Pop Culture

Brüno ist da bomb! Wirklich! Ja, Ich denk so… by Jack Halberstam

Far from just congratulating urbane audiences for being in the know while laughing at white trash wrestling fans, I think Cohen reveals to the viewer how easily embarrassed mainstream gay audiences can be and how quickly people raise the alarm on homophobia for obviously satirical or comic films. People are much slower to suggest that films in which gays are shown to be insufferably good or neat or tasteful are also homophobic in that they too lack range when it comes to representing queer character.

Vassup, Brüno bashers? Apparently ve’re are alles too cool und hip to bash D-list celebrities und rednecks anymore. Ich bin honestly surprised that people have found Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest piece of performance cinema to be so disappointing. It is true, as Anthony Lane noted in The New Yorker, that some of ze best zingers appear on za twitter site (“Bruno hits cinemas midnight Thursday! At last a positive gay role model after ze offensive Milk!” or “Bruno ist like Jesus or Ghandi – ve’re basically messiahs mit millions of fans – und all 3 of us look AMAZING in just our underpants.” And not to mention: “It’s St. Adolf’s Day in Austria! Everyone vill be raising a glass to ze Austrian Dream; ‘get a job, find a dungeon, raise ein family in it.’”) aber there is still so viele good stoff in the movie from the multiple dildo scenes to the adopted African baby named OJ und ze talking penis! Actually, there are too many grosse penises in der filme fur mich aber ich bin nicht so hot on real ones. Ich liebe auch der comisch references to Hitler and Austrian military history and the moment where Brüno confused the Palestinian political party Hamas with hummus.

Dropping Brüno speak for a moment, und das ist ganz hard fur mich, Tavia stated on this blog site that Brüno was more or less what he expected! Wow, you really expected to see Paula Abdul sitting on “Mexican” furniture and mumbling about how good it feels to do good deeds? You really went in thinking, I bet there will be a self-defense scene with a guy wearing a strap-on and carrying two other dildos? Ich muss lack imagination because all I expected was some good-humored homophobia and, if I was lucky, a few Hitler jokes. Admittedly, the film finds easy targets at sleazy swinger parties and “homosexual conversion” programs, and of course the white guys in confederate hats who like to hunt and ponder the question of whether they prefer “vakinas to mammaries” are always easy to take pot shots at, but then that is the Sasha Baron Cohen machine. But I take Tavia’s point about the contrived ways in which the film tries to draw out the homophobia it already presumes exists in “white trash fly over states.”

Far from just congratulating urbane audiences for being in the know while laughing at white trash wrestling fans, I think Cohen reveals to the viewer how easily embarrassed mainstream gay audiences can be and how quickly people raise the alarm on homophobia for obviously satirical or comic films. People are much slower to suggest that films in which gays are shown to be insufferably good or neat or tasteful are also homophobic in that they too lack range when it comes to representing queer character. How many more movies do we want with spectacularly good looking gay guys who play supporting roles to spectacularly stupid straight ladies (e.g. He’s Just Not That Into You). Is it not far more disappointing to see a “his and his” matching pair twittering about the joys of long term marriage than to watch Bruno play the receptive partner as his true love powers a dildo from a stationary bike? I would rather giggle to Brüno’s futile attempts to go straight than ever watch another Todd Haynes film about a seemingly straight man’s struggle to leave his wife and go gay. So, while I embrace Tavia’s critique of the obvious set ups in Brüno designed to inspire homophobia, other gay protests of the film dive quickly into the banal territory of positive versus negative images.

I often think a negative image is worth a thousand positive words and in fact there are moments in Brüno that were quite moving when it comes to militant pride: in the famous hotel scene where Brüno and poor Lutz have been found handcuffed to each other and locked into a bondage clothing embrace, Brüno’s simple refusal to be shamed or embarrassed by his predicament in front of the hotel staff, and his calm insistence that he will not pay for the movie he is accidentally about to buy because the remote control is lodged up his arschen holen (and who can blame him since it is Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), is worth a million noble speeches in Milk about dignity and humanity. While Milk pandered to the mainstream by selling short the really militant responses to Milk’s assassination, and by depicting Milk as a saint in relation to his weirdly depicted Latino boyfriend, Brüno pulls no punches in depicting gay abjection, superficiality and apolitical camp sensibilities.

Und this is not to say that I see Brüno as somehow representative of “real” gays. Natürlich, Brüno is no more authentically gay than Will on Will and Grace or anyone in execrable “sexy” and meaningful gay films like Shortbus; he is as much a fantasy of gay masculinity or even gay swishy male femininity, as all the recent romantic comedies like Bride Wars and He’s Just Not That Into You and The Proposal are fantasies of heterosexual romance. Don’t gays deserve their own fantasy worlds complete with outrageous caricatures, shrecklich stereotypes und wild bouts of stupidity?

