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Deconstructing ‘Brüno’

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One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

By Nany Ford

NancyFord at deskI have been an appreciative yet arms-length fan of Sacha Baron Cohen since his brief appearance as the snaggle-toothed, yellow aviator-bespectacled limousine driver in Madonna’s 2000 video Music. In that video, Cohen’s DJ-inspired character, Ali G, sings about “riding the punani” out of one side of his mouth. Out of the other side, he offers Madonna “respect.”

It’s a perfect balance for those who, like myself, appreciate a little yin to chase our yang.

Despite Europe’s long-time familiarity with Cohen’s considerable talent for making audiences squirm with discomfort, America fully discovered him compliments of 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and its jaw-dropping $128.5 million box office take.

The 38-year-old Brit reaches new heights of hilarity for some while instilling horror in others with Brüno, the story of gay fashionista and self-proclaimed “voice of Austrian youth TV.”

By now you’ve seen the scenes depicting Bruno unpacking his latest fashion accessory, his newly adopted black baby he names O.J., and his gayer-than-Gomer antics with a no-nonsense military drill instructor.

You may not have seen the scenes replete with bouncing penises, and a sex machine. And we’re not talking about the late, great James Brown.

Respected journalist and View-er Barbara Walters hates it. Just a boom-mic away, Joy Behar, perhaps desensitized by a decades-long career as a stand-up comedian, loves it.

Yet Joy’s sister comedian and View panelist Whoopi Goldberg certainly no stranger to the value of shock, says of Brüno, “A 12-foot penis on the screen is not my idea of a good time.”

While I have to concur with Whoopi’s statement in practice, I wonder too if Cohen’s Brüno is ironically querying in theory that when the topic of homosexuality comes up, all most people see is dick.

“Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to use satire to highlight and challenge homophobia,” GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios said of Brüno in a July 10 statement to the press. “But their film also reinforces troubling attitudes about gay people in ways that run counter to the intentions of the filmmakers.

“The movie repeatedly builds entire scenes around stock stereotypes and situations,” Barrios continues, “that make gay people and families the butt of crude jokes.”

He said butt. Tee hee.

Barrios further claims that Brüno’s broad use of satire misses the mark. “Instead of challenging stereotypes, it reinforces them for many of those who voted to take away the freedom to marry from loving, committed gay and lesbian couples in California,” he says.

But there are others of us who believe that equating Brüno with mainstream gay America is like saying heterosexuals aren’t fit to be parents based on Rodney Dangerfield and Juliette Lewis’ father/daughter dynamic in Natural Born Killers.

Brüno, some of which was actually shot in Arkansas, includes a scene where the title character shows a talk-show audience photos of sexual activity occurring in the presence of an infant child,” Barrios continues, referring to Brüno’s hot-tub scene. “Can this help the gay families across the country who continue to be reduced to political punching bags at the ballot box?”

Conversely, there’s the possibility that gay-panic folks like legendarily homophobic Arkansas State Rep. Sally Kern might one day find themselves sitting in a hot tub with a gay guy who does not engage in sexual activity occurring in the presence of an infant child. By comparison, ol’ Sal and her co-homophobes might realize that homosexuals are not all bad. Pass the mimosas!

Mega-award winning producer Norman Lear suffered unrelenting criticism when he pushed the small-screen envelope in 1970 with the character of Archie Bunker in the now-canonized All in the Family. Archie ranted against anyone daring to taint his sphere (but whose sphere doesn’t need a good tainting now and again?) whose attitudes about politics, religion, and/or skin color did not match his own. Lear has claimed repeatedly that the Bunkers were based on real-life attitudes, religion, and/or skin color that surrounded him growing up.

“You know, my dad called me the laziest white kid he ever met,” Lear said. “When I screamed back at him that he was putting down a race of people to call me lazy, his answer was that’s not what he was doing, and that I was also the dumbest white kid he ever met.”

Get it?

“That’s the heart of it,” Lear sagely explains. “My shows were not that controversial with the American people. They were controversial with the people who think for the American people.”

Apparently, a number of people already let someone else think for them after Brüno’s opening weekend. In its second weekend, ticket sales fell off by more than 70 percent. That’s some bad word of mouth.

See Brüno. Or don’t. Or, rather than contribute to the $50+ million-deep pile of money that the film has raked in since its July 10 release, watch it when it comes out on the cable you’re already paying too much for. Then decide for yourself.

Meanwhile, try to refrain from having sex in a hot tub when infants are present.

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