone such as Breivik as ‘psychotic’ might well be accurate (though I don’t really know if we was psychotic as well as psychopathic).

    So yes, one should be careful to restrict the use of the term ‘psychotic’ to purely clinical judgements. Being psychotic does not entail being psychopathic and vice versa.

  4. mondo rock

    Surely very few here would think that saying to someone “you’re behaving like a child” is insulting to children.

    Yet most here appear to believe that saying to someone “you’re behaving as though you are mentally handicapped” (or the shorthand “you’re being a retard”) is insulting to the mentally handicapped.

    What’s the difference? Aren’t both comments simply a way of saying to someone “you’re failing to meet the standard I would expect from a fully capable adult”?

  5. fractious

    @ zoot, point taken, I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t use those terms again.

  6. Marty

    On the subject of words that we shouldn’t use, and I apologise for not bringing this up at the time Jeremey, I noticed in a couple of your podcasts last year the use of the word ‘psychotic’ to describe the actions of people who would probably be considered psychopaths, such as Anders Breivik. Please don’t do that – people experiencing psychotic symptoms are completely different from those who lack empathy and the confusion in terms adds to the ‘madness = badness’ misconception that stigmatises the mentally unwell.


  7. mathewm1

    I agree with Zoot. I have worked with people with intellectual disabilities for the last twenty years and I think in all that time I have never heard the word ‘mentally handicapped’ or ‘retarded’ used in relation to them, except as an insult by ignorant people in the community (usually children). These words may have once been used as technical/clinical terms but that was many years ago, certainly before I got into this field of work.

    In relation to Hildebrand’s tweet, the other day I did some training with the VALID self advocacy group. The session was very informative and excellent for my work. At the end of the session one of the facilitators decided to tell her life story and it was not until then that I discovered that she had an intellectual disability. If she had not told us about her life I would not have known.

  8. Jeremy Sear

    Good points.

    Btw, Howard did respond to my pre-change of mind post but asked that it be deleted after he read the next one.

  9. zoot

    I would like to add that the people concerned are not “the mentally handicapped” or “the disabled”, terms which categorise the person as their condition
    They are people – people with disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities, whatever – but let’s define them as people, not their disabilities.

    Here endeth the rant.

  10. Fran Barlow

    [Alright, I regret having used the word “retarded” five years ago. I will try never to use it again.]

    Just so Jeremy. That’s far better. Importantly, in addition to discussing the Hildebrand matter, we’ve managed to discuss the broader context in which the disabled are dealt with by people and institutions in general.

    This is key:

    [whether or not I mean the word as a slight against those people doesn’t alter the fact that that’s already been their experience of it.]

    Exactly. Meaning is not merely about your intent but about what your audience “hears”. If they “hear” hatred or disgust or fear, then for them, that is what your words mean. Importantly, we are not merely discussing what the marginalised hear, but what the empowered hear valorised by their cultural and social peers.

    One aims to speak truth to power, but one should also, if one can, speak truth about power.

  11. fractious

    Joe wasn’t insulting the mentally handicapped, he was insulting the airport staff who, possessed of a greater general capacity then the handicapped, were, according to Joe, underperforming to that capacity.

    Hlidebrand may not have been directing his insults at the mentally handicapped, but he was certainly using them as an insult, and in my view it’s all the more insulting for the third-party reference. Unsurprisingly, you, like your idol Hildebrand, lump all sufferers of all types of mental illness into one basket, as if they can be as easily categorised (and thus as easily dismissed) as types of sand grain on a beach.

    But that’s just my view. I was going to go on and describe how someone I know who is autistic would run rings round everything you and Hildebrand had ever written combined, but then realised that I would be demeaning them even by asking them to consider it. And anyway you wouldn’t get it. .

  12. SHV

    Although, on reflection, that would obviously cause offence to all the Murdoch fans around the place.

    Seeing as they are, actually, fuckwits in the clinical or dictionary-definition sense.

    Maybe I should stick to the legally proven “dead-child-phone-hackers” epithet just to be safe.

  13. SHV

    That just leaves us with “fuckwit”, then.

  14. Jeremy Sear

    Actually, you know what? I’m changing my mind on this.

    The problem with using the word “retarded” is that it reminds people of the word “retard”. And the problem with the word “retard” is, whilst different from the problem of what Hildebrand was doing with “mentally handicapped” (where he was turning disabled people into an insult), still a problem.

    It’s a problem because it’s the term that’s used by people abusing disabled people. It’s linked to every cruel thing that has been thrown at them all their lives. Howard was right – it is like using the word “fag” for a gay person or “kike” for a Jewish person etc: whether or not I mean the word as a slight against those people doesn’t alter the fact that that’s already been their experience of it.

    And therefore by repeating it I’m using a painful word linked with oppression where I don’t need to at all, which is unnecessarily hurtful and cruel. I wasn’t thinking of disabled people when I used it, and I wasn’t referring to them at all, and I was thinking of it as a synonym with “stupid” or “moronic” and one that is already offensive and should never be used to apply to them at all – but just because I’m not using it to describe them doesn’t mean that others haven’t.

    So – using “retarded” as an insult is a problem for a different reason than making “mentally handicapped” an insult, but it’s a real problem nevertheless.

    Alright, I regret having used the word “retarded” five years ago. I will try never to use it again.

  15. Jeremy Sear

    Hilderbrandt used ‘metally disabled’ as a derogation, you used ‘retarded’ as a derogation. Now unless you are seriously suggesting that a room full of the mentally retarded, and their carers, would only be offended by the use of the former as a disparagement and not the latter, that you didn’t use the former is not the point.

    It very much is. He used “mentally handicapped” – a term used to describe disabled people – and turned it into an insult.

    I used an insult that disabled people do not use to describe themselves.

    Frankly, the problem here is that you keep calling mentally handicapped people by the long-standing pejorative term “retarded”. What’s next? Are you going to start calling them “morons” and “idiots”?

    They are not objecting to your use of the word ‘retarded’ in itself. They are objecting to you attempting to occupy the moral high ground on the issue of sensitivity to the mentally retarded when you yourself have been shown to be less than sensitive in this regard.

    Ah, so because they cried “hypocrite” first, their (actual) hypocrisy is okay?

    “Retarded” is a clinical and technical term that has long been in circulation.

    If you can find any group self-identifying as “retarded” then I’ll stop using the term as an insult.

    Either way, we know who we are talking about when we talk of the retarded.

    I’m certainly not talking about people with a disability when I use the term. I’m talking about people who are being stupid in a sense deserving of censure.

    I would also point out that no one readily identifies as ‘towel-head’, ‘curry-muncher’ or ‘fag’, so assumedly these, along with a great deal of other derogations, are not ‘insulting’.

    The first and last are associated with racist and homophobic violence. And since when has someone used them as general insults against people being stupid? They’re used as pejoratives for those groups.

    In contrast, I was not talking about disabled people at all in the post in question.

    I think the word “retarded” – whilst perhaps, like “idiot” or “moron” – may once have been a clinical term, but is now – like those words – a pejorative term.

    I’m not sure you’ve grasped the argument in the linked article, Howard, explaining why turning “mentally handicapped” into an insult is a problem.

  16. Roberto Tedesco

    I think there needs to be another war, maybe in Iran, so Howard, Blair can glorify the glorious madcap right of the USA and stop wasting his time trolling elsewhere. But first of all, Gingrich needs to populate the moon. Dim, Andrew and the rest of the clown crew can have the first tickets.

    Then they can complain about the PC brigade and lunar warming, leftist conspiracies etc. to their hearts’ content