The Ringer

During my PE class in freshman year of high school, my best friend and I were frolicking around the gymnasium laughing and spewing off quotes from The Ringer. Another girl approached us and asked us how we could possibly find a movie that made fun of mentally challenged people to be funny. She then followed up with the fact that we have a “special girl” in our class, and we should at least have the heart to keep the “stupid quotes” to ourselves for the next hour.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, here is the trailer:

As you have probably already guessed, the girl shut us up. In about 30 seconds, I went from hysterically laughing to feeling incredibly uncomfortable. However, this uncomfortableness didn’t stem from my own actions, but instead from the girl’s misunderstanding that our intention was to make fun of those with disabilities. Obviously one of us had interpreted the movie wrong — for I had never seen The Ringer as offensive towards those with disabilities. First of all, I saw the release of The Ringer as a breaking moment for the disabled community. The movie features more than 150 actors with intellectual disabilities — far more than any other Hollywood film has ever had before. Furthermore, the characters do not take on the role of the stereotypical victims, villains, or heros that often make up the representation of disabilities within Hollywood. Instead, the characters are not only fully rounded and genuine, but also very talented at producing comedy. They invite the audience to not laugh at them, but with them. Through their humor, the characters emphasize not their disability, but their inherent humanity filled with their own unique abilities, quirky thoughts, and lovable personalities.

*SPOILER ALERT* Throughout the movie, Johnny Knoxville, the star of MTV’s Jackass, comes to respect his fellow disabled athletes as equals and accepts them as close friends (Yes. If anything… The Ringer should be critiqued for its predictable plot). I saw this plot as an attempt to draw in teenagers — your typical teenage boy who watches Jackass — and transform the negative attitude they hold towards those with disabilities in the same way that Knoxville was transformed throughout the movie. With the production of The Ringer, a new door in the entertainment world was pried open to the uncharted territory of disabilities. Yet, the fact remains that disabilities continue to be almost absent from American film and television. People are still not comfortable with disabilities. They don’t know how to appropriately deal with them. Therefore, the easiest thing for them to do is to either not put themselves in a situation where they have to deal with disabled people, or to superficially stick up for them from a distance without actually taking the time to understand. The girl in my P.E class took the second route. She in fact had never seen The Ringer. Instead, she merely jumped to the conclusion that any movie about disabilities would be negative. During an interview, Peter Farrelly, one of the producer’s of The Ringer and a longtime volunteer with Best Buddies, stated: “My whole point in making this movie is to make people with mental disabilities accessible, make people know who they are and feel comfortable with them.” Unfortunately, the girl in my P.E. class never allowed Farrelly the chance to accomplish this goal.

3 thoughts on “The Ringer

  1. Yeah, the Farrelly brothers movies sometimes (not always!) aspire to be generous to disabled people and to say something positive. Think about Warren in There’s Something About Mary: on the one hand, he is there as a moral lesson in that their treatment of him shows us which of the characters is Good and Sympathetic and which are Bad and Prejudiced; on the other, he’s not treated with sentimentality or made to go away: he’s really included in the world of the movie. Not all humor involving disabled characters or performers is “Laughing at Cripples.”

  2. Before taking this Disability Rights and Culture course, I might have agreed with the girl from your gym class. Now, I see that what the Farrelly brothers are doing is revolutionary. These producers are breaking down the walls of prejudice and showing people with disabilities as approachable. Disabled people are depicted as capable and independent. This is completely different from the stereotypical images of the victim or the madmen that Hollywood usually feeds into. Most of all, they are shown as human beings. In the Farrelly brothers’ films, people with disabilities are not shunned; instead, they are brought into the spotlight. These films allow nondisabled people to see that people with disabilities should not be feared or hidden. If everyone had the same mindset as the girl from your gym class, social change would never come. If people always shy away from disabilities and people with disabilities for the fear of saying something negative, nothing will ever change. I now realize that people need to be exposed to people with disabilities in order to stop discrimination.

  3. I think you make a good point that many people assume any movie that has to do with disabilities must inherently be bad or depressing in some kind of way, which The Ringer does a nice job of avoiding. Comedy is an extremely effective means of communicating an idea to society; the movie does not attack anyone and say that society must be more accepting. Instead, through some good laughs, the movies shows the audience that integration of disabled people really is not that big of a deal; it is something that should have been done a long time ago. The problem remains, however, as the girl in your gym class showed, that people go into the movie closed minded and assume that it is mean or rude to be laughing about such a matter. However, society has proven time and time again that it does not like change, and that it will not willfully jump into change, so any small amount of change that The Ringer can provide is at least a step in the right direction. A subtle push for change helps, but for true universal acceptance and integration of disabled people into society, change will likely need to be forced.

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