BRUNO Take Two

I’m half worried that Jeff will kick me off the blog and suggest that I set up a separate domain to fanwank about Sacha Baron Cohen, but I guess I’m just spoiling for a fight, and until someone sees the movie and engages with me about it I’ll have to settle for picking a fight with Anthony Lane, whose New Yorker piece has me seeing red.  Anyhow, it’s Bruno week!  Enjoy!  There’s a lot of infuriating misinformation in the essay, but I’ll start with his most egregious assertion.

mein camp

… a martial-arts instructor, confronted by a foreigner with two dildos, doesn’t flinch. He teaches Brüno some defensive moves, then adds, “This is totally different from anything I’ve ever done”…  I feel that the patsy, though gulled, comes off better than the gag man; the joke is on Baron Cohen, for foisting indecency on the decent. The joker is trumped by the square.

– Anthony Lane, Mein Camp, The New Yorker

The idea that the martial arts instructor in Bruno is “decent” is disgusting.

If you want to see a decent martial arts instructor, let me show you it.  After seeing Bruno, I came across a clip of one because like Borat before it, Bruno recycles premises from Da Ali G Show.   Baron Cohen repeats premises, but the scenes themselves are nothing alike, because despite all of the handwringing about how he “makes people look”, he can’t actually make anybody “look” like anything.  If you are a decent person, that shines through, and if you are an anti-semite or a misogynist or a homophobe or a racist or are otherwise awful – all he’s done is create a space where you feel comfortable revealing yourself.

Here’s the scene with Borat, which mirrors the “dildo fight” footage featured in the Bruno preview (if you’re in a hurry, the relevant section starts at 1:10):

In this original version of the scene, Borat asks a martial arts instructor How do I defend myself from a Jew? The instructor stops him, and gives a brief, perfect precis of the American value of religious tolerance.  When Borat persists at coming at him with “Jew Claws”, the instructor laughs and harmlessly bats the “Jew Claws” away.

In Bruno, the set up is the same, but the results are entirely different.  Bruno (who at this point in the narrative is trying to be straight) asks how to defend himself against homosexuals, and the Karate instructor takes this premise entirely seriously.  There is nothing harmless about him – he is vigorously homophobic, comparing homosexuals who “don’t dress any different from me or you” to a terrorist infiltrating a police department and making himself invisible in a uniform.  When Bruno comes at him with dildos, he doesn’t slap away the absurd “weapons” like his counterpart in the Borat scene – he takes Bruno through an elaborate demonstration of stage combat, narrating as he demonstrates in slow motion how he would knock Bruno out, break his arms, break his ribs.

(It’s the funniest scene in this deeply weird movie).

It’s wonderfully silly and horribly funny, but in retrospect it’s chilling to remember the scene in connection with the film’s finale, where a flying chair narrowly misses Bruno’s head and garbage rains down on him because he’s kissing a dude…  But now we’re getting into my own analysis and opinion.  My assertion that the martial arts instructor in Bruno is not shown to be a “decent” person, however, is not an opinion, it’s a fact.  Not digging this movie or Baron Cohen’s schtick in general is entirely understandable and easily argued… but it’s wrong to make the case that Baron Cohen is a bully by pretending that the martial arts instructor seems a lovely man.

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