Pixar’s Inside Out: moron, mongo, and normalizing disability bigotry

inside-out6Pixar released a movie Inside Out featuring characters embodying human emotions which are played out inside people’s minds. A mom calls attention to how Pixar has normalized disability bigotry for viewers of Inside Out.

Jisun Lee is a mom who blogs at Kimchi Latkes. I have linked to her posts several times, because she is an insightful writer. She shares her insights about a fleeting scene in Inside Out.

* * * CAUTION SPOILER ALERT * * * 

Got that. The next lines have a spoiler.

In the movie, one of the characters mocks another by calling him a “moron” and saying “duh.” I think for most, this will go without any notice. But Lee makes a compelling point about how this assaults those with intellectual disabilities.

Here’s just a sample of Lee’s post:

Pixar, for that one moment, you helped make that stigma and discrimination happen. When words moron and idiot are thrown around like nothing, kids learn that it is ok to insult someone’s intelligence. Young kids learn that a good way to make someone mad is to call them stupid and pretend to look like someone with an intellectual disability, because of course it is awful to be that. If brains were really like you depicted in Inside Out, every kid who went to go see your movie would have had a little glowy memory stored that they might bring up the next time they heard the words “special ed” or tried to talk to someone with a speech impediment. And the memory wouldn’t help the kid be kinder or more inclusive, trust me. What Disgust said to Anger was the basic equivalent of using the r-word, simply without uttering the word.

I cannot improve upon Lee’s commentary, so I encourage you to read the post in its entirety.

“Mongo”

I appreciate Lee sharing that spoiler about the movie. The marketing of Inside Out has had its desired effect on my daughter and she is eagerly anticipating seeing the movie. So much so, that when she returns from her first ever experience at sleep away camp, I had planned to celebrate by taking her to the film. I may still do so, but at least I’ll know when to cough loudly so she and her younger brother do not hear it.

I wish I had had a similar warning about Toy Story 3.

Like Inside Out, my kids eagerly anticipated seeing Toy Story 3. We had bought Toy Story and Toy Story 2 and watched them several times over, often during road trips. I had invested in the replica versions of all the major characters and they enjoyed playing with Woody, and Buzz, and, for my daughter, especially Jesse.

Toy Story 3 was the first in the series released since they were born, so when it was announced it was coming out, we made plans for this to be the first movie either had seen in an actual movie theater.

Overall, it’s an amazing movie, with adults and kids exiting the theater at the time wiping happy and sad tears from their eyes.

But there was a scene, like the one in Inside Out, that bothered me when I heard it and still bothers me to this day.

Here’s the clip:

Did you catch it?

At the 0:22 mark:

Mr. Potato Head:

Hey Mongo! Keep your paws off of my wife.

Hey! Let go of me you drooling doofus!

Hey! Put me down you moron!

I couldn’t believe my ears.

Yes, it’s Don Rickles voicing Mr. Potato Head and he’s known for his offensiveness. But, that’s on late night TV and in nightclub acts in Las Vegas. Even if ad-libbed, this film went through no doubt hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of editing.

And, yet, like Inside Out, those listening at Pixar didn’t think anything objectionable about ridiculing those with intellectual disabilities. In Potato Head’s case, it’s even a more direct assault on those with Down syndrome, like Lee’s son and my daughter.

“Mongo” is short for “Mongoloid,” the historically (inaccurate) term for Down syndrome. “Drooling doofus,” another common insult for those with Down syndrome having hypotonia and small mouths, which can cause the tongue to protrude and drool. And “moron” having been a formal IQ classification that was bastardized into a slur.

Normalizing disability bigotry

I had a college professor who explained how we are all the sum of small decisions, changes, experiences that we may not even be fully aware of at the time, that as they accumulate result in how we think, behave, and what we value. I think he’s by-in-large correct.

Pixar’s accepted use of ridiculing those with intellectual disabilities has that effect of normalizing bigotry against the intellectually disabled. They don’t think calling a baby doll with a sleepy eye a “Mongo” or “drooling dufus,” or calling an angry character who can’t figure out a problem a “moron” as being offensive.

Pixar thinks it’s funny.

In fact, Pixar counts on it being funny. These lines are kept in the movie precisely because it elicited a laugh in the editing room, in test audiences, and was expected to lead to uproarious laughter by the millions who see it around the world.

Movie goers, and families who tune into the Disney channel five years from now when Inside Out is being shown first in primetime, and then just on a dreary, cold Saturday when there’s nothing else to do, will watch and be expected to laugh as characters in a movie targeted to children ridicule the intellectually disabled.

And so, for some, perhaps many, it will be one of those small moments where the viewers think, “that’s funny, calling someone ‘Mongo,’ a moron, a drooling dufus, saying ‘duh’ to mock them.”

These little moments normalize bigotry, making ridiculing those with different learning styles and capabilities okay.

It’s not okay.

And Pixar needs to do a better job with its editing.

(Even better, Pixar should follow up with action by donating just a fraction of the revenue Inside Out will make to charities that improve society’s inclusion of individuals with intellectual disability).

