Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Revisiting Bruno

The American public has been teased by the Sacha Baron Cohen ambush machine for nigh on a year now. This month's premiere of the "fruits", ahem, of his labor, the new Bruno movie, fortuitously coincides with a high-water mark in advancements of gay rights in the states. To date, post-Prop 8, we have seen a number of states pushing for promulgation of gay marriage, five of them falling in quick succession like dominoes, as well as endorsement of the same issue by GOP leaders (however cynical their reasons). Yes, it seems that the Obama administration's method of tiptoeing around the issue has been inundated by the inevitable tide of social change, i.e. what is inexorably and morally correct (not that I believe in the inherent value of marriage, but it would be nice to know the option is there, and you're not being reminded every day of your life by the government and gloating "smug marrieds" that you are somehow less-than).

So now we're set to make the case that gays are really just the boys next door, trying to make ends meet, sustain a mortgage, a hedge fund, a happy home and 2.5 kids. But whither those fusty old stereotypes of yore: the interior decorator, the flamboyant queen, the hairdresser, the entertainer of society ladies, the Siegfrieds, the Roys, the Liberaces of the world? Cue Bruno. Cohen's character, developed over the last few years in a cod-Austrian cable tv show, aims at digging up these old archetypes in the service of his own particular brand of subversion, patented a few years ago in a documentary/talk show format with Ali G and Borat. With his own satirical scalpel, Cohen vivisects the prides and prejudices of the red-blooded American male, exposing US ideals of masculinity for the half-hearted sham charade that they are. The root of American society is inf(l)ected with the overzealous homophobia of said males, a real reflection of insecurity and fear. Not terribly manly, this homosexual panic is probably a conflation of fear of anal penetration and a concomitant fear that they might enjoy it. The corollary of this, with which I am sure Bruno would agree, would be Jean Genet's dictum that a man who fucks another man is double a man. Paradoxically, to give up that much power to another male would be anathema to any self-respecting American lad.

I haven't seen the film yet, but a friend sent me a link to an interesting article in the Irish Times:


The author makes the valid point that Bruno is trading in retrograde stereotypes at a pivotal time. A time in which we are making measurable progress in the courts, whereas homophobia is still thriving in the streets. Bruno, she says, presents a cartoonish portrayal of gay men as promiscuous, shallow buffoons in a way which has the effect of robbing the homosexual of dignity and any social progress s/he may have effected. (Ha! She should take a gander at Perez Hilton, Bruno's much more pernicious real-life counterpart. Scads more embarrassing.)

In reality I don't see this as problematic, mainly because anyone who is gay can tell you that the stereotype of the hedonistic homosexual does still exist, and probably always will. In my mind I see Bruno as something of a cut-up artist, employing an ancient trope in a new and subversive way, which turns the joke around and places it on the perpetrator of hate. OK, he may be playing anal sex jokes for laughs, allowing the more liberal members of the audience to give vent to their discomfort as well, but if you ask me his touch is light enough to show that sex is absurd and ridiculous (and inherently undignified), no matter what your orientation is. After all, queers certainly don't have a monopoly on perversion, or on anal sex/sodomy for that matter. Furthermore, in his crass shallowness and celebrity worship, Bruno seems to hold up a mirror to the culture.

I can certainly empathize with the author insofar as being aware of how one is perceived by the world. Self-consciousness, whether foisted on the queer by societal causes or not, is necessarily a birthright of all homosexuals, and also germane to the artificiality needed to create art, and to precipitate self-invention. One hand is always aware of what the other is doing. But sometimes a finger becomes gangrened, and needs to be cut off. Having always been somewhat naturally witty, there was a time in the past when I have been considered the life of the party. The danger is that there is a natural tendency for the homosexual, intelligent or not, to play up to this role, that of the court jester. Sadly, once I realized I was expected to take on the role of entertainer in every social situation, it was clear that the friendship was past its sell-by date. I mean, look what happened to poor Oscar Wilde: rewarded with two years' hard labor for his efforts. Perhaps it's harsh, but people had formed an intractable and untrue image of me, and I had had a hand in the friendship's demise, having enjoyed the attention all too much. You see, the truth is, just as Sacha Baron Cohen is a Cambridge-educated scholar, underneath the funny exterior, lay a very very serious lesbian feminist.

1 comment:

Mirabelle Jones said...

I think this is an excellent point "but it would be nice to know the option is there, and you're not being reminded every day of your life by the government and gloating "smug marrieds" that you are somehow less-than)."

I mean, there are plenty of hetero couples practicing regular acts of debauchery in the bedroom and THEY still get to marry. What gives?