Bruno and the Situation of “Humor” in Films
Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 18, 2009
Larry Muhammad of the Courier Journal has an interesting piece on the response tactics of groups that have been the target of jokes in recent films, including in Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno.” We excerpt it below.
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Has comedian Sacha Baron Cohen gone too far with his new movie, “Bruno”?
Scan the cable news shows and the talk-radio dial and — between all the Michael Jackson talk — you’ll hear howls of outrage from some gay groups, angry that Cohen’s gay Austrian fashionista character reinforces stereotypes about homosexuals.
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Last summer, demonstrators picketed outside showings of the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder,” angry that a character named Simple Jack was repeatedly referred to as a “retard.”
Of course, the dust has barely settled from David Letterman tussling with — and apologizing to — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin over a joke he made about her daughter and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. And that dust-up closely followed the tempest over a controversial joke about Rush Limbaugh told by Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.
What’s happening here? Movie makers, after all, keep pushing the envelope when it comes to sex and violence, since it is harder and harder to shock and surprise. But that thick skin turns thin — on both sides of the political aisle — when it comes to humor. Are we no longer able to laugh at ourselves? Or, has protesting a movie or a joke simply become an easy way to get one’s own political agenda into the media?
In protesting “Bruno,” Rashad Robinson of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told the Boston Globe: “My fear is that in parts of the country where gay men and lesbians are still unable to adopt children or can lose their jobs for being gay, ‘Bruno’ is going to make things worse for people.”
But here in Kentucky, Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, noted, “It’s not something that anyone has brought up to us, or something that we have looked into.”
Robinson, however, has gotten his concerns into the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, E! and newspapers around the world.
“I don’t think that any group that’s been made fun of has enjoyed the experience,” said Michael Cunningham, a University of Louisville social psychologist. “The difference is that now that some groups have a platform, they sometimes look for ways to be offended so they can get additional attention. The classic example would be Sarah Palin, because it wasn’t Letterman’s intention to defame her daughter.”
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