Political correctness is the bane of the artistic community, or so it would seem. It appears as though you can’t do anything in this world without upsetting anyone, and once they’re upset you must do backflips to appease them. Well, I’m here to say: fuck the blind.
Just kidding, I’ve got nothing against the blind. But a recent news articledoes have me up in a furor. Aardman Animation, the company behind Wallace and Gromit and the upcoming feature The Pirates! Band of Misfits, are ditching already completed work on a joke about lepers because some people might feel bad. Are you serious?
The ‘claymated’ film features the acting chops of Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, and hottie Salma Hayek and is the story of ‘Pirate Captain’ as he attempts to win the coveted “Pirate of the Year” award. The challenge? He must compete with several other, seemingly more impressive pirates with more competent crews.
In the trailer, Pirate Captain boards a boat he intends to pillage, demanding their gold. A man replies “Afraid we don’t have any gold old man, this is a leper boat. See?” Then his arm falls off.
Hold the presses, apparently.
Leprosy is a disease caused by bacteria that has been around since biblical times. Surely you’ve heard of “leper colonies,” places where lepers were sent to live and die out of sight. Leprosy is a disfiguring disease, categorized by skin lesions, which led to the ostracization of sufferers throughout history.
It’s understandable that two leprosy groups, Lepra Health In Action and the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, would object to a negative portrayal of leprosy. After all, we don’t want people blindly hating those with leprosy or laughing at their expense.
Which might actually be true if this were the 12th century. Leprosy may have been a big problem for some of the past 4,000 years, but today leprosy is almost non-existent in much of the world. It’s present in some quantity in around 120 countries, but basically only a small handful of countries have a ‘problem’ with leprosy, and that problem is rapidly declining thanks to effective treatment.
So on one hand, we have a small percentage of the entire population of the world suffering from leprosy, while on the other hand we have the vast majority of those suffering from leprosy in areas that don’t watch a ton of movies. Who is going to get offended here? Also, is the scene even offensive? All we see is a goddamn clay cartoon man have his arm drop cleanly off. It’s not a disgusting gag or even a mean spirited slight. Further, it’s a period-correct gag! While leprosy isn’t much in the public conscience today, hundreds of years ago lepers were still treated poorly and put on ships and sent off to go deal with it somewhere else.
It’s dumbfounding why a studio, who spent time, money, and effort making this scene, thought it was funny enough to put into the trailer, and is now going to fold in and remove it based on the objections of two tiny groups representing a small amount of people.
That’s all reasonable justification for keeping the scene. Very few people who could even remotely be offended by it are even going to see it, and the pool of people who would find it offensive is very small. But here’s the thing – I don’t even need that justification. It’s a fucking movie. Movies can say and do whatever they want. Movies can offend people. Call me a bastard, but I’d take the hit of losing the leper crowd and keep the joke in the film. Bowing to political correctness is always bullshit, whether you’re talking about going Full Special or including a ten second scene with a minor leprosy punchline.
The groups think that this joke could create more stigma against people who suffer from leprosy. I really don’t think the target audience for this movie, kids, are going to grow up hating lepers. They probably won’t even remember the joke after a few minutes. They’ll probably only think “Haha, his arm fell off!” and move on to the next flashing colors and sounds.
It’s hard to believe in most of the world people are going to have a lowered view of leprosy sufferers because of a kid’s movie. Sure, in places where people already hate lepers (it’s a problem in India), it’s not going to help, but again, I don’t think a 10 second gag in a cartoon is going to dictate how people behave.
Aardman Animation, you’re acting like a bunch of pussies, and I’m past my boiling point on this one. Stick to your cannons. Keep the joke.