Comments

  1. While I don’t care for young kids watching movies with what I would call class-less language, I think it is far reaching indeed to associate this as insulting to those with disabilities. I say this as a parent of a non-verbal autistic child. Now the movie that had a character refer to a child as looking “a little Downsey”….. that was a disgusting comment.

    • Thank you I Belive the PC police needs to back off some they take it way too far and this type crap actually makes folks even more uncomfortable with us because they are so afraid of what to, or not to say, this constant policing. Of words actually builds more. Barriers, I am speaking as a partial verbal autistic , delayed, Ect, adult
      ( I made a more detailed complete coment below if your interested ) 🙂

      • Thank you for your interest in this issue. I believe that perpetuating ridicule of the intellectually disabled actually is a worse barrier than making people thoughtful about the language they use. I doubt anyone wishing to approach an individual with an intellectual disability actually hesitates to think, “gee, should I refer to this person as a ‘moron’ or a ‘drooling dufus.'”

        • Lol true true… I also hate the words intellectual disability! That is literally saying, not able yor, have, or use intellect! If we are not going to change attitudes and teach people the proper definitions of words like retardation which means delay…it does not say anywhere inthe definition of retardation…stupid, or not able …. But a more accurate word to me is cognitive delayed or cognitive challeng cause that is saying we are delayed in processing and learning….which is very accurate discription….intellectual disabled is not accurate and that is more insulting toe then retarded which simply means slow, which I am, MSME sense? I wish I could explain this to who ever is in charge of lobbying the word issues, because intellectual disabled. Is awful..that’s is saying were not smart! And we are we are just slow delayed in processing and learning and organizing mentally, and that’s ok,nothing wring with it 🙂

          • Having a daughter with Down syndrome, I, too, would have preferred another moniker than one that emphasized that she was considered disabled. But, see, you too have your own views on the proper usage of words. We may differ on what words should be used or should be considered offensive, and the way those differences are settled and positive change is made is by making our position known and, if it is convincing, then change will happen. Continue to share your position and don’t let anyone stop you.

  2. Mary Panke says:

    Good article. I didn’t know about the term ‘Mongo’ and appreciate learning and educating others. Gross. Teaching our children about the normalizing of prejudice and bigotry in the media they consume is a challenge. Before the clip above gets to using intellectual difference insults, Jesse is referred to as a liar “temptress.” Misogyny. And it brings to mind the movie Box Trolls that promoted itself as representing and respecting ALL types of families, then resorts to making the evil villain a “man in a dress.” Transphobic. And then the Racist stereotyping in Happy Feet. And on, and on. We were headed out to see Inside Out this afternoon, it’s going to be complicated than I thought. It always is.

  3. Is this satire? I really hope this is satire.

  4. I’m disabled and I NOT offended ! It depends on HOW words are used and everytime you “PC” police get up in arms to words it actually makes the disabled community go back a few steps, because doing tis, actually adds to the barriers, because people these days are ssoooo afraid and nervous about what to say or not say and people avoid us even more often times ..I agree with another comment who said the kids these days don’t really make the connection with words like moron, to disability…stop policing words and controlling what people sayM this is America and I don’t always like what others say but it is there right to say or write or express what they want, stop taking away rights, and stop bring do overly “PC” that people are made even MORE uncomfortable around disabilities!!!!!

    • This is not about being PC. This is about choices a company makes for a product targeted to children in the hopes of making millions of dollars. They can still get laughs without ridiculing the intellectually disabled. But by choosing to ridicule the disabled, it makes that ridicule acceptable. I’m sure you would feel differently if they had used a different slur, since we all have our different tolerances.

    • I believe that’s very true, that’s why I choose my battles wisely when advocating for my son.

    • amen to tha

  5. Please people blow things out of proportions. It was a funny movie about feelings. My son is autistic loved the movie. He laughed, he was sad when sad was sad, He laughed at anger and fear. He loved joy. So why steal all of this from kids with your assumptions.

    • I doubt my post had any impact on your son’s enjoyment of the movie–I certainly hope it didn’t. But, the decision to include a joke ridiculing someone based on intellectual ability tells the other movie goers that doing so is okay, when it shouldn’t be.

  6. Oh bother.

  7. This article reminds me of a conversation I overheard between some teen boys yesterday. They were discussing how a peer is attending summer school, but “he’s not dumb or anything, he just wanted to go.” I got an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach at the frank way that phrase was thrown out there: “he’s not dumb or anything.” To me it displayed an intrinsic, and ACCEPTED bias against individuals who may have any sort of intellectual disability. It seemed normal for them to talk in a negative way about being “dumb,” and it left me with a deep sadness. Messages like this in the movies further perpetuate that bias.

  8. stupid means ignorant and uncaring, a disability is different it is not a choose like ignorance is. a disability can not be taken care of by reading more and paying harder attention.

Trackbacks

  1. […] is kind of funny, since a lot of people have been criticizing it for belittling people who are not “intelligent” — a discussion that has now expanded to include other Pixar […]

  2. […] not just about race.  I am also thinking about feeding the prejudice surrounding disability.  This article about Pixar’s newest movie, Inside Out, and its disparaging reference to people with […]

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