Thursday, 20 August 2009

Clown Autopsy #435 -- This One Just Won't Shut Up!

Or: This essay is so 1998!

Hey, I've just figured something out!

Bear with me while I do the maths:

Sacha Baron Cohen


(EQUALS)

Cady from mean Girls (aka Li-Lo at her best)


No but seriously, let's check my working here.

When he's trying to pretend he's an actual comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the least funny human beings on the planet. I don't want to start a clown autopsy here, but seriously -- if you can watch him ham it up in either Talladega Nights or Sweeney Todd without throwing up in your popcorn then you've got a stronger stomach than me!

The bits of Brüno that are obviously staged generate a similar response: BRUNO'S SO GAY HE FUCKS MEN! HE'S SO AUSTRIAN HE LIKES HITLER! AND BY THE WAY, DID YOU KNOW THAT THE FASHION WORLD IS, LIKE, TOTALLY SILLY AND SUPERFICIAL?!

Fuck me! It's not that I'm particularly offended by Cohen's shtick, it's just that I have no idea how a supposedly hot shit comedian gets away with peddling this fifth rate 'Allo 'Allo nonsense in 2009. The only explanation I can see is that we're all stuck in a high school neverland where gay people and foreigners are so implicitly funny that merely exemplifying cliched assumptions about "those people" will earn you a round of applause.

This high school humour is Part (1) of the Mean Girls connection, though I should point out that Mean Girls is significantly funnier than any of SBC's attempts at conventional humour -- it's the teen comedy that looks like candyfloss and tastes like barbed wire, you know?

Also: "Danny DeVito I love your work!"

Part (2) of the Mean Girls connection comes through in the parts of Brüno that are actually funny (or at least half-funny), i.e. the bits where Sacha Baron Cohen stays in character and annoys or tricks people into amusing situations. Now sometimes this ends up being so "what the fuck?" that you can't help but laugh, like when SBC/Brüno tries to come on to Republican Congressman Ron Paul, but as Tucker Stone said in his review of the movie:
...it seems like a waste of Sacha Baron Cohen's time considering that any of the reactions he got out of his dopey victims could have been just as easily achieved by running up to them and screaming "fuck you stupid asshole fuck you fuck you" while somebody else pointed a camera out them.
Which is where my dopey Mean Girls comparison comes in. By infiltrating a series of traditionally masculine settings and camping it up within them, Sacha Baron Cohen ends up looking like a shrill asshole amongst shrill assholes. His broad humour draws its power from the very attitudes it seeks to mock and expose, and watching him can't help but make me think of Cady in the middle section of Mean Girls. For those of you who aren't familiar with the movie, it's all about a previously home schooled girl who is dropped into an American high school full of all the usual cliches. Oblivious to teen relationship dynamics, Cady finds herself both befriending the "freaks" and becoming a pet project for the popular "plastics". After being burned by the head plastic, Cady agrees to embed herself in their group in order to destroy it. Of course, Brüno style, she ends up embodying most of the things she's out to undermine, but... actually, I've just spotted a couple of places where my points don't quite add up.

Firstly there's the fact that Cady is subject to the moral mechanics of Hollywood film making, in this case embodied by a big yellow school bus:


The vague gestures towards story that punctuate Brüno are so perfunctory as to be completely ignorable. Mean Girls, while snarky enough to literalise its machinations for all to see, still obeys the Hollywood laws that state that lessons must be learned and characters must grow.

Secondly, there's the fact that -- in Brüno, anyway -- Sacha Baron Cohen is a far less efficient operator than Cady. Sure, he convinces people that he is Bruno rather than Sacha, but what does he do once he's pulled this off? He crouches outside a hunter's tend with some condoms and pretends that he's covertly trying to sleep with the guy.

One of my favourite writers, Mike Barthel, wrote an excellent essay on Borat from which the following paragraph is taken:
This is why it's such a perfect political movie. Instead of creating fictional scenarios in which he can insert himself and create a comic meaning--which would of course be too easy, and make the meaning seem unreal itself--Borat is thrust into these real situations where he has to either work with their rules or ignore them completely. The process of finding out those rules is, of course, what produces the comedy. Borat--and please note here that I am explicitly talking about Borat the character, not any motivations that Cohen the creator might have had--genuinely thinks he is being as respectful as he should be with the feminists, and when he's at the rodeo, his escalating rhetoric about Bush and Iraq isn't a satirical attempt to provoke, but actually a rather careful probing of exactly what it is and isn't polite to say in praise of the President, whose power and strength Borat really respects. All in all, it's not so much the wrong way to go about it, it's just that Borat's image of America is so off-kilter that he fails to become part of it. Still, he's getting inside the joke and rooting around, trying to find a place where he fits, and it's that willingness to engage with his subjects rather than yell at them from outside that gives the film its power.
Now I'm no Sacha Baron Cohen fan, as is surely obvious by now, but could anyone honestly make any of these claims for Brüno? Seems to me that all Cohen does in this movie is stand outside and yell.

So, with these minor mathematical faults corrected, I once more present you with my findings:

Sacha Baron Cohen


(EQUALS)

Cady from mean Girls, only slightly less efficient and without the ability to learn


And now we say the forbidden sentence: Ah, isn't maths fun? Well, maybe not, but blathering on about Mean Girls in public is a laugh, for me anyway.

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