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John Moe

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Mike Myers and Verne Troyer in "The Love Guru"
(Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Summer movie season is in full swing and the multiplexes are jammed with new films. There's so much you could see, it's just a matter of picking out what you want to see -- or don't want to see. M. Night Shyamalan's thriller "The Happening" opened last weekend. This weekend features Mike Myers' comedy "The Love Guru." But Weekend America's John Moe won't be attending either one.


I used to be a huge fan of both M. Night Shyamalan and Mike Myers. I loved stuff like Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" because I never see twist endings coming -- even in Scooby-Doo. I'm all "That was the amusement park owner dressed as the phantom? What?" Likewise, I loved Myers. The opening dance number in the first Austin Powers? Genius.

But since those movies, life happened. And now I can't go.

In 2002, my daughter was born with dwarfism. And since then, I can't stand anything that mocks little people. Little people get mocked a lot. Verne Troyer is a dwarf and an actor in "The Love Guru." In a trailer for the film, Myers's character literally objectifies Troyer's, pretending he's an Oscar statuette.

Little people put up with so much staring and pointing and discrimination. Then here's Mike Myers encouraging audiences to laugh at a little person because he's little. It's as funny as a racist joke. Mike Myers is a bigot.

Then there's M. Night Shyamalan's new movie "The Happening." It's about these mysterious suicides that start happening all over the country. Hundreds, thousands of suicides -- or so I'm told. I can't see it. Last April, I lost my brother Rick to suicide. And it wasn't a plot device in a suspenseful thriller, it was real.

After Rick died, I realized how prevalent suicide was in entertainment -- on TV dramas like "House," "Law and Order," "Desperate Housewives," 16 different episodes of "Diagnosis Murder." By the end of the hour, of course, everything's back to normal. In real life -- in my reality -- nothing will ever be normal again.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Cami Carter was working as a school teacher: "I was in my classroom in the Bronx, New York, and one of my best friends who I taught with there came in and said a plane's hit the World Trade Centers... And I kind of looked at her like she was crazy," she says.

With school dismissed, Cami returned to her apartment in lower Manhattan.

"All I remember about that time was this horrid smell of burning," she says. "Burning buildings, burning... It was just awful."

Now she avoids any movies or TV related to 9-11 or terrorism in general. "One, it's really hard to watch the 9-11 stuff, having lived through it," she says. "And two, it reduces things down to a really simple question-and-answer type thing, and that's not what terrorism is. I think it's much more complicated."

The big reason I can't watch most portrayals of suicide is it seems so simple. It doesn't even faintly resemble what I've gone through or what I know about the issue. Likewise, I've met lots of little people since my daughter was born, and they're nothing like the weirdos depicted on screen.

"You've got your randy dwarf, your angry dwarf, and your drunk dwarf," says Mark Povinelli, a Los Angeles-based actor. "And in the fantastical world you've got the gnome, the elf, the alien. Oh, and the leprechaun -- don't forget the leprechaun."

Povinelli says he tries to choose scripts carefully. "I typically get a script and I see at what point does my character bite one of the other characters in the leg," he says.

Mark says a lifetime of dealing with people's screwed-up reading of dwarfism has given him empathy for other minority groups and other actors, both as a colleague and as an audience member. "When I see misogyny, when I see homophobia, when I see racism in a show -- even if it's supposed to be funny -- it rubs me the wrong way. Because somebody has had to take a role that they probably thought was going to be honorable and turns out to be demeaning."

But it's a free country. In a studio somewhere, something that mocks overweight people or gay people or little people is being made right now. That won't stop.

I know to steer clear of "The Happening" but suicide will come up in some other movie or show written by some knucklehead who's never been around it. Someone will say something horrible about little people. It will happen.

Meanwhile, we're all getting older and events keep piling up. Birth, death, disease, amazing things horrible and wonderful that you could have never expected. If it hasn't happened yet, it will. And your entertainment options narrow, entire genres tossed out the window. And it's a hassle, because damn, you really used to like Mike Myers. And you wish you could again, because he was so funny before you hated him.

But I think there are hidden blessings. If a movie exploits suicide or terrorism or portrays people with physical differences in a cruel way, there's a good chance it's just a bad movie and you're better off avoiding it. I mean, look at the reviews for "The Love Guru" and "The Happening."

And really, if you're bothered by something on screen cause it seems false, at least you now have a better understanding of what's actually true.

Comments

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  • By Ann Lee

    From Richmond Hill, NY, 07/13/2008

    I didn't see either one of the movies John Moe mentioned and I probably wouldn't see them. Not for the same reasons that Mr. Moe has. I am a believer in true artistic freedom, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable. Only thing matters to me is artistic integrity. My father died in tragic way and my unstable mother suffers manic depression for years. None of these things would ever stop me from going to see a movie dealing with preventible death (if it makes sense at all...) or insane mother. But I am not Mr. Moe and he is not me. I wish him the best.

    By Kelly Riley

    From Seattle, WA, 06/26/2008

    I want to thank John Moe for his comments regarding life experiences and the entertainment industry. Like John our family has experienced the death of a dearly loved family member to suicide along with one who now suffers with cancer and an 18 month old who was born with serious abnormalities. There is a whole entertainment "mine field" out there with jokes about this and other sad situations. I just want John to know that I think he is couragous to speak up. He speaks for all families who cringe with pain when a joke is made about a person who suffers from a misfortune. One day, when life throws them a curve, they will understand what you mean John. Thank you for your comments.

    By Michael Verderame

    From Hershey, PA, 06/22/2008

    I thank John Moe for describing his personal story, and how it has caused him to look at the world differently. We are all enriched when someone is willing to share such intimate, and personal experiences and feelings.

