Jennifer Aniston used the word ‘retard’ this week on Live! with Regis & Kelly on Thursday; earlier this week, Dr. Laura was basically forced off of the air for her use of the “N-Word”. While Aniston’s use of ‘retard’ is being criticized in many quarters, it likely will be a mere footnote to her career overall and she will likely remain “America’s Sweetheart” for quite some time. On the other hand, Dr. Laura has resigned from her show, and says she plans to fight to reclaim her first amendment rights.
Many are questioning why Dr. Laura is held to one standard and Jennifer Aniston to another when it comes to using derogatory terms to describe a group of people.
Ultimately, of course, this really has nothing to do with First Amendment rights, despite what Dr. Laura claims. The First Amendment includes the protection of free speech in that people are free to express their opinions without legal jeopardy. If Dr. Laura was forced to leave her show by her employer, or by her sponsors, or some combination thereof, it has nothing to do with the First Amendment. Likewise, Jennifer Aniston is in no danger of having her First Amendment rights violated.
But in the court of public opinion, which is so often confused with the First Amendment, it would seem that Jennifer Aniston is in far better shape for using the word “retard” than Dr. Laura is for using the “N-Word”. While both words can fairly considered as hurtful and insensitive, there are some differences.
First, Dr. Laura threw around a word on her show that has historically been used to denigrate African Americans; Dr. Laura is white. Also, Dr. Laura was fielding a call from an African American woman hurt by her husband’s friends comments about her. She was calling Dr. Laura for help and was met by Dr. Laura using the n-word.
In using the word ‘retarded’, Jennifer Aniston, while perhaps insensitive, was attempting, awkwardly, to joke about herself. She used the word as she described herself playing ‘dress up’. She was asked if she enjoyed dressing up to pose as Barbara Streisand for recent photo shoot, Aniston said, “Yeah, I got to play dress up. I do it for a living, like a retard.”
The major difference, it would seem between Aniston’s use off the word retard and Dr. Laura’s was intent. Dr. Laura was discussing a serious issues with an African American woman who was hurt over her husband’s friends’ racial jokes. Jennifer Aniston was trying to joke about herself, and presumably didn’t have mentally challenged on her mind when making the joke.
Dr. Laura’s career appears all but over due to her use of the n-word. Jennifer Aniston will likely continue to enjoy her status as a beloved movie star. While some may question the fairness of it all, there are some stark differences.