Cohen/Borat/Bruno ambush

I’ve been reviewing the Bruno reviews and I’m interested to see that it delights in ambushing the unsuspecting.  Even Ron Paul, libertarian candidate for President, gets taken. Apparently, he has never heard of Cohen, Borat, or Bruno. 

Strange when you think of it.  Cohen has been a big star for several years now.  He’s appeared at the Academy Awards and won a Golden Globe.  Doesn’t he get pursued by the paparazzi?  I assume he must.   Indeed, Cohen has said he’ll retire Borat and Ali G, on the grounds that they were too well known by the public.  Strange to think that anyone who knows the characters would fail to recognize the celebrity within. 

Maybe the answer is that rubes will be with us always.  And these are the targets Cohen likes best.  People who live on the far margin, nurturing their own brand of nuttiness, safely removed from the mainstream that might otherwise redeem them. 

But my guess is that the great fragmentation of our culture means there will also be nooks and crannies filled with people who have never heard of Cohen however famous he becomes.  Now that the enameled surface of the contemporary culture is “crazed” with tiny fissures, there are more and more places for culture to take hold.

The question is: when does the center cease to hold?  This matters for Cohen because at some point the structural forces that sustains the possibility of ambush must eventually destroy the sanctimony on which, as Scott points out, he depends.


Scott, A.O.  2009.  Tuetonic Fashion Plate Flaunts His Umlauts.  The New York Times.  July 10, 2009.  here.

6 thoughts on “Cohen/Borat/Bruno ambush

  1. Steve Portigal

    I’ve been amused at how the scandals – and lawsuits – both films generated during their production have provided amazing publicity. The NYT has written about this film for a really long time. Sure, if you go to Comic-Con, you’ll see a sneak preview of a work in progress for the die-hard fan, but only a few movies get mainstream making-of publicity (Tom Cruise as a Nazi, sure, Cohen causing upheaval, why not), turning the movie into a Happening rather than just a piece of entertainment (of course, Grant, we know that it’s more than just a piece of entertainment but that’s not the typical frame that this stuff is produced or consumed within).

  2. Rob Kleine

    Grant – Cohen who? The Cohen Brothers? No, that’s not your intent. So .. Cohen who? And why should I care? I endured 10 minutes of Borat before ejecting the DVD from the player. Why do you appear to offer Cohen as a cultural awareness litmus test? Certainly there are myriad other cultural artifacts that afford a more compelling litmus test of cultural literacy? Such as … having read “Culture & Consumption” or, perhaps, “A Tail of Two Cities” or perhaps Breen’s “The Marketplace of Revolution”? Perhaps. But Cohen?

  3. Charles

    I too have some reservations about this post. First off as an outsider Ron Paul seems like a voice of sanity. If being frank is nutty then that’s a cultural sign of decay in any society. It’s why China has yet to rise above a cookie cutter approach to innovation.

    I completely identify with large chunks of popular culture that I either know I don’t know, or don’t know I don’t know. A kindly soul who put me up last week was astonished to learn that I hadn’t yet seen Ironweed. That’s possibly too British for many but either way we’re doing this in English 😉

    Erm what else. OK, so I always figure that this blog deconstrucst American society through it’s Television consumption. I kind of feel that this lens is dissolving through our media fragmentation, specifically the context of our media consumption because it means that the age of global supercelebrity is diminishing. Though likely not disappearing.

    The Beatles still made it into Soviet Russia but the sheer number of celebrities who are famous for doing nothing; well I only have to look at what Korean Pop is producing these days and I’m convinced it aces Britney. Talent and production.

    As for Bruno. I’m still laughing at an episode I saw last week. He persuaded a bunch of pumped and ripped American beach guys to expose their bottoms after a number of attempts to get them shouting louder than the previous take. Finally he tosses a throw away comment that it’s going to look great on his gay TV show. Which is when it gets really funny. It’s like MTV beach party punctured with a single comment.

    Sasha Baron Cohen is ace, but if I’m not mistaken I read that the recent Letterman appearance was the end of the character development he’s been amazingly succesful at with a view to just being himself. I may have got that wrong though.

  4. malcolm cecil

    Crazed with tiny fissures is a lovely descriptor for a fragmenting culture. I don’t know much about Ron Paul, but I wonder if we should assume that all of Baron Cohen’s ‘vics’ are really so out of it. I’m thinking two things may be at play here. One, on a Goffmanian level of the interaction ritual, even folks who are in the know may agree to an interview with Borat/Bruno and then find themselves ill equipped to break out of the roles that the culture of polite interaction imposes. I guess that’s the basis for much of the humor anyway — and what does it matter if the people playing the rubes are truly clueless? Two, is there a point at which it doesn’t matter that the vic knows or doesn’t know what’s going on? As though the frame of the performance shifts from being a record of a practical joke to something more ritualized, in which individual awareness doesn’t matter much. The celebrity punking as a cultural/televisual form. About as real as what we see on reality tv. Maybe we’re not there yet, but couldn’t that be where we’re going?

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