There isn’t much I can add to various details you can read in the web reviews for Brüno, having seen it over the weekend and pretty much laughed my ass off.
Everyone goes on about how shocking and tasteless it is. All true. I have to say Cohen is absolutely fearless. While the audience is usually unsure who is in on the gags, who has been paid, or who has signed waivers… there’s no doubt that much of what you see is ‘real’ in the sense that the other people in the film are just as shocked as you are (for example, the hunters) or didn’t quite understand what they signed on for (like Paula Abdul). Given this real-life guerilla filmmaking aspect, it really seems Cohen’s personal safety is on the line quite a few times. I’ve only done a little research on the production…I wanted to watch it not knowing too much…but Cohen will go to any length to get what he wants, either a laugh or to make people uncomfortable… which can be funny in itself, though not always.
The point of this post isn’t so much to address the content, as it is the reactions to it.
To get a point of comparison to Borat out of the way, Austria for the most part seems to be handling this much better than Kazhakstan handled the earlier film. Maybe that is because Austrians have gotten a bad rap in recent years for fascist-leaning politicians (and the obvious associations with that most notorious Austrian with the toothbrush mustache), but they are bound to be more urbane or in touch with Western European and American social sensibilities than a former Soviet republic. To them, Brüno seems to be no big deal, and simply a cartoon person who happens to come from Austria…almost like any Schwarzenegger film character. Apparently Austrian filmgoers have even found the movie funny. I’m sure, at the very least; Cohen’s german-esque language is probably worth laughs in itself.
The usual parent groups and uptight reviewers are all offended or don’t think its funny. That’s okay. The movie isn’t aimed at them. I’m not going to say the intended audience is narrow, but it won’t be a lot of people’s cuppa. Certainly this is one of those movies, along with say, Event Horizon, Bad Lieutenant, and Caligula, belongs in the lockbox you never let your kids get into. I’m not going to recommend MY parents go see it, that’s for sure.
But I find it interesting, though not at all surprising, that two groups on opposite sides of the fence have spoken up to blast the movie--far right Christian groups and gay advocacy organizations like GLAAD. I get the Christian groups. It has always been their thinking that gay characters of any sort are bad, bad, bad. There’s no shifting that. And never mind that all their protesting helps draw attention to the movie, prompting fence-sitters to go to the film to see what all the fuss is about. This movie isn’t going to lure viewers into the gay lifestyle. Drinking a lot of white wine does that.
Just as predictable, but more complex is the reaction by gay groups. Like many depictions of stereotypes, Brüno seems to get a positive reaction from individuals in the stereotyped group and a negative reaction from the so-called advocates. Like black folks who might get huge laughs from a Chris Rock routine, but where the NAACP thinks he’s undercutting the cause for blacks in general. Seems like the organizations try to staff themselves with people lacking in a sense of humor. It is all well and good to be protective of your culture, but the inability to laugh at that culture can be truly off-putting to me personally. In this case, while Brüno himself might contain elements that really occur in gay individuals, the character taken as a whole is so over-the-top that the only people who could possibly believe he stands for gay men in general are the very ignorant, inbred homophobes he points out during key moments of the film. And the GLT organizations are never going to convert those people to the cause anyway. I’ve been reading quotes about how Brüno is going to reinforce straight society’s discomfort around homosexuals. I’m sorry, but I know some pretty poufy gay men…and Brüno is at another rarified, almost non-human level altogether. No educated person is going to go to this movie and find his or her opinion changed or cemented to be anti-gay.
Brüno dresses and acts like he’s on the lead float at a Gay Pride parade all the time. Not just on the ‘I’m out and I’m proud’ festival moments, but always, continually…which brings up another interesting point; if GLAAD and the other GLT associations want to reinforce how normal gay relationships are, they could probably do a lot better than sponsor a typical big-city gay event where tons of gold lame, lascivious behavior, and just plain flaming oddness is on public display. It may be one of the few glimpses of gay society that some straights see, and this is what they get. Straight folks don’t often celebrate their sexual preferences cavorting on top of floats wearing mesh shirts and strap-ons, not on platforms and vehicles moving down the middle of Main Street anyway. I think the organizations are working somewhat at cross-purposes to the individuals, almost like they don’t want to admit who their constituency is. Said constituents are not Brüno. Brüno is a cartoon character, but almost all aspects of Brüno have a place in gay culture and Brüno is a send-up of that by concentrating it all in one really flamboyant man-boy. Gay organizations were bitching about Jack on Will & Grace too. Jack is not at all a stretch with his behavior; whatever GLAAD would want the public to believe. Will might be closer to their ideal, but just like straight folks-based shows, you have to have colorful characters to make it funny, or make it good television. Will and Grace without Jack or Karen would not have made it past season one. If there were straight organizations (apart from the usual ‘TV is filth’ from the Christian right) that complained about Karen’s degeneracy, I sure didn’t hear or read about it.
I realize I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who has all the advantages. I’m a white male, straight and educated. I’m not wallowing in the ignorance of my upbringing or environment when it comes to most topics. I am tapped into the social and political discourse. I’m not poor. I’m not in the closet. I’m not persecuted, despite being somewhat eccentric by my community’s lights, with my long hair and mode of dress. So it might be unfair to aloofly challenge the view of people who have had to struggle most of their lives with unjust treatment and unkind stereotypes. But this is my space, so I’m challenging. I’m sympathetic to the view of any segment wanting to better the lot of its members. I am attached to a few subcultures that do get stereotyped. But I feel these causes would be served better by misunderstandings being handled with grace where possible rather than stridency. I don’t believe Brüno is a setback to ‘the cause’, any more than some goofy Wayans brothers characters are going to undo the Civil Rights Movement.
Every week Dethklok pokes fun at my most closely associated subculture…in the most unsubtle ways possible. Most metalheads I know can’t get enough of it, with most of the celebrities in the subculture lining up to get on the show! Granted, many subcultures like metalheads are proud of their outsider status and aren’t looking for mainstream acceptance. My point is really the ability to laugh at ourselves. Which some groups seem to have cultivated, and some haven’t. Seems like almost ALL advocacy groups lack any sort of humor or flexibility in this regard. Sascha Baron Cohen is British jew. A highly educated one, but I think he has some familiarity with being lumped in with a stereotyped or maligned minority. He’s found a way to laugh at that, and not with subtle little digs…if you’ve ever seen Borat.