In the same way I had Susan Boyle pinned very early on as an overhyped frump who yells in tune – an overhyped frump who’s now in a mental health clinic, by the way, and will over time disappear and never be heard of again – I think I’ll ultimately be proved right about Sacha Baron Cohen too.
Seems we’re living in an age now where there’s so much noise screaming for our attention, that the only way to get your product noticed any more is by hitting viewers over the head with it.
You need a controversy, an upset, a newsworthy angle or event, something to happen, or that’s it, it’s over, you’re simply going to fade into the background. Quality, in short, is no longer a key factor in success.
There are millions of dim people in America, as we know. They watched too much low-grade TV as kids, smoked pot instead of doing homework, and didn’t pay attention in school – now they’re screwed. The bit of their brain that’s supposed to engage, usually in their early twenties, and start appreciating grown-up things, is completely shut off; now not even a 5,000 volt jolt with jumper cables will start it.
But here’s the thing about dim people: they know what they like. And they like color, movement, explosions, coarseness, nudity where possible, and lots of frenetic activity. Then, and only then, will they rush out to buy what you’re selling. If you’ve seen the trailer for Transformers 2 you’ll know exactly what I mean.
That’s why we were subjected to that stunt at the MTV Awards over the weekend. Cohen has a new movie to plug, Eminem has a new album. They both wanted as much publicity as possible, so someone came up with “a bit”. The resulting collusion, however, was so lame, so rigged, so puerile and desperate, that it left you staring in disbelief at the screen, baffled by the level of inanity. Furthermore, it’s being covered by dim, gullible media outlets worldwide as if it were news, rather than an elaborate PR exercise they’ve just been sucked into.
If you missed it – actually, if you missed it, you’re in a better frame of mind than the rest of us today – but Cohen, playing Austrian gay fashionista Bruno, dressed up as an angel, flew over the theater audience, got his nut-sack tangled in the wires and plunged from the ceiling. Specifically, into Eminem’s lap, landing with his balls in the rapper’s face. Eminem was, naturally, so “furious” that he “stormed” out.
Truth is, if any of that had happened for real, without Eminem’s permission up-front, they’d have been walking into a multi-million dollar law-suit, and no TV company is going to risk that. So it was just shtick, a total fake.
To me, this brand of over-rehearsed spontaneity is getting tired.
Sometimes, though, it’s hard not to get sucked in. Like so many, I fell for the whole Borat thing three years ago, for example. Such was the intensity of the promotion around it that I felt socially obligated to rent it and see what the fuss was about – which of course was most other people’s reason for watching it as well. And when they did, they discovered exactly the same thing I did: it’s disappointing. Not all of it. There are good moments: some excellent set pieces; some inspired satirical skits; and Sacha Baron Cohen managed to show up a bunch of narrow-minded, prejudiced Americans in the mid-West and South for the low-voltage morons that they are. It was shocking and creepy and strange and a carnival sideshow. The one thing it wasn’t was a good movie.
Too contrived, I thought. And so cruel to people on a basic human level that it ceased to be funny after a while. Indeed, I grew bored quickly and, somewhat angry at myself for falling for the hype, ended up fast-forwarding through whole chunks of it.
Later on, law-suits were filed by dupees from the movie who signed legal release forms without realizing what they were getting themselves into. But Cohen and his crew had been smart and hired good lawyers and so managed to outrun their pursuers. The film, as you know, made a fortune.
Now we get Bruno, the sequel, in which Cohen cruelly dupes even more people. Once again it will be shocking and creepy and strange and a carnival sideshow. Once again it will have hilarious sequences in it. And once again it will make a fortune. But once again the whole exercise will be a huge PR trick that makes a fool of anyone who endorses it by buying a ticket.
Maybe my radar is way off, but I’m sensing a shift in public sensibilities these days, towards a more authentic kind of living. Old values and institutions and ways of behaving that didn’t serve us well are being stripped away during this amazing time of transformation, as we set the stage for a different future to anything we’ve known before. And part of the new world that’s evolving, I suspect, is going to be a more adult way of behaving, which includes a kinder, less divisive, and more trusting way of treating one other.
It’s going to take a while – ten years, maybe longer – before we’re able to really put a name to this shift, but in the end I think we’ll look back at Borat and Bruno, and Cohen’s silly stunt at the MTV Awards, and shudder – shocked that at one time in the past, these were the lengths desperate performers went to to get noticed; that phony garbage such as this passed for popular entertainment; and that consumers allowed themselves to be swindled so easily en masse by major corporations out of their hard-earned money.
Read The Hollywood Reporter’s review of Bruno.
The MTV Awards gets two magic carpets out of five.
TV Swami – he say NO.