Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno” topped the nation’s box office revenue numbers in its opening weekend and although it can’t be expected to keep pace with the latest Harry Potter movie, it will be a major force on the American, and global, cultural landscape over the summer.
Admittedly, it has many nervous that Baron Cohen’s wildly over-the-top characterization of a stereotypically flamboyant gay fashionista is making it too easy for straight America to laugh at gay people without thinking it’s being discriminatory.
But I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think it elicits a great deal of net appreciation and sympathy from widespread audiences not otherwise used to focusing emotional energy on such things, albeit under the veil of laughter and astonishment.
It is not comparable to “step ‘n fetch it” characterizations of African-Americans in many films of the pre-civil rights era, because no one is supposed to take the Baron Cohen’s Bruno character seriously as representing anything but uber-camp absurdity.
On the other hand, there may be an important message in “Bruno” for the gay world, better characterized as the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning (LBGTQ) community. That would be this: maybe it’s a good thing to be a little more off-beat, quirky and unique than is currently fashionable. Above all, Baron Cohen’s character exhibited a relentless refusal to give a damn what people thought of his dress or mannerisms, as he seldom veered in his sunny pursuit to become a celebrity.
When you stop to think about it, despite his outrageous antics played out in front of unsuspecting real people, fomenting an uproarious array of stunned, stupefying and angry reactions, what was Bruno trying to do? (Don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want too much information about the movie before seeing it). He sought to bring about Middle East peace (despite confusing Hamas with hummus), to adopt an African orphan, to introduce a little romance to some lonely hunters, to reveal excess in the habits of certain “normal” heterosexuals, such as swingers and dominatrix and cage fight-lovers, to draw out the true mindset of “conversion therapists” (who argue that homosexuality can be “cured”), and in the end, to affirm true love.
Bruno’s obsession with celebrity is his desire to be a world-changer. Take away his relentless nuttiness, and he’s a sweet guy trying to make a positive contribution.
I have argued in this column before for my own theory of the core dissymmetry of creation that accounts, in human biology, for such things as left-handedness and homosexuality and other deviations based on the same ratio, in roughly seven to ten percent of the population. Without dissymmetry, a universe grounded in bi-polarity would be static and unchanging, and there would be no evolution or life.
So, the particular dissymmetric deviation of homosexuality is a natural thing embedded in nature to prevent, for example, testosterone-dominated males from having an uncontested capacity for grinding women under foot, destroying civilizations and murdering children. It is part of nature’s design for its own survival and progress.
To fulfill their natural role, homosexual people are supposed to stand against dominant social norms, and in so doing boldly take the lead in the arts, in creative endeavors, in peace-making, in providing protection for the widow and orphan, in advocating for human liberation and other measures than enrage the Christian right.
With the emergence of “gay liberation” 40 years ago, homosexuals began to more openly embrace their role in the wider society with a newly-claimed, refreshing self-esteem and energy.
But this was dealt a devastating blow by the onset of AIDS beginning in 1981. It was a terrible “dark age” between 1981 and 1996, when AIDS was an automatic death sentence and 80,000 of the most creative, young minds in Manhattan alone were taken down by a terrifying death before their creative talents were allowed to fully mature. It marked a profound loss to American culture overall.
It resulted in what is still, perhaps, symptomatic of a “post-traumatic stress syndrome” reaction by today’s LGBTQ community. Such symptoms include an obsession above all to be safe, to convince society it values nothing more than to blend in with the norm, to become society’s new models of Ozzie and Harriett.
Now, “Bruno” calls for moving beyond fitting in, to standing out, the way we’re supposed to.
Nicholas Benton may be e-mailed at [email protected]