Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Importance of Being Bruno

In "Da Ali G Show," Sacha Baron Cohen deftly portrays three completely different characters: 1) Ali G, a white "gangster" from the suburb of Staines that thinks he's black, 2) Borat Sagdiyev, a journalist from Kazakhstan, and 3) Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion caricature. His chameleon-like transformation into each of these personas is a marvel to watch in every episode of the show.

Yet whenever you hear these three characters mentioned, Bruno is always the one that people take a crap on (metaphorically). Whether I'm talking with people at work or reading a review online, everyone is always careful to mention how awesome Borat and Ali G are while saying that Bruno is the character that is the least interesting and/or most unbearable.

Borat and Ali G are brilliant because they demonstrate how vastly different people, from antique store owners to United States Congressmen, struggle to communicate with someone that's so far removed from our culture (and apparently, our level of intelligence). Bruno is ostensibly supposed to reveal to us how shallow the fashion industry is:

Yet while these clips are mildly amusing, it is the way Sacha Baron Cohen takes on gay stereotypes that makes Bruno the most socially trenchant character. Essentially, Bruno's schtick consists of interviewing conservative figures and playing up his "gay" attributes to make both interviewer and interviewee incredibly uncomfortable. Here are the best examples:

Bruno at a gun show:

Bruno interviews Pastor Quinn:

Bruno at a football game in Alabama:

In an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, Cohen commented on this last scene, saying that he felt his life was in danger with thousands of fans booing him and many of them ready to go out and literally give him a brutal beating. In this way, Cohen said, the scene revealed how anti-homosexual tendencies are actually one of the last remaining widely-accepted forms of bigotry in our society. By allowing us to see this, Cohen's Bruno character rips many of us out of our progressive, liberal cocoon and plants us, front and center, in a strange and foreign place where tolerance and acceptance have yet to take root. It forces us to stare at the visceral fear and (sometimes) hate that still pervades much of the country surrounding homosexuality. And perhaps, just a little, it has the potential to challenge us to revisit our own deeply-held stereotypes.

Despite what some people say, I still think it's a message that needs to be heard, and one that's not heard often enough.

But of course if you're not buying any of this at all, Bruno's still just really good at making people look like morons:

[Update: More audacious Bruno clips -

"Do you wish her a benign tumor or a malignant tumor?":

Bruno on Spring Break in Daytona Beach:

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