Thursday, June 26, 2008


The month of June held host to a trio of blog-a-thons at Strange Culture, Final Girl, and Lazy Eye Theater. Each blogger (RC, Stacie, and Piper) used their own little corners of the web to innovate, create, and - most importantly - share their good times with whomever was interested. Yet bloggers are regularly mocked by the media and other cultural gatekeepers that either feel threatened, envious, or simply wanna hate on people for doing their own thang.

My entry for Lazy Eye Theater's Bizarro blog-a-thon intended to spit on the hateful theater of Sacha Baron Cohen and his mocking of eccentric, oddball, and everyday individuals that don't live up to his inflated hipster ideals and standards.

The perfect solution for - and complete opposite of - Cohen's elitist posturing, is the video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans". The song itself celebrates stand-alone individuality...
I'mma do the things that I wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans

Excuse my manners if I make a scene

I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like

I'm fine and dandy with the me inside

One look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink

I don't give a hoot about what you think
... but the video is a revelation.

Rivers Cuomo redeems a handful of infamous YouTube personalities (the "leave Britney alone!" kid... the "U.S. Americans" beauty pageant girl... the guy who sings "Chocolate Rain"...), whose videos have been FWD:'d around office cubicles and laughed at in chat rooms, by having each one appear in his band's video singing the lyrics like a blowback anthem of pride.

You may have snickered at some of these exhibitionist's unfiltered expressions before - I know I did - but the "Pork and Beans" video will make you pause and see the human context behind the 3-5 minute videos that usually drive-by our eyes as lunch break spam.

Then think of Sacha Baron Cohen, and understand how phony and deceitful he really is. This is a man that attacks and humiliates generous people that are willing to grant him their time. In return, Cohen strips them naked, stands back, and prods them with a red hot poker. All of this while under the shield of a protective costume and film crew. He's a wolf in coward's clothing.

And now... the fantastic video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans":


Jason Bellamy said...

Fox: I read your ‘bizarro’ post and now this one, and I must say that I’m surprised. Not that someone could be anti-Cohen, but that you see him in a different light than I’d even considered him. Now, before I say more, let me first document that I’ve seen only a few clips of his TV shows. The bulk of my experience comes down to the recent film.

That said…

Here you say that Cohen “attacks and humiliates the generous people that are willing to grant him their time.” In the bizarro post – which I won’t quote, because that’ll be too confusing – you suggest he’s an opportunist and imply, I think, that people have celebrated Cohen for fearlessly shining a light into America’s dark corners. At base, it seems that you’re offended by the tactics by which Cohen “humiliates” his victims. You don’t think they get a fair shot. Right?

Now, I can see that. Because of course you’re correct: Cohen’s tactics are underhanded. Then again, I’m not sure I’d agree that Cohen has to do much heavy lifting to get these people to impale themselves on the spike of political correctness. Which is to say, for example, that when Borat is at the rodeo and the dude in the cowboy hat implies that being gay is monstrous, I don’t see Cohen doing much more than giving the guy enough rope to hang himself. To me, Michael Moore is far more calculating and far less fair in his editing than Cohen seems to be (and I think his unabashed supporters give him more credit than he deserves). I think what Cohen does in “Borat” is akin to what you get in your average “Daily Show” interview, albeit in a goofy costume/persona.

Where we differ most though is that Cohen “attacks and humiliates” those he encounters. Does he make them uncomfortable, push their buttons? Of course! To me, that’s what I find hilarious about his encounters: I’m not drawn to the few politically incorrect things that people say in response; I enjoy watching all these “generous people” fighting their hardest to remain politically correct and courteous in the face of what they believe is unintentional offensiveness.

The culture instructor, the driving instructor, the car salesman, the Southerners at dinner, the Jews running the bed and breakfast, the antique store owners, the feminists, the politicians, the TV morning show personalities: all these people give Borat more patience and understanding than he deserves. Do we laugh at these people? Well, sure. Because it’s hilarious to watch them bottle their rage and act with more dignity and grace than Borat provides. But I don’t think we’re laughing at who they are. In the case of the homophobic cowboy? Sure. In the case of the drunken college students? Maybe. But I’m being quite honest when I say that I think Cohen’s character exposes the goodness of Americans more often than not.

Still, I can understand why folks would be offended – to be either the ‘target’ of a Cohen operation or to watch the aftermath. But in a 2006 piece in Salon about what’s real and not from “Borat,” one of the Southern gentlemen from that uncomfortable dinner probably captures it best:

"Hey, he fooled us; it's funny. Watching this, I'm sure it's funny [to some people]. It was just not funny that night."
He adds that his two college-age sons found his appearance "hysterical."

