Why is Dumb Funny?

Somehow or other, I came across a news story this weekend about a coffee shop that had opened up in Los Angeles called “Dumb Starbucks.” I cringed.

Why is Dumb Funny

What the fuck is this? I thought. Is Starbucks behind this? Is someone else? What does it mean? What’s the point?

As it turns out, it’s a parody of the real Starbucks chain, and comedian Nathan Fielder is behind it. The point of it, apparently, besides publicity, is to make fun of Starbucks. By calling it “dumb.”

Why is Dumb Funny


You know, I really don’t want to be a cranky pain in the ass, constantly on the lookout for a hint of offensive. I’m a fan of humor, of parody, of irreverence. A HUGE fan! Sarcasm is my second language. But I don’t understand why it is still okay to use intelligence as a means to value people and things.

Intelligence seems to be the be-all end-all, the mother of all attributes. Everyone wants to be a genius, or wants their kids to be geniuses. Well, guess what? The vast majority of us are not geniuses – and even those of us who may be very, very intelligent are unlikely to do really great things with that super intellect. Most of us, regardless of our IQs, will live pretty average, unremarkable lives. That is not to say meaningless lives – we each give our own lives meaning – but in the end, I don’t think intelligence has very much at all to do with how meaningful or fulfilling our lives are.

Even within the Down syndrome parenting community, there are many, many parents who reject the notion that their intellectually disabled child is not smart. We build up our kids’ intelligence because, apparently, while we can deal with heart defects and celiac disease and leukemia, we cannot deal with low intellect. A memoir I recently read by a young man with autism mentioned that people often assumed he was “retarded” because of his having autism, but, he insisted, he is not “retarded.” Even within the disability community, being not smart seems to be the very worst trait a person can have.

I’ve written endlessly about the use of “retard” and “retarded” as slurs. The truth is, though, that “retard” and “retarded” are only the most crude and obnoxious ways we insult and value people based upon their intellect. Calling people and things “dumb,” “stupid,” “idiotic,” and “moronic” are similar reflections of how we view intellect and intelligence, and how we value people based on those things.

I doubt Nathan Fielder was thinking specifically of Down syndrome or any intellectual disability when he undertook this project – and yet, it does reflect a certain attitude that smart = good/superior, and not smart = bad/inferior. After all, he didn’t call it “Smart Starbucks.” What would be funny about that?

Imagine if he had decided to call his parody store “Fat Starbucks,” or “Gay Starbucks,” or “Poor Starbucks”? Would that be as funny as “Dumb Starbucks”?


We are almost two weeks into the new school year, and Finn still languishes without a proper school placement. He continued to attend preschool two mornings a week throughout the summer, and is also now back at speech therapy twice a week, but still no resolution with the school district regarding his IEP. We also blew through our initial $2,500 retainer very quickly (it doesn’t take much – a file review, a couple letters, a meeting or two between associate attorneys, a few phone calls, and poof!), and have had to scramble to come up with yet more money that we really can’t afford. A couple of weeks ago, our attorney sent a letter to the Director of Special Ed formally disagreeing with the district’s evaluations of Finn and demanding independent evaluations at the district’s expense. We got word from our attorney yesterday that the new Director (the one we’ve dealt with retired at the end of July) would like to meet with us informally to try to resolve this whole thing. We’ve agreed to a meeting, at which our attorney will be present (cha-ching!), which will take place in about two weeks. I can’t say that I am even cautiously optimistic, however. Our experiences with the Fullerton School District over the last two years – since Finn’s initial IEP when he turned three – have been overwhelmingly awful, and in all honesty, I have not spoken to a single other family in the district who has a child with an IEP who has had a positive experience with the district.

This morning I had an interesting exchange. I dropped Finn at speech therapy, which he receives at one of the other local public elementary schools in the district. As I was walking back to my truck, the principal approached me. She was present at Finn’s IEP meeting in June, and prior to that meeting, I had at least one phone conversation with her wherein she expressed her support for our desire to see Finn placed in a general ed classroom. It therefore came as somewhat of a shock and disappointment when, during the IEP meeting, she stated her support for the district’s recommendation of a SDC placement for Finn. Finn’s speech therapist, with whom we have a wonderful rapport, also has always expressed her support of our desire to have Finn placed in general ed, and her faith that he would do well there – until the IEP meeting in June, when she was suddenly closed-mouthed.

So this morning the principal approached me. We exchanged chit chat for a couple of minutes, and then she said, “Have you met the new director of Student Services?” Warily, I said, “No . . . it’s funny you mention that, though. You know we retained an attorney, right?” She gave me a thumbs up and said, “Good for you.” I told her that we actually may be meeting with the new director in the next couple of weeks. She said, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I think you guys will get what you want for Finn now.” I said, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it.” She said, “There was always just one person standing in the way of what you guys have been after for Finn. I think you’ll find that now that she’s gone, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

I have to say that this exchange infuriates me. It makes it clear that the prior director always held the strings, that she made a decision about Finn’s placement without ever having met him, based solely, I assume, on district resources and the diagnosis she saw in Finn’s file. There was not anything individualized about her decision about his placement, and the whole notion that there was an IEP “team” was a farce – there was never going to be any collaboration or meaningful discussion – she pulled rank, told all the “team” members who are employed by the district what agenda they were to push, and we were always at her mercy. How is this not a violation of the law, and of Finn’s rights? He has been deprived of a placement in the Least Restrictive Environment, and he has been deprived of a process which is supposed to be individualized for him.

