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‘Gump’ Isn’t the Answer for Real Understanding

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Advertisers proclaim that “America’s Going Gump” and “America Loves Forrest Gump.” And even though we are told that “Gump Happens,” it’s not such a bad thing because Tom Hanks, who we all know isn’t really disabled, and Forrest Gump are so lovable. Indeed, Forrest Gump, like the Rain Man before him, is many Americans’ idea of what a disabled person should be like.

“Forrest Gump” is among the most acclaimed movie of 1994. It is dominating the Academy Awards race after getting 13 nominations last week, one of the best showings in Oscar history (“Bubba Gump Oscar Co.,” Calendar, Feb. 15). It could be named best picture and its star, Tom Hanks, has a shot at being selected best actor for his portrayal of the title character. The film provided its audiences and critics with many laughs, at as much as with disabled people.

We liked the movie so much because we knew that Forrest Gump was really “normal.” Even Gump’s friend, Lt. Dan, lost his legs only as a result of the filmmakers’ technical wizardry. With his portrayal of Gump, Tom Hanks joined a long line of distinguished actors to cash in by playing persons with disabilities, including Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis, Raymond Burr, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight and Wesley Snipes.

Forrest Gump is also notable for relying on government only during his education and while he is in the military, which even Newt Gingrich would find excusable. Unlike most real disabled people, Gump never collects Social Security. He never requires job training or other government-sponsored counseling or even subsidized medical insurance. Moreover, Forrest Gump would never organize, especially not with other disabled people.

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We can also like Gump because he scores only five points below “normal” on an IQ test. Americans generally think poorly of such tests, anyway, and Gump’s later super-achievements in and out of the university prove us right in our skepticism.

Gump fits Hollywood standards because he is a neat, young, straight, white American male. He controls his saliva, drinks cola and, except at the opportune time and for a very understandable reason, his urine and bowels. In contrast, real disabled people may be messy, of any age, race or gender and may be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Also unlike real disabled people, who are easily depressed in a world that will not understand them, Gump is always happy.

Most Americans love Forrest Gump because he is different, but not too different. I also enjoyed the movie, twice, and even read the book. Able Americans might suggest that Gump could serve as a role model for disabled people.

They are bound to be disappointed, however, because most disabled people will insist on the basic human right to be mediocre. It would be equally insulting to suggest that all women be like Meryl Streep, or that all African Americans be like Michael Jordan.

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In sum, for entertainment we can look to Forrest Gump. For an understanding of disabled people, however, we will need to look elsewhere.

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