I wasn’t planning on doing another comic about Bruno, but it was very interesting to read the comments from Wednesday’s comic. So I decided to ride this wave a little longer. Victor was the perfect character to provide an outsider’s perspective and deflate the situation some.
Generally, people seem conflicted about the characters Sacha Baron Cohen creates. I think everyone can see what he’s trying to accomplish in terms of social satire, but there is something about the persistence of his performances that makes people a little uneasy. Are people having a homophobic reaction to Bruno or are they just reaching a boiling point when confronted with a highly abrasive personality? Cohen doesn’t make that distinction, but he leads people to believe it’s homophobia at work.
In a pro-Bruno piece by Slate’s David Lim, Lim addresses the criticism that Cohen has been “indulging in gay minstrelsy” and suggests that the character is “a button-pushing social experiment in locating the tipping point of tolerance.”
“For his merciless ambushes to work,” Lim continues. “Bruno needs to be this flamboyant — and this moronic.
“The most discomfiting — and incongruous — aspect of Bruno’s pinkface masquerade is the character’s over-the-top sexual voracity… Bruno is a far cry from the prim and prissy old-school sissies, who were all innuendo and no libido. We have long been conditioned to regard effeminacy as a neutered, negative stereotype, but there are moments when Baron Cohen’s extravagant prancing… seems not grotesque but defiant, forcing his foils… to recognize the screaming presence of Otherness.”
Personally, I don’t know if I buy into this kind of analysis. Because the depiction of a sexually voracious homosexual is EXACTLY what some people fear most. In my opinion, it sounds like Cohen is trading in the winking, coy, guffawing Paul Lynde effeminate stereotype for another.
Granted, I could be accused of playing into the sexually voracious homosexual with the way I’ve written Victor. At times I’ve depicted him as a sadomasochist. But at the same time, this is in keeping with the authoritarian nature he projects – established early in the character before it was revealed he was gay. By equal measure, I have depicted Victor as lovelorn and pining from a distance.
I like to think that I am writing more than one facet of Victor’s personality with the limited amount of time that I use him. I don’t think Victor is a walking cliche like Bruno is and I think there is an interesting dichotomy between his strength, his heritage and his sexual orientation – all of which were effectively wrapped up in this one comic.
Cohen is almost a method actor in the sense that he often doesn’t drop character even while promoting the movie. I don’t think I saw him in an interview as himself once while promoting Borat. A few weeks ago he showed up as Bruno on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. But recently (and conspicuously) showed up as himself on Late Night with David Letterman.
What I’m getting at is maybe there is a little too much slight of hand or misdirection in Cohen’s satire and I kind of prefer to be in on the joke a little bit more.
Fundamentally, I think it goes back to the humor of embarrassment, which I have never been a big fan of. Whether Cohen is playing a gay Austrian fashion reporter or a socially clueless representative of Kazakhstan, I have difficulty settling in and enjoying the end result because I can’t laugh at people put in those situations. I can only wince.