- Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's latest invention, is a grotesque
Austrian gay celebrity who comes to America to try to boost the ratings
of his fashion television program. Bruno is one of the most repugnant
characters ever to appear on the big screen, something Baron Cohen probably
takes pride in. Bruno is Cohen's third gross character in succession. At
times it seems as if Cohen is seeking pleasure in being repelling. After
mimicking an ignoramus stereotype of a non-black suburban male who revels
in Black and Jamaican culture (Ali G) and a Kazakh misogynist, racist buffoon
and anti-Semite (Borat), Bruno can be grasped as another creative attempt
to challenge the Western liberal discourse.
- Those who insist on approving Cohen's intellectual aspirations
argue in his favor that he manages to bring to light some of our inherent
Western diseases: racism (Ali G), xenophobia (Borat) and homophobia (Bruno).
I am slightly doubtful of such an interpretation of Cohen's intellectual
endeavor. None of Cohen's protagonists can evoke empathic feelings amongst
the people they harass. Instead they seem to compete amongst themselves
for the ultimate Vulgar Award. Whether it is Borat, who approaches his
host's dinner table and his guests with his excrement in a plastic bag,
or Bruno, who shares with us his anally intimate love games, Cohen's protagonists
are rejected for being truly and genuinely disgusting.
- Yes, Cohen's characters can be entreating, they can make
us laugh; yet, the fact that they are rejected contemptibly is far from
telling about our society. However, these scenes may throw some light about
their creator, Mr Baron Borat Bruno Ali G Cohen and the social conditions
he himself is imbued in.
- Two years ago while in the process of gathering information
about Cohen previous film Borat, I found out that Cohen had put back his
wedding to former Home and Away star Isla Fisher due to some
deep 'religious' reasons. "The couple," so I learned, "have
postponed the big day so Isla could study the Bible in Israel before converting
to Sacha's religion of Judaism." This was enough to convince me at
the time that Cohen wasn't that different from his chauvinistic, tribally-orientated
protagonist Borat. For those who fail to understand the meaning of the
above, Cohen is not just Jewish, he didn't just ask his fiancée
to join his extended family, he didn't send her to a London Rabbi either.
He really went for the 'full Monty,' that is: the Israeli experience. Cohen
is in fact a devout Zionist and it would be interesting to elaborate and
analyze his work from a Jewish Identity-politics perspective.
- Though Ali G, Borat and Bruno have nothing to do with
Judaism or Zionism, their identity struggle is, interestingly enough, a
complete repetition of the Zionist identity complex. As in the case of
Zionism, Ali G, Borat and Bruno are in a state of a complete dismissal
of others. As if this is not enough, they are also celebrating their symptoms
in public and at the expense of their victims.
- Zionism, similarly, is a celebration of a newly-invented
Jewish Identity. The Zionists set themselves to do it all on the expense
of the Palestinian people. Until recently, some Zionist leaders refused
to acknowledge the existence of Palestinian people. Zionism is a political
setting that inherently dismisses others. One can look at the IDF's brutality
towards Palestinians, another can reflect on David Ben Gurion's famous
quote: "It doesn't matter what the Goyim say, all that matters is
what Jews do". Interestingly enough Ali G, Borat and Bruno are celebrating
a very similar form of dismissal. They are self-centered protagonists who
care mostly about themselves and their own unique actions and symptoms.
- However, as much as Bruno is by far Cohen's most repulsive
character to date, he is also, emotionally at least, the most developed
character out of the three. Unlike Ali G and Borat, Bruno is self-conscious.
He has clear desires and he struggles to fill his inner void. In fact the
audience is mobilized as a witness to Bruno's evolving self-awareness.
As great as Bruno's desires are, his repeated failures are no less than
a total devastation. He is desperate to be accepted as a celebrity. He
would do whatever it takes to get there. He would swap his iPod for an
African cute little toddler just to 'appear' like Madonna; he would try
to drag Ron Paul into a porn scene just to hit the news with an 'item'.
He interprets success in symbolic terms rather than anything that is related
- Jewish nationalism is very similar. It is a project run
by Israelis who crave to be a people like other people. But for some bizarre
reason they fail to understand what the notion of 'other people' stands
for. They can only understand it symbolically in terms of a set of material
- When you ask an Israeli 'how can you be so cruel to the
Palestinians?' The answer will be thrown back at you, "Haven't the
Americans been cruel with their Indians? Didn't the Brits do the same in
- The Israeli may even interpret state terrorism and barbarism
as a natural symbol of sovereignty.
