Satire can be a powerful communication device. By demonstrating the absurdities of certain behaviors, ideas, and actions the call for change can be advanced. But just because someone shows the extreme absurdities in something doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve actually succeeded in their satire. In other words there is a difference between satire, technically speaking, and sheer extreme lewdness. Apparently writer/creator Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t know this.
Cohen has made a career out of using satire. Some of his work has proved to be somewhat successfull at highlighting the absurdity of stereotypes. Cohen creates fictional characters and takes them into real life scenarios to show cultures what they actually appear like in the midst of their absurdities. His 2006 mokumentary Borat: Cultural Leanings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was a smash hit with the general public, raking in millions of dollars and earning the actor a Golden Globe. The film aimed at unveiling the stupidity of sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, jingoism, and (apparently) Baywatch. The film, despite its crassness and vulgarity was acclaimed by many to have done just that. In response to Borat’s success Cohen decided to go for round two, this time with Bruno, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fahsionista. But where Borat may have succeeded Bruno falls flat.
The ratings and controversy tell the story. Bruno had one of the steepest drop-offs in a single week in recorded film history. It lost 39% of its audience and rumours of hundreds of walk-outs (probably an overstatement) abound. Ther film spares no expense in pressing the “uncomfortable factor” to maximum levels, both for Conservatives and Liberals (surprisingly), and critics on both sides of the “culture war” can be found (many critics arising from within the homosexual community). What makes Bruno such a failure is its extremes. Satire is a great tool in the handbag of a cultural critic, but extreme demonstrations, outlandish perversity, and excessive crudeness don’t equal satire.
Satire works best when it aims to advance change. Bruno’s creators and director say that the film’s goal is to show the absurdity of homosexual stereotypes and homophobia. The problem is that the very community it aims to defend is apalled by its display. It appears more like satire is an excuse for progressive yuck! So how, then, should Christians respond to this film?
First let me say that I don’t think it’s by seeing the movie. There are some films no one needs to see in order to know about. There is enough common knowledge about Bruno to get the gist of the film. Second, I think Christians should respond by creating beautiful and technically accurate satire. Christianity isn’t exactly known for satire but the two have some commonalities. It’s been observed by others that both Christianity and satire believe in the fallen state of humanity, the limitations of reason, and the need for moral guidance. With these similarities in mind, Christians can advance great works of satire that promote the kind of changes that Christians should desire. So, if Bruno does nothing else it could at least restult in a good Christian response. I can hope, can’t I?