Latest pissed-off interest group: Lepers

01.24.12 6 years ago 50 Comments

"Dear Sirs, I found your jokes both hurtful and offensive..."

The number of things you can joke about in a film is getting smaller and smaller. Pretty soon not even Three’s Company-style misunderstandings will be tolerated, AND THEN WHAT WILL WE DO, WHAT?? The latest group angry about a joke? The lepers. They’re mad at Aardman Animation for prominently featuring a leper joke in their trailer for The Pirates! Band Of Misfits. Wait, is “leper” offensive? Sorry, I meant lepro.

Aardman is modifying a scene following objections from leprosy groups including Lepra Health In Action and the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP).
In a scene in the trailer that was released in December, Hugh Grant’s Pirate Captain lands on a ship demanding gold, but is told by a crew member, “Afraid we don’t have any gold old man, this is a leper boat. See,” and with that, his arm falls off. [Deadline]

Lepra’s president Sir Christian Bonington said: “It might make you laugh but leprosy stigma not only hurts, it is still forcing people to live a life on the fringes of society.
“Not only is the dropping off of body parts a total misnomer we have to ask ourselves, as we watch it uncomfortably, is it acceptable for us to be laughing at the millions of people who are disabled by leprosy?”

Dude, just say it’s a misnomer. Don’t give us that old Polyanna YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO LAUGH AT SAD THINGS bullsh*t. We’re not? Then what’s the point of humor? …On a side note, ha, “Bonington.”

Leprosy is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, a very slow-growing bacteria similar to that which causes tuberculosis.
It is a painful condition which, although curable, can leave sufferers deformed and crippled if left untreated.
Actor and writer Stephen Fry has tweeted his support of the charity calling it a “cheap joke”. [BBC]

Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of secondary infections; these occur as a result of the body’s defences being compromised by the primary disease. Secondary infections, in turn, can result in tissue loss causing fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed, as cartilage is absorbed into the body. [Wikipedia]

An Aardman spokeman gave Deadline the following statement this morning: “After reviewing the matter, we decided to change the scene out of respect and sensitivity for those who suffer from leprosy. The last thing anyone intended was to offend anyone and it is clear to us that the right way to proceed is to honor the efforts made by organizations like ILEP to educate the public about this disease.” [Deadline]

Still unclear whether they’re taking it out of the film, or just the trailer, like Brett Ratner did with the “seizure boy” line in Tower Heist (which, inexplicably, made everyone happy). Either way, at least it’s controversy over an inaccurate joke and not an insensitive one. Which is an important distinction. Still, leper jokes are a tradition as old as time. Didn’t Jesus become famous hanging out with lepers and prostitutes? In fact, I believe it was Jesus who first said, “What did the leper say to the prostitute? …Keep the tip.” Classic Jesus.

(leper joke at 00:36)

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