Two Gay Guys Sitting Around Talking About Brüno
Now that Universal has lifted its embargo, Seth and I can finally talk about Brüno, the controversial Sacha Baron Cohen comedy out July 10. And, unlike so many of the people who natter on endlessly about this film, we have two advantages: we've actually seen it, plus we're gay (which, as you may have heard, is a subject this film either satirizes, mocks, celebrates, or defends, considering the perspective).
So what do we think of the Brüno firestorm, having now seen the film? Read on!
Kyle: So, Seth, we've both seen Brüno, and a review will be forthcoming. But one thing I think we can do now is at least address the rash of recent articles about whether Bruno represents a setback for gays. We're both politically active, opinionated guys...
Seth: Yes we are! So were you offended, without being too reactionary about it?
Kyle: I have to say, it's an interesting situation. Because I wasn't offended, but if someone else was, I would totally understand why.
Seth: You mean a gay someone.
Seth: Whereas I'd say, I could see many different minorities being offended. But Cohen is a comedian of the take-no-prisoners variety. You're either going to submit to it, and laugh -- which I may or may not have done a lot of while watching Brüno -- or find lots to be offended about.
Kyle: Certainly, and Brüno doesn't simply milk gay stereotypes...Austrians, Mexicans, and the like all come in for their fair share. But can I make sort of a devil's advocate-y point here? One thing I can't take when people argue about this film is when it's stated, especially by straight white guys, "Oh, well, people from Kazakhstan were made fun of in Borat. Where was your outrage then?" Hey guys, guess what?
Kyle: People from Kazakhstan can become U.S. citizens with more rights than I've got as a gay man. So, kind of not a great comparison, you know?
Seth: OK, but have you actually heard that argument?
Kyle: Oh yeah, all the time. Or the whole "Sacha Baron Cohen is an equal opportunity offender, and straight white guys come in for derision too!" I get that argument. But, like, the straight white guys being made fun of are not exactly going to feel the dent, you know?
Seth: The "straight white guys" you're referring to tend not to get much of anything, except Adam Sandler and Dane Cook. I think a genuine appreciation of what Cohen is doing requires a smarter person, because it's smart parody. It might look like poop and sex jokes, but there's a reason why they work. Also, the guy is literally putting himself in harm's way to highlight homophobia. It's clear his heart is in the right place. Compare that to someone who actually has issues with gay people, like D.L. Hughley.
Kyle: Though it could be argued that Cohen puts himself in harm's way to make a big gay joke. But I do think there is a difference.
Seth: The character is so outrageously over the top, I refuse to believe even the dumbest of homophobes would somehow believe that this represents the gay mainstream. OK maybe the very dumbest, many of whom are in this movie, might. Here's what I think: Do you watch South Park? Does the character of Slave, the S&M sex freak who can only say "Jesus Christ!" and who puts Lemmiwinks the Gerbil and Paris Hilton up his ass, offend you? Or do you find him funny? If you fall into the former category -- and who could argue with you! What a crass characterization! -- then you'd think Brüno is a deeply offensive, hate-mongering film. If you fall into the second, then... Stay tuned for our review!
Kyle: Do you think our reactions are informed by the fact that we're relatively stable, out, comfortable gay guys who live in a big city?
Seth: No, because look who's banging the drum loudest that this is offensive?
Kyle: Straight journalists?
Seth: Touche. But I mean certain gay Hollywood types who have seen the film already.
Kyle: Would it be different for a lonely, gay teenager to see this movie?
Seth: For the lonely gay teen out in the Heartland, I'd say this movie is a good thing. What's he going to do, watch Milk on endless loop? He'll probably laugh loudest, because he'll recognize his neighbors in a lot of the scenes.
Kyle: I will say, though, that there is one aspect of the movie that has me kind of concerned. And that is the vision of Bruno as a nightmare gay parent who has sex in front of his adopted child.
Seth: Yeah, I can't argue with that.
Kyle: In the last election, rights were taken away from gay people who wanted to adopt And I don't think there are many images in the media of gay parents. Like, I know gay parents, but they're not headline NBC shows, you know?
Seth: I agree that that is the most questionable tactic he takes, and the rest, it could be argued, sort of tumbles likes dominoes from there. But in his defense, I'll say this:
1. This movie is parody. No one really thinks he did those things to his baby. They are funny because they're absurd.
2. He's depicted as actually a very loving parent, in his own twisted way.
and 3. And this is the most compelling point: the film features REAL HETERO PARENTS who really ARE that bad.
Kyle: But again, I would argue that the two aren't comparable. There are plenty of images out there of loving hetero parents, and that's not a demographic that finds their rights under siege, for the most part. Not so for gay parents.
Seth: Well, you're looking at the bigger cultural landscape, whereas I'm taking this movie for what it is.
Kyle: I mean, how long before a wingnut congressman cites Brüno on the house floor for some reason?
Seth: Well that will be great! Because he'll look like a complete idiot.
Kyle: I mean, it will make for a hilarious Wonkette post, but these are our legislators. Laugh if you want, but this Hypothetical Congressman (R-Kyle's Mind) is going to represent a certain way of thinking that could be widespread and uncorrected.
Seth: It will also mean, assuming they've seen it, that they've been subjected to graphic depictions of gay sex, and that just fills we with joy. Anyway, I'll just end by saying this: Brüno is not the enemy. The biggest challenges for the cause right now is coming from those fence-sitters, like Obama, who refuse to do the right thing. The extreme right already thinks all gays are Brüno.
Kyle: I'm still trying to work through my levels of relative offense vis a vis Bruno and Transformers. Would I have been more OK with Skids the racist Transformer if he was exposing Shia LaBeouf's latent prejudices toward black robots? Perhaps now I'll never know. ♦