Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bruno in U.S.A.

"Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand." --Mark Twain

If this quote is true then Sacha Baron Cohen is an envoy sent from Europe to destroy America. The conservative backlash to the comedian/chameleon has been considerable, and his "invasion" is now dogged by a raft of lawsuits.

Cohen's hijinks began as English-on-English spoofs, then developed into a series of lampoons on an ignorant and intolerant stateside culture. The humor in his put-ons comes both from how far he goes and from how far his interview subjects allow him to go. Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-primitive Kazakh TV journalist, can sing a disgusting song called "Throw the Jew Down the Well" at a rodeo in Arizona, but the joke is not on Jews, it's on the crowd of American rednecks that applaud the song.

Of course in Borat the developing world didn't come off well either. The lead character defacates on the sidewalk and tries to throw Pamela Anderson in a "traditional wedding sack." In Cohen's work, everyone and everything is pulverized in a hailstorm of ridiculousness.

Replacing Borat, from a Central Asian backwater, is Bruno, a gay Austrian hairdresser with no decorum at all. The laughs in these sketches derive from Bruno's unapologetic sexuality, contrasted against a background of American puritanism. Bruno is an explicitly European character. His stealthy cosmopolitanism will push America's buttons in the upcoming movie.

Apparently in one scene, Bruno will try to seduce Congressman Ron Paul on camera. A quick survey of the sexual peccadilloes of Paul's colleagues in the legislature would suggest that a sex tape with a famous Republican is not such a farfetched idea on Bruno's part.

Sometime decades hence, Cohen will be recognized for pointing out the departures America has made from mainstream Western culture.