The XX Factor

Worrying About Bruno

Bruno approaches. It’s three and a half weeks until the arrival of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat follow-up, about a gay, Austrian fashion reporter who talks like this “Ich sleep in a seaweed body wrap under a Zac Posen Navy-Cut Nightshirt. In mein dreams, ich sleep naked in a giant reed basket drifting slowly down ze Nile, cradled in ze arms of Daniel Radcliffe.” But Cohen’s already posing naked on the cover of GQ , worrying Austrians , troubling troubgay rights groups, and sticking his bum in Eminem’s face. The emerging question: Will Bruno be good for the gays?

In Brooke Barnes’ piece exploring exactly this , she asks whether Bruno , “a movie that, in mercilessly exploiting the discomfort created when straight men are ambushed by aggressive gayness, that happens to (surprise!) expose [their] homophobia,” will be “vulgar, inappropriate and harmful? Or bold, timely and necessary? All of the above?” Who will the joke be on? Homosexuals or homophobes?

It’s an interesting exercise to compare the anxiety about Bruno to the anxiety about Borat , a movie that had many folks wondering “Is it good for the Jews?” (Though, perhaps it should have had them wondering “Is it good for foreigners?” who were the real butt of that film’s joke.) The concern with Borat was that Borat might be a hero. While he was making us laugh at the anti-Semites, racists, and homophobes living among us, he was also making us laugh with an anti-Semitic, racist, homophobe-him. Borat might expose the racism of some Americans, but he would also make being racist and ignorant seem funny (“eez niiice”).

The worry about Bruno is the opposite, that Bruno won’t be a hero. That while Bruno makes us laugh at the homophobes living among us, he’s also making us laugh at homosexuals-him. Borat made worriers worry we’d like the bigot too much. Bruno makes worriers worry we won’t like the bigot enough. (Bruno is racist, politically incorrect, and profane in addition to being gay.) Perhaps we should stop worrying?

Besides, if Bruno is anything like Borat , it might actually show America to be a less homophobic country than we fear. (Though, if Barnes’ story on Bruno is any indication, there will be some brutal scenes, as when Bruno, “intent on becoming straight, goes to a martial arts instructor to learn how to protect himself from gay people. ‘If they get close to you, hit them,’ the teacher says. How can you spot a gay man? ‘Obvious is a person being extremely nice’ is the answer. Gays can be tricky, the instructor warns: ‘Some of them don’t even dress no different than myself or you.’”) Borat may be best remembered for its instances of shockingly casual hatred (a rodeo host wants to hang gay people; frat boys wish they could own slaves), but there are far more instances when regular people refuse to take Baron Cohen’s bait. Most of the marks punked by Borat try their best to stay calm, remain civil, and never seem on the verge of using ethnic slurs. This may be the prejudice, or complacency, of diminished expectations, but the fact that five of the 30 people tricked by Borat proved to be utterly despicable surprised me; I would have expected more. That 15 percent of Americans think racist, hateful things is beyond disappointing; that 85 percent of Americans will try to be polite and helpful to a guy who brings poop to the dinner table? I had no idea.