Anyway, that’s my take. But I’m appreciative to read yours. I’m going to continue to give it some thought. My mind isn’t made up.

Fox said...

Hey Jason-

By "attacking" I mean in a passive, indirect kind of way.

In my view, Cohen leads his subjects towards the response/answer that he WANTS to get. He doesn't so much let them hang themselves with their own rope, as much as lead them by the nose toward one of those booby-traps that strings you upside down from a tree.

Was that guy at the rodeo a true homophobe? Maybe. But I'm not willing to label him that based on his "interview" by Borat. Being on camera is probably an awkward experience for a lot of Cohen's victims. I think more often than not, they are giving him the answer they think he wants to hear rather than a true and honest refelction.

Further, I think some of Cohen's victims catch on to his prank, assume he's just some crank, and just play along so he will go away like we do when that clipboarded hawk at the mall who just wants 3 minutes of our time for a survey.

I think you make a good argument when you say *Borat* actually makes American's appear generous, kind, and giving. I can see that, for example, in the patience that the driving instructor gives Borat.

However, most of the raves I read (and heard) were from people that loved the way that Cohen burned the feet of simple-minded bigots. And if that's what someone takes from it, then I think that's about as fair as accepting the screeds of Michael Moore, the Jareckis, and Michael Winterbottom - or any documentary film for that matter - for truth without doing any homework on ones own.

Good thoughts, and thanks for your well laid out comment.

Jason Bellamy said...

That’s a good point about the cowboy: to some degree, at least, that might be his version of being polite. I know I’ve been accosted by genuine lunatics in the city or on the Metro (subway to you non-DC folks) and I generally just smile and nod, anything to keep the situation from escalating.

Thinking about it a bit more, Cohen is kind of a more artful Tom Green. I think his brand of comedy takes some courage, but I certainly wouldn’t call it brave, if you know what I mean. As with Green, the joke is on the victims of the pranks, and yet for the most part it’s Cohen who plays the moron. I give him this: that he doesn’t break character in some of these situations is remarkable.

And, sure, he’s certainly trying to bait people into a corner (see his singing of the national anthem at the rodeo or, from his TV days, the “Throw the Jew Down the Well” performance, which can be found on YouTube). I don’t want to overstate the gravity of his stunts, because I don’t value him for any deep cultural exploration. Still, at least on some level it’s fascinating that Americans can be so culturally insensitive at times. Though, again, I’m equally amazed at their level of tolerance, too, as I mentioned above.

It’s a good debate. I think we’ve pretty much talked this out, but at some point I’d like to do an e-mail exchange with you to turn into a post for The Cooler (similar to the one I did with Hokahey from The Happening a few weeks ago, which you said you enjoyed). Perhaps we could argue the strengths and weaknesses of the modern documentary. Just an idea. Give it some thought.

Fox said...

I think an e-mail exchange about documentaries for The Cooler would be great.

Marilyn said...

Interesting comments. I managed to get through about 20 minutes of Borat, so I never got to his Candid Camera moments. (As a fan of the original Candid Camera, I enjoyed the amusing, but harmless pranks, and so did the people on the show.)

What I objected to strenuously was Cohen's version of an Eastern European country. I found it gross, unfunny, and obnoxious. I suppose he did this to help convince us that this kind of an environment is what makes a Borat--or a boorish person anywhere. His experiment in trying to catch people in the act of being themselves was pointless, really, because he created a character that doesn't exist from a country that doesn't exist. What are we supposed to learn from a creep--real or fictional--who is trying to push people's buttons? Nothing, in my opinion.

Fox said...

Well said, Marilyn. and I'm glad you brought up *Candid Camera*. That show, as well as *Bloopers and Practical Jokes*, *Punk'd*, etc. often come to mind when I am thinking about the ethics behind Cohen's stunts.

And my conclusion is that those shows are worlds apart from the BoratBrunoAliG stuff. The previously mentioned shows are generally good-natured and well intentioned, plus, they let their "victims" off the hook in the end. Cohen, on the other hand, comes of as pompous, hateful, and cruel. And in the end, instead of laughing WITH the jokees (like on Candid etc.), were laughing AT them.

Marilyn said...

The one gray area of this kind of "entertainment" is Andy Kaufman. His pranks laid the groundwork for Borat. I am very conflicted about Kaufman because I think he was some kind of a weird genius of the transgressive. But he did go over a line for me - which may have been his point, but I still don't understand what it was.

Fox said...

Another great point Marilyn. I too feel conflicted over him.

I didn't use to. I just laughed at his weirdness. But I've since changed my mind about him and think he might fall in the same category as Cohen. I'd need to watch some of his stuff again.

That would be a very good discussion topic for a later post.