So hypothetically according to you (Church Pastor) I can admire a man’s penis in the shower but the moment I put it in my mouth some sort of line has been crossed?
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest creation to hit the silver screen, Bruno is to homosexual Austrians what Borat was to anti-Semitic Kazaks. Bruno (the movie) starring Bruno (the gay dude) opens nationally in Australia on June 29th, and promises enough redneck-baiting to keep any Greens voter happy for the better part of the next decade. The movie’s trailer (available at tinyurl.com/ozggqx) features Baron Cohen asking a self-defence instructor “how to protect yourself from being attacked by homosexuals”. The instructor appears to ponder the question for a moment, before answering, in his best Southern Drawl, “well, they prob’ly gonna attack you from behind”. Both manage to keep straight faces; it’s unlikely the audience will.
Of course, the big problem with laughing at (or with, perhaps?) prejudice is that, after the laughter stops, one is left with a slightly uncomfortable psychoanalysis. When Baron Cohen brings cheers from a crowd with a rendition of the cult classic “throw the Jew down the well”, is it racist to laugh? How about just a giggle? Do we laugh because we are racists? Or worse, does laughing… make us racists?
Putting this sort of awkward, uncomfortable question to Baron Cohen has a rather transformative effect on the man. Gone is the moustachioed Kazak with the poor grasp of English; in his place, a Cambridge-educated Londoner who holds a degree in history, and who wrote his thesis on the Jewish involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement. The astute intellectual at the heart of Baron Cohen doesn’t struggle with troublesome questions about racism and sexism; rather, he embraces them. In 2006, just after the launch of Borat, he told a BBC journalist that Borat was less a character, and more a tool. “By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it’s hatred of African-Americans or of Jews.”
Lets-laugh-at-discrimination comedy seems to be catching on. One of Bruno’s contemporaries, Sarah Silverman, has just had her series, The Sarah Silverman Program, picked up by Foxtel. Silverman preaches the same sort of ‘anti-racism’, or as Slate.com put it, ‘Meta-bigotry’, as Baron Cohen; she told Jay Leno her work “explored and ridiculed the racist thought process”. She is another transformative character; her alter ego tells crowds at a stand-up comedy performance, “I was trying to give my black boyfriend a compliment; I told him he would have made a really expensive slave”.
Of course, all of these defences, these explanations, only work if the anti-bigotry is doing real good for society. If it’s causing movie patrons to recognise and confront the racism within themselves. Otherwise, its just plain old racism.
By Liam Mannix