- Bruno yearns to be a celeb amongst celebrities. The Zionist
is craving to join the family of nations. Like Bruno, Zionists understand
their nationhood in symbolic terms, they have a flag, an air force, nuclear
bombs and wars. For some reason, it is just a genuine compassion which
they lack--probably because genuine feeling and authenticity cannot be
reduced into mere symbolism. It is the real love to their alleged 'historic
land' which the Zionist fail to exhibit when shredding it with walls of
separation. Like the Zionist, Bruno is pretty much stuck; he cannot transcend
himself beyond the symbolic order. As much as the Zionists find it difficult
to become an ordinary nation considering their symptoms (non-ethical existence
together with racial supremacy), Bruno finds it very hard to integrate
into society considering who he is (lacking ethical awareness and imbued
in his gay solipsistic (1) universe).
- While in his early work Baron Cohen managed to fail
to distinguish between Identity and being, in his latest work he may have
become aware of this crucial dichotomy. Gay and homosexuality, for instance,
are very different categories. While 'Gay' refers to an Identity largely
associated with a set of symbolic identifiers, homosexuality refers to
a sexual preference.
- Interestingly enough, throughout the film Bruno operates
as a Gay icon. He is totally imbued within the Gay symbolic realm, he swings
his buttocks without leaving any room for doubt about who he is and
what he stands for: he wears the right clothes and uses the right manner
of speech. But then, towards the very last scene, it all changes, Bruno
for the first time surrenders to his true authentic sexual desire.
- At a certain stage Bruno realises that in order to become
a celebrity he would have to be 'straight'. In the final scene we meet
Bruno in a wrestling arena surrounded by rednecks. Bruno, the natural
chameleon (2), is now an anti-Gay macho figure. He manages to evoke cheers
from his new crowd by spitting some rabid homophobic statements. For a
second it works. For the first time in the film Bruno is accepted by his
surrounding social reality. Very much like the Assimilated Jew who follows
Moses Mendelssohn's (3) line of thought 'be a Goy in the street and a Jew
in your dwelling', Bruno is mimicking the 'straight' on stage while keeping
his true identity hidden, but the truth is chasing him and cannot be concealed.
- All of a sudden, his ex-assistant, an authentic homosexual
who has been loving Bruno all the way through appears from the crowd. "You
are Gay" he shouts to Bruno as he makes his way through the throng.
The assistant's role in the film is similar to Herzl's and Weizmann's
task within the Zionist epic narrative. Herzl and Weizmann are there to
tell their fellow assimilated Jews, 'stop pretending at being American,
French, British, Bolsheviks, Cosmopolitans and Atheists, you are primarily
Jews and you better behave accordingly.'
- In the film it doesn't take more than a few seconds before
Bruno and his assistant depart into a same-sex act of genuine love making.
Seemingly, for the first time Bruno follows his heart rather than banal
symbolism. This is obviously a repetition of the Zionist message. As opposed
to Mendelssohn deceitful dualism, the Zionists would tell their followers:
do not pretend to be a Goy, do not pretend to be a cosmopolitan, do not
pretend to be a Marxist, just surrender to your real and true Jewish reality.
- But here we do encounter a slight problem. While Bruno
has a homosexual reality to safely land upon, it is not clear at all whether
there is any Jewish coherent genuine reality except Judaism. The Jewish
socialist identity (bund) collapsed half a century ago. The Zionists had
been trying to claim a valid and coherent Jewish national secular identity,
but all they really present us with is merciless conduct and a barbarian
state terrorism that have very little in common with humanity. If there
is a Jewish humanist school, the nature of its (uniquely Jewish) value
system remains unclear. The lack of a coherent and consistent Jewish secular
Identity may explain why all forms of Jewish secularity are highly engaged
in symbolism. Whether it is Zionism, Jewish anti-Zionism, Jewish secularism
or even Jewish humanism, it is almost always engaged in conveying a symbolic
image rather than aiming at the real thing (4).
- As much as I find it hard to cope with Cohen's latest
repugnant character, I may as well have to admit that in light of the above
realizations of Bruno as an insightful metaphor, the film may not be that
bad after all.
- Gilad Aztmon is a writer and jazz musician living
in London. His latest cd is<http://www.myspace.com/giladatzmon>In
Loving Memory of America.
- 1. Solipstic: the belief that the only thing somebody
can be sure of is that he or she exists, and that true knowledge of anything
else is impossible
- 2. Not only is Bruno is a chameleon he is also invented
and performed by Britain's NO 1 chameleon namely Cohen.
- 3. Moses Mendelssohn (September 6, 1729 January
4, 1786) was a Jewish thinker largely associated with Haskalah (Jewish
Enlightenment) and with ideas to do with Jewish assimilation.
- 4. Judaism is also saturated with symbolism, yet, one
would expect that Jewish secularization would lead towards an authenticity
that goes beyond mere symbolism.