The Situationist

Bruno and the Situation of “Humor” in Films

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 18, 2009

BrunoLarry 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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To read the rest, click here.   For related Situationist posts, see Being Smart About “Dumb Blonde” Jokes and Situation Comedy.

3 Responses to “Bruno and the Situation of “Humor” in Films”

  1. Humour isn’t funny when it bites at people who are already the target of prejudice. It is funny when it reveals truths that make us uncomfortable about defences or those in power. That’s my take on it: humour is funny when it is revealing, when it is healing, or when it strives for justice.

  2. Psyshrink said

    Bruno is hilarious! It is a satire and it points out the blatant, absurd stereotyping of ‘alternative’ lifestyles. It also highlights the prejudice same-sex couples face in their day to day lives.

  3. Miek said

    I agree with Lilian.

    I’m blond. I laugh with jokes of blonds. I don’t have any problem with that. Because I know that people don’t agree with the statement (if they are honestly): blonds are stupid.

    I’m a lesbian too. I know that a lot (!!!) of people think that gay people are inferior. I had and have to deal with that. So I find it difficult to laugh with jokes about gay people. Because I know most of the gay people are having a really bad time especially when they ‘discover’ their gayness. Their friends or family can be really cruel when they discover… I can’t laugh with the jokes because I also know (!!) that a lot of people are convinced that gay people are immoral or inferior… And they like it when they can show, once again, their superiority, by pulling down a homosexual. So why would I like it, when they do that, or if I’m not sure they don’t mean it?
    If the joke is told by a gay or a lesbian, that’s different for me. Because I know then for sure that the person really believes it’s a joke. And, yes, then I can laugh with it!

    If you’re a muslim, you probably won’t laugh with jokes of muslims, when they are told by Western people. Why? Because too many Western people think they’re superior in front of Muslims. When 2 Muslim guys tell such jokes to each other, I think that’s different.

    And like I already said, I have no problem with jokes of Blonds, or jokes about my nationality or…. Because these jokes are really jokes, they never meant to hurt. Because, in many facts, they are ‘against’ their own people. They’re innocent.
    Joking about a minority that still has to deal with a lot of prejudices and discrimination, is confronting them with the pain and the would- be superiority of the other. I think some have to be a minority to really understand it.

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