Did Showtime's "Shameless" go too far with "Retard Nation" storyline?

Did Showtime's "Shameless" go too far with "Retard Nation" storyline?

The series Shameless on Showtime has always skirted the fine line of good taste, it’s the foundation of the show.

However on Sundays episode they may have taken things too far.  Sheila played by Joan Cusak took her daughter Karen to a support group of people who have children with Down syndrome.  Karen has a baby with Down and Cusak’s character thought this would be a good experience for them both

The mentally challenged members of the support group speak up; they want to “reclaim and redefine” the word retard, taking ownership of the word and turning it from a slur to a rallying cry. They chant “Me-tard, You-tard, Retard nation;”

In the scene a character claims, “the gays took back the word Queer…why can’t we…”

From here it grows to a campaign to support Retard Nation. Frank Gallagher played by William H. Macy wears a shirt that says “ I am a Retard,” and Sheila sets up a booth outside a store to raise money for Retard Nation. In an odd TV twist, Macy is also the narrator for the kids show Curious George.

Is this a creative way to bring attention to a word that is flung around too loosely or was this one of the most tasteless scenes in recent television history.

In a series that has a a young boy fake cancer to go to camp and his younger sister pretend to be molested by her uncle, in order to save her house, is Retard Nation too much even for Shameless?

We searched for any charity or group that empowered people who are mentally challenged with the name Retard Nation and the only thing that came up was in the Urban Dictionary-

A group of friends based in Brampton(A.K.A B-Town or Bramadesh), Ontario age range 11-13. Naturally living in the suburbs is a boring life so they found awesome new ways to entertain themselves. There are different divisions of Retard Nation such as:

The Hobo Tribe: Responsible for finding new areas for Retard Nation to hang at. The RN Mofia: Responsible for doing Retard Nation's "Dirty Work" Some of retard nations pass times have been:-Bonfires in their forest hideout.

As far as we can tell neither William H. Macy or Joan Cusack have family with Downs and we can't find any charitable donations or causes they support with Downs, so it seems clear that this wasn't a way for the starts to champion a cause close to their hearts. In his defense William H, Macy is the face of the web site My Child Without Limits.

What do you think?  Is Shameless, Shameless and you have to be ready for anything as you watch the adventures of the Gallagher family as they struggle to survive on the South Side? Did the creators of the show go too far with Retard Nation, or was it a creative way to bring an issue of insensitivity to a wide audience?


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  • This idea in comedy that, "oh, I make fun of everything with no discrimination" is so weak. Yeah, you make fun of "everything" which usually includes the easy targets. If the writers of Shameless are so talented, why do they pick such low-hanging fruit?

    It's not that Down Syndrome is completely off limits, it's that if you're going to use it in a joke, the butt needs to be someone other than those who suffer already. It's possible to be push the envelope and be a decent human being.

  • It is possible to push the envelope and still be decent, but decency is hard to measure. Certain areas hit closer to home than others, so what I find decent or in good taste will vary from one subject to the next. I have not seen the episode, so it’s hard to judge in this specific circumstance. But if a show consistently pushes the envelope, I concede there will be a time I will get offended based on the subject of the show.

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    We have a 6-year-old son with DS and we weren't at all offended by the show. We actually loved that these actors had another outlet to show their talents. In our house, we don't let 'retard' have power. To us, it's just a word. That being said, we don't call others by that name as we know some do find it offensive.

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    In reply to Megsiehoho:

    Wait until your child is 6 years old or 16 and you have to deal with the stares and the outright mean treatment, and then get back to me. This is HIGHLY offensive.

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    In reply to Terri’s sis:

    Correction. I read 6 months. When your child gets older, people aren't so nice. They stop thinking your child is "cute".

  • I work in the disability community and am an advocate for not using the R-word. Shameless constantly pushes the envelope-- this episode aired during Spread the Word to End the Word week, meaning a writer was spot on with the timing of this. Many people don't know that using the R-word is offensive. This episode undoubtedly brought attention to this word and also the fact that is a controversial word and is offensive to many people. You cannot expect a show like Shameless to air a fuzzy segment on disabilities... everything they do is offensive. I am grateful that they did shine some light on the word and the disability community to show to millions of viewers (who may not have any clue this can be a hurtful word) that the word is offensive to people and there is a huge debate going on asking people to remove the word from their everyday speech. Kudos for having their ear to the pulse of controversial issues such as this.

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    Do your research, Chicagonow. It's Down Syndome, not "Downs." I find that more bothersome than a comedy show that is pushing the envelope!

  • In reply to Jane Shigley:

    We changed it. Thank you for that catch and for your comments.

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    If you don't watch this show you won't understand and should not pass judgement. I love this show and the episode in question was shocking at first and then I found it pretty darn awesome. I love this storyline and I am excited for where it will take us. There are many different reactions to disabilities and this show takes us with them on that journey and it's fair to say it is reality. I have a beautiful little girl who has Down syndrome and I love Shameless and the boundary they are pushing on many fronts. If you don't know the show then you really shouldn't comment.

    And I agree with Jane above ~ it's Down syndrome ~ no 's

  • I'm pretty sure Joan Cusack is involved with a non-profit called Best Buddies that advocates for the rights of those with disabilities. This was probably intended as an episode to raise awareness.

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    Sticks and Stones! My child is an individual first, her disability comes last. The only place where labels matter is in school for her IEP, other than that, my daughter has a name, she is an athlete (a pretty damn good one), a sister, a friend, niece, granddaughter, and so on. If she hears a person use the word 'retard(ed)', she'll speak up for herself by giving that person a list of alternative words (so THEY don't sound stupid), because that is how we raised her.

  • In reply to Wicked:

    You sound like a great parent:) Thanks for the comment and keep it up:)

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    I'm autistic and this agenda that you all have sickens me. I'm a retard and I say it without regret. I can't stand it when people police the broadcasting looking to push your agenda on the rest of us.

  • When I first saw this scene, I was so excited to see individuals with Down's Syndrome speaking up for themselves and reclaiming such derogatory language. I feel the 'r' word should be like the 'n' word, which they even touched on in that same scene. Those who identify as such can speak it, but it is not a privilege that extends to those unaffected. I also loved how a mother was trying to control the group while the individuals with Down's Syndrome were being silenced. In my experience with the neurodiverse community, this happens a lot. Sheila, an ordinarily air headed woman, jumps on the band wagon and starts using a word she really shouldn't be using, and speaking up for people who should be allowed to speak for themselves. Overall, I feel the show does a disservice to any sensitive population: the chronically poor, people with mental illness, people with addictions. Anyone looking at this show for a good rolemodel will be sorely disappointed. I just found it ironic that Sheila (a neurotypical mommie) took over where another mommie left off. Parent's need to teach their kids to be proud and follow support adults who are trying to speak for themselves.

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