From the Editor: Peter Rabbit and the art of being offended
February 13, 2018
I'm not sure when, or even how, it happened, but to all appearances, we've morphed into a nation of folks just looking for something to be offended by.
As I was browsing through my daily news sites this morning, I happened upon yet another example of how ridiculously over-sensitive we've become about slights — or the appearance of slights — or wholly innocuous things that can somehow be tortuously rearranged and misinterpreted so as to make them into slights.
It's like some people want to be offended, need to be offended, absolutely cannot be happy unless they’re going to the mat against some social injustice or another.
When did we, as a society, become such wimps? I mean, we used to be able to take a joke … didn't we?
Case in point: CNN reported Tuesday morning that some parents are organizing boycotts of the new animated children's feature, "Peter Rabbit."
And what horrible, heinous offense, you may be wondering, could Beatrix Potter's classic, mischievous little bunny have committed that it would prompt parents to write angry letters to Sony Pictures, boycott the movie and, ultimately, coerce Sony into issuing a heartfelt apology?
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Well, it seems the film "mocked" people who suffer from food allergies.
In the movie, Peter and his forest friends attack their arch-nemesis, Mr. McGregor, by throwing blackberries at him. Turns out, Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries and begins choking, eventually having to inject himself with epinephrine.
And that's it.
That's why "Peter Rabbit" is an inexcusably insensitive film that should never be viewed by anyone.
“For them to mock something so serious is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an allergist with the nonprofit Allergy & Asthma Network, according to CNN.
The good doctor added there have been cases in which school bullies have used food allergies to threaten and harm other children.
“This is very dangerous and anxiety-provoking, as deaths occur when food allergies are not taken seriously,” she said.
I’m guessing Dr. Parikh never saw “Mrs. Doubtfire,” which also featured a pretty hilarious scene involving a food allergy.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America also chimed in, penning a letter of admonishment to Sony Pictures.
"The segment featured the intentional attack of the McGregor character with the food he is allergic to — the implication being that the rabbits wanted to kill or harm McGregor with this method," wrote Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "The result is that McGregor experienced a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and treated himself with his epinephrine injection. Additionally, the segment makes light of the seriousness of food allergies and suggests that food allergies are 'made up for attention.'"
And, on Saturday, CNN reports, the Australian-based allergy and anaphylaxis charity group Globalaai launched a change.org petition demanding an apology from Sony Pictures for depicting “allergy bullying” in the Peter Rabbit movie.
Sony was quick to capitulate.
In a joint statement to the New York Times, Sony and the filmmakers wrote: "Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit's arch-nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize."
That's all very well, but if we become much more "sensitive" to everyone's pet "issue," how will we even be able communicate with one another 20 years from now?
I wonder how Short Round, the Oriental sidekick kid in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," would go over in this hyper-sensitive, ultra-offended world of 2018. He spoke broken English, he wore a Han tunic and, of course, he was a martial arts expert. Heck, even his name: Short Round. How much more offensively stereotypical could the filmmakers possibly have gotten. Have a scene with him pulling a rickshaw?
I demand an apology.
Or what about Hoke Colburn, of Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy," a subservient black retainer who was unable to read and whose speech patterns were straight out of a minstrel blackface show. "Yes'm Mizz Daisy … nome, Mizz Daisy." I mean, how insensitive and offensive is that?
I demand an apology.
I could go on, but probably you get the idea.
Yes, food allergies are a serious issue, and yes, stereotypical notions about minorities can be harmful and destructive.
But let’s put things in perspective here; these are movies, designed to entertain moviegoers. That's it.
Peter Rabbit, Short Round and Hoke Colburn are all fictional characters, and maybe it's time we figure out a way to differentiate between the harmless hijinks of fictional characters and truly offensive intent.
Let's be honest: Cartoon rabbits throwing blackberries at a guy who's allergic to blackberries is a pretty innocuous thing to depict — particularly when you consider all the sexual deviance, graphic violence, drug use and similar irresponsible behavior that's routinely presented to us in the name of entertainment.
I think we'd be far better served saving our indignation for genuine instances of intolerance and bullying, rather than randomly attacking a scene in a cartoon that was obviously written and played for laughs.
I hadn't planned on seeing "Peter Rabbit," but now, I just may. At the risk of being insensitive — and as a person who suffered with some pretty extensive food allergies as a child, himself — that blackberry scene actually sounds pretty hilarious.
Jim Patterson is editor of the Craig Press. Contact him at jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com or 970-875-1790.