Why Bruno's So Hit or Miss

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 13 2009 1:19 PM

Why Bruno's So Hit or Miss

Jess, I think you picked up on the two most damning scenes in all of Bruno . Unlike you, I laughed for much of the film, but when I left the theater it was both the Ron Paul and the Alabaman hunter gags that stuck with me, because they are both so mean-spirited and fall so flat, and in doing so, expose an emptiness and vacuity at the core of Sacha Baron Cohen’s project.

SBC recently appeared on David Letterman -shockingly, as himself. He told a very charming story about how one goes about booking an interview with a terrorist (a scene that appears in the film), and said that the idea had occurred to him because he was wondering, "What could people see that they’d never seen before on film?" This is his guiding principle, not some larger aim to "expose" America’s core hypocrisy. He’s a shock jock not a sociologist. He’s not even a comedian with a mission. (As Dana said in her review , "it's become common wisdom that [SBC]’s elaborate hoaxes are part of some larger mission to expose American racism and homophobia. But Baron Cohen's comic truth seems simpler: He will do anything for a laugh, and we will pay $10.75 to watch him do it.")

This doesn’t mean SBC doesn’t sometimes expose subjects worthy of all our scorn (like the parents of child actors willing to let their 10-year-old have liposuction), or get at interesting tensions (a largely African American talk show audience is very hostile to a gay Bruno long before he exposes himself as a racially insensitive child neglector), but it does mean the sketches are wildly uneven, and far more desperate to show you something new than they are necessarily to be thoughtful or meaningful. This does make me wonder why we feel the need to ascribe such a seriousness of purpose to SBC’s antics. If it’s not serious, is it just homophobic, as you suggest Jess? Or are we just so used to stupidity, that when someone does something smart, we lose our perspective? A truly talented shock jock is a rare, hilarious thing-why can't that be enough?

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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