Bae Humbug! Sacha Baron Cohen and the Pranking of Truth

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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9 Responses

  1. InMD says:

    I found Sacha Baron Cohen funny back in the day on HBO. IIRC the jokes and interviews were more about the bizarre behavior of his characters and in that respect seemed less mean spirited. Rudy Giuliani has really become a dumpster fire of a person and I couldn’t care less about him. It’s the use of private people who seem to be going along with the idiocy out of politeness or confusion that rubs me the wrong way.

    It actually makes me think of an interaction I had with a family friend yesterday. He expressed belief in the theories discussed on the show Ancient Aliens. I couldn’t tell if he was joking but he seemed earnest enough about it. Challenging him seemed likely to be embarrassing for all involved so I nodded along until the conversation mercifully moved on to another subject. Still, I’m sure someone could edit a video of the discussion in a way to make it appear that I also believe aliens built Machu Picchu or whatever.

    All that is to say I don’t think Cohen is nearly as insightful about the American psyche as he thinks he is. People naturally try to avoid conflict and will go along with some really ridiculous things to do so. I suspect that’s what we are really seeing.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    A million years ago, I thought that some of his stuff was BRILLIANT and insightful. Here, check this Bruno sketch out:

    If you don’t want to watch it, It’s the Fashion Polizei segment where they show pictures of people and Fashion People give their responses from the gut and then Bruno explains “can we do that again with *THIS* take this time?” and the funny bit happens at 1:11 where a picture of Paris Hilton shows up and the two fashionistas express disgust and Bruno quietly explains that the Hiltons are a major advertiser for his show and could they do it again maybe? Let’s do it again. Paris Hilton! “Hot!”, the first fashionista exclaims.

    See? Funny, insightful.

    But now we live in a world where anybody and every single poppy that gets a single micrometer above the field gets the Joe the Plumber/Ken Bone treatment.

    I don’t like where we are. I don’t like where we’re heading. I don’t think that the Fashion Polizei are going to like it either.Report

    • InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

      This is the kind of thing I recall that had some intelligence to it. The joke of course isn’t so much that the fashionistas are frivolous* but how manufactured celebrity is.

      *Or at least it isn’t only that.Report

  3. Doctor Jay says:

    I haven’t finished reading all of this, but I want to send out a hug and a big thumbs-up for paragraph two.Report

  4. Chip Daniels says:

    There is a cruelty underlying most comedy, but most comedy involves imaginary characters not real people. The fact that Cohen inflicts cruelty on people who usually deserve it is a bit like saying most lynching victims were guilty. True enough, just irrelevant to the larger point.

    And while Cohen is doing it mostly for monetary gain, Project Veritas shows how this becomes weaponized.

    I’m firmly in favor of a society wide etiquette, a shared set of norms about behavior which place certain things off limits.
    Right now we seem to have the worst of both worlds, one where we encourage any sort of individual behavior under the banner of free expression, while also encouraging vigilante shaming when the expression transgresses some invisible and ever-shifting lines.Report

  5. I’d like to say you’ve convinced me, Kristin, but since I already agreed with you, all I can say is I’m part of the choir you’re preaching to.

    By the way, have you seen this critique of Borat in the New Yorker? (I suppose it’s one of those paywall things if you read the New Yorker a lot, but if you read it only occasionally, you can probably read it without a paywall): <>. (Disclosure: I have never seen the movie.)Report

  6. Oscar Gordon says:

    Personally, I don’t find his comedy funny, never have.

    I’m not a fan of his schtick with normal people.

    If he can get members of the elite to show their ass… Meh. These people are supposed to be elite because they are smart, or something. If they fall for his schtick, they deserve it.Report

  7. fillyjonk says:

    I don’t find him funny; I don’t find the “candid camera” type thing funny. I think it’s perhaps partly because I was often the butt of jokes as a schoolkid and I could see something similar happening to me.

    It may be I see this sort of humor as a form of bullying, of “look at me I’m better than this rube” thing

    It also feels like, to use a phrase some people hate, “punching down,” when a celebrity trots out ordinary citizens who are maybe slightly baffled but are trying to be neighborly to them, and holds them up as asses to be laughed at.

    We live in a cruel society. Probably it always has been thus, and moreso for some groups than those to which I belong, but….I don’t like seeing cruelty on the regular all through everything from news to entertainmentReport