Ja, it is true, ich liebe Brüno. Ich liebe nicht das ending of the film with a sleazy old Sting and a sanctimonious Bono and a fat Elton John (“fat” is important here because he is sitting uncomically upon the “Mexican furniture”) singing a world peace song with the occasional chorus from an uninspired Snoop Dog. If they had asked mich fur eine ending, I would have suggested he play a woodwind instrument lodged firmly up his Auschwitz and reveal just a hint of pedophilia. I would have done more with the connections between Schwarzenegger and Hitler, I would have made copious fun of the singing fools at the end; oh, and I would have found a way to work in some lesbian jokes. But 80 minutes later, after a movie with more strap on dildo scenes than have appeared in the whole history of lesbian cinema, I don’t want to be greedy. Pushing the envelope, or in Deutsche alles herausholen, is not as easy as it looks and I hope Sasha Baron Cohen continues to play against liberal sensibilities while taking camp humor to its absolute limit.

5 replies on “Brüno ist da bomb! Wirklich! Ja, Ich denk so… by Jack Halberstam”

People who don’t like Bruno are gay. I am going out to buy some Mexican furniture from Ikea’s fall collection. If anyone thought this was supposed to be a realistic depiction of homosexuality, they need to do some learning on the internets. They will be pleasantly disappointed to discover that all gay men do not wear diamond encrusted cod-pieces.

And whoa, “blaming rednecks for everything wrong in America,” that previous reviewer is WAY too touchy. Bruno really set out to offend everyone: African Americans, Jews, Gays, Straights, Politicians, Middle Easterners, Hummus Producers, Terrorists, Celebrities, People in LA, Africans, Adoption Activists, Fashionistas, Religious People, Women, Swingers, Germans, Stagemoms and Dads, Psychics, The Dead, Asians, Hispanics, the list goes on. While the skewering of white people was bad, the African American audience of the Richard Bey show got it bad as well.

The old “equal opportunity offender” defense, eh, Elizabeth? Hmmm. Okay, I’ll bite.

My lukewarm response to the film had nothing to do with desiring positive or realistic depictions of homosexuality, or with “being offended.” I was responding to the premise — admittedly not the premise of the film itself — but the premise of those defenders who saw it as somehow holding up a mirror to America’s homophobia. It was that premise that I found to be bogus, even as I enjoyed many of its hi-jinks, (including many highlighted by Jack).

The infectious humor Bruno seems to inspire in its devotee’s defense of it only underscores my point about it being funnier when described or discussed than it was on screen. I still don’t think its a fully realized film, in part because, in the search of patsies, it ends up targeting people who are already stigmatized as losers, homophobes, and trash (and valorizing A-list celebs for being “in” on the joke, as both Jack and the New Yorker reviewer point out). I’m all for skewering white people (in fact, I think I have a Ph.D. in it) but I do think blaming rednecks for homophobia is punking out.

Maybe the success of Borat at probing the soft underbelly of American xenophobia led me to unreasonably expect that Bruno would do the same with homophobes. And maybe its skewering of all its other soft targets makes up for it failing to do so.

But it is not as a detractor of onscreen embarrassment, but as an aficionado, that Bruno fell flat for me. How about embarrassing Bill Clinton for DOMA? Or the Log Cabin Republicans for, well, for any reason whatsoever? I wish Cohen could have stayed as brilliant as he was in Da Ali G Show and Borat, when he flew a bit more under the radar. If he had, he could have offended me till ze kattle came home und … well, I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

OK, I more or less hate all comedy that was made after Dr. Strangelove, so I would never dream of seeing Bruno even though I know I lose gay points. But frankly, Jack — as with everything Austin Powers — reading your account of it was a hoot.

Ich bin ROTFL.

The Log Cabin Republicans are a hoot. Imagine a musical about them, that would be hilarious! Personally I thought Bruno was better than Borat. Bruno allowed us to laugh with him as he played a flaming gay and an ex-gay convert, while Borat hated Jews and held views that (while ridiculous) were a bit closer to reality (throw the Jew down the well and his views about women). In that sense Borat was more challenging and cutting edge, but Throw the Jew Down the Well made me uncomfortable because it still wasn’t clear to me exactly *what* we were laughing at. As a side note, the other day at the unemployment office I saw a two year old child with headphones on. He was listening to gangster rap. Another baby was was wearing a shirt that said “Help Wanted.” I swear it’s true.

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