Sadly, though, we probably have no recourse. I asked our attorney, after sharing this exchange with him, and he said that these claims are very difficult (and no doubt expensive) to prove, and it’s unlikely that any of the “team” members would be willing to testify against the district – their employer.

So, basically, we’re fucked. Unless they decide to play nice – and that remains to be seen. Even if things turn around now with a new director in place, it doesn’t undo what Finn has already been deprived of (and the longer his placement is delayed, the more of a disadvantage he’s at), and what we’ve already had to go through – including the money we’ve had to spend – in pursuit of something utterly fundamental and reasonable.

Meanwhile, Finn has been a challenge at home. He’s back to repeated tantrums throughout the day – has been for a while. I’ve tried to pay close attention to triggers, and it’s just really difficult to figure out what’s going in with him when he can’t tell me. The kid is pretty verbal, relatively speaking, but it’s not like we can sit down and have conversations about what’s bothering him. He’s entered a new phase of attempting more independence – wanting to do things for himself, like get himself dressed – and that is a triumph, but he struggles (when I look at his short, stubby fingers, it’s no wonder his fine motor skills are so wanting) and becomes easily frustrated. So I think that’s definitely a part of the whole tantrum thing – he’s wanting to do more and frustrated that it’s not coming as easily as he’d like it to. I suspect the other part is boredom and lack of structure. He doesn’t throw tantrums at preschool – not that he doesn’t have an occasional outburst, but overall, he’s just more content and better behaved at school, and this confirms to me all the more how sorely he needs something more than preschool two mornings a week. Being home with Mommy has lost its charm, I think. He’s five now, and he needs a structured routine that I can’t give him at home, and he needs to with peers more regularly and consistently.

So, that’s where we’re at.

That Mythical, Magical Chromosome

That Mythical, Magical Chromosome

There’s a lot of talk lately about the magic of the extra chromosome that results in trisomy-21, or Down syndrome. I don’t think this is a new development by any means, but lately it just seems like a prevalent topic – and I’m not talking about misguided stereotypes held by the general public, I’m talking about parents of kids with Down syndrome. Some of the very same people who advocate for equality and inclusion, who promote the whole “more alike than different” campaign, also insist that there is something about that extra chromosome that endows people with Down syndrome with extraordinary qualities and abilities: they’re more pure . . . they more intuitive . . . they’re more loving, and their love is more pure . . . they’re more compassionate . . . they’re more empathetic . . . they’re more forgiving . . . they can see inside a person, past the BS . . . plus, they’re more stubborn, and more defiant. I’ve heard it referred to as “the love chromosome.” Oh, and all the talk about them just being so special.

Enough already.

I’ve never liked this kind of talk – not even way back when I was new to this whole Ds thing and Finn was just a squalling infant. I remember reading Gifts and seeing a blurb on the back cover that read,

This fine book helps dispel the fear and misinformation about Down syndrome that many parents and prospective parents face. As these deft essays convey, the world would be a sweeter place with more Down syndrome citizens, not fewer. — George F. Will

It didn’t sit well with me even back then. It’s like saying, “Gosh, they’re so special! Everybody should get themselves one!”

These are all myths, and they only serve to further separate people with Down syndrome from the general population. People with Down syndrome do not have special powers. Sure, some – maybe a lot! – of them are stubborn. But so are a lot of people who don’t have Down syndrome. Sure, some are especially loving – and some are not – and many, many, many people who don’t have Down syndrome are especially loving – or especially not loving. And while I don’t think that having as many kids as I do makes me any sort of expert, it does give me a somewhat unique opportunity for comparison, and I will tell you that, yes, Finn is extremely stubborn – but so is Annabelle; Finn is affectionate, but not any more so than any of my other kids; he’s never looked into my soul as far as I know (although that could be because I may not have a soul . . .); and what’s this whole “pure” thing? It’s possible that Finn may remain a little more innocent and less worldly than his siblings as they grow up (although I can’t say for sure), but, put bluntly, that has to do with the capacity to intellectualize – not a specialness unique to a third copy of the twenty-first chromosome.

I’m certainly not saying that people with Down syndrome are no different than their typical peers. They are different in many ways – and I’ve never gotten on board with the whole “more alike than different” campaign anyway. Difference is nothing to compensate for or be afraid of. I just think that seeing them in this glow, with these almost supernatural traits, only serves to reinforce society’s feeling that they are a different class of human.

I wonder if this propensity to see almost superhuman qualities in our kids is really a reflection of this fierce protectiveness we parents tend to have of our kids with Ds. Or perhaps it stems from the initial need to cope with the knowledge that our kids are different. In other words, maybe what’s actually special about our kids is how we love them – not how they are.

They’re people. Flawed, talented, quirky, confounding, people. But just people.