    That said, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that his “enlightenment” came only after his personal life was deeply impacted by the two events he recounts for us. Would Mr. Moe need to have a child with autism before he would be sensitive to my youngest child, whose quirky behavior sets him apart from others his age? Would he need to spend time paralyzed in a wheelchair before he appreciates the accomplishments of a very impressive young woman I know who recently earned her PhD? Would he need 20 different surgeries to think differently about another young woman I met whose birth defects necessitated those many medical interventions?

    Why is it so hard for us to be empathetic to the struggles of others until we have been personally impacted?

    And yet, I am hopeful for the future.

    I am hopeful every time I see one of my son’s “regular” classmates help him out playing kickball at the park.

    I am hopeful every time I see the grace and dedication of the “regular” middle school kids and high school kids who volunteer to be one-on-one buddies to our local TOPS Soccer Team (the Outreach Program for Soccer, a national youth soccer program for kids with special needs).

    Perhaps, just perhaps, we can look forward to the time when the idea “different” no longer means “target”.

    For my son’s sake, and for Mr. Moe’s daughter’s sake, we can only hope.

    By Tom Zizzi

    From San Diego, CA, 06/22/2008

    I've often been impressed by the work of John Moe on Weekend and have thought what a bright and good-natured guy he seems to be. His clever observations and general sense of humor have left me 'thinking' more than once. John Moe's piece this weekend about his daughter and the movies was a touching and enlightening piece of work. That young lady has one great dad. I

    By Ed Vojik

    From Towso, MD, 06/22/2008

    I just want to point out that occassionally a film is produced that poignantly and intelligently treats sensitive sujects. In the case of dwarfisim, that film is the wonderful 2003 film, "The Station Agent." I highly recommend it!

    By Joe Holm

    From Omaha, NE, 06/21/2008

    I was glad I got to listen to Johns comments on these movies. It helped me think about a movie I went to see, but walked out on. There is a scene in Will Smiths film "I Am Legend" where a child is denied safe exit because she might be infected with a virus. I can't handle watching anything with children in jeopardy since the birth of my son. He is a child with Downs syndrome. Two times in his life I have had to hand him to nurses to take him for heart surgery, not sure if I would see him alive again. Since then, I dont deal with children in peril in media. Hearing Johns story made me realize what had bothered me about the movie-a child in danger.

    By Andrea Dickson

    From Seattle, WA, 06/21/2008

    John,

    Thank you for your opinion piece on blockbuster-style movies and your inability to watch many of them. Even though I don't personally know any little people, I have never felt comfortable with the "LP as prop"-style "comedies" that are so prevalent in popular culture. I can't recall the last time I saw a movie in which the bit part for a dwarf or midget actor DIDN'T involve some sort of physical assualt.

    I know that people who feel uncomfortable or annoyed by these portayals are often considered wet blankets, but it's really, honestly, not funny.

    I disagree with the commentor who avoids harsh portrayals of reality - 'Water' wasn't created for the sake of objectifying women, but for pointing out just how horrific life can be for the poorest female children in India. Movies in which the rape and torture of young women is considered part of the "thrill", such as your average horror movie, do much more to objectify the female body and life than a movie like 'Water'.

    Oh, and John, I'm very sorry to hear about your brother. My thoughts are, truly, with you and your family.

    By JANN CATHER WEAVER

    From ST. PAUL, MN, 06/21/2008

    I understood John Moe's concern about how movies treat life's harsh realities. Not to diminish John Moe's reality, young girls and women have always had to view themselves in movies and television episodes as helpless victims of rape, murder, kidnapping, and other heinous crimes. More girls and women than one can guess have been sexually victimized in their lives. Yet, the murder and rape of a child or young woman is often the central plot of a crime in movies and detective television series. These stories also reinforce the stereotype of children’s and women's utter vulnerability in the world -- to both women and men. Women live everyday with the awareness to not put themselves in places where they could be raped or murdered. Walking out their back door at night makes women vulnerable. How often do man -- straight men -- live with thinking about this at least once a day? So, I am very careful what films and television shows I watch. Even if a movie wins an award, I will not see it if a woman is murdered or raped. Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning movie, "Unforgiven," had an initial script title of "The Cut Whore Killings," which is exactly what happens in the movie. "The Prince of Tides" with Barbara Streisand as director and actor, has a horrific multiple-rape scene of children. Even female director, Deepa Mehta, betrayed women in "Water," where the main character, a prepubescent young girl named Chuyia, is unknowingly prostituted to an elderly man of the highest caste. I now ask people when they advise me to see a movie, "Are women or children murdered or raped?" Yes, it is an odd question. Yet it shouldn't be, for the entertainment industry makes these horrors common, routine plot lines.

    By Stephanie Costello

    From Northampton, MA, 06/21/2008

    I can understand where you're coming from, even if I may not totally agree. For me, it's harder to watch films depicting personally sensitive issues in jaw-droppingly accurate detail, than it is to watch comedies. I'm not talking about discrimination in films. (Such jokes are not fully understood by many and are beneath those that understand the attempt at humor.)

    I saw the Happening, and although I haven't suffered the loss of a loved one due to suicide, I found the film deeply troubling. I won't discuss it at length, but I will say that the treatment of the subject matter, within the story, is consistent. It doesn't make it alright, and it doesn't make it acceptable; but I thought you may like to know that the approach, although graphic, was, for me, credible and wholly unnerving.

    I'm truly sorry that things transpired as they did. Nothing I can say can heal those wounds.

    I thank you for your candor in this piece.

    On a much lighter note, happy belated father's day! I wish you and your family every happiness!

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