Baron Cohen returns to ambush US establishment

Duped: “Eran Morad” poses with American gun rights activist Philip Van Cleave. © Showtime

Is Sacha Baron Cohen insightful or cheap entertainment? His new show, Who is America?, debuted last night. It has already drawn criticism for duping politicians and exposing rifts in US society.

Last night, Sacha Baron Cohen, who previously played Ali G and Borat, returned to humiliate public figures with his new show Who is America?

As ever, Baron Cohen uses the absurdity of his creations to extract bizarre opinions from his interviewees.

The most memorable segment of the pilot is saved for the end. Playing Israeli “anti-terrorist expert” Errad Morad, Baron Cohen manages to get current and former Republican Party lawmakers to endorse Morad’s initiative to train children aged four to 12 how to use military-grade weaponry.

Another new character is Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr, PhD, a media-suspicious Trump supporter who talks to Senator Bernie Sanders about his conspiracy theories using the opposite of the “lie-brary”, the “truthbrary”.

Baron Cohen essentially invented real-life trolling. And he has ensnared some incredibly powerful people, such as David Beckham and Noam Chomsky. And as a famous tweet from President Donald Trump reads: “I never fall for scams. I am the only person who immediately walked out of my ‘Ali G’ interview.”

Who is America? has been criticised for being overly exploitative. In a time of political chaos, are cheap gags and toilet humour really any use?

Easy targets

Baron Cohen is a genius, say many. He is brilliant at exploiting people’s desire to be on camera to make them reveal what they truly believe. In fact, his characters are the most effective interviewers imaginable because they take their subjects out of their comfort zone.

It is cruel rubbish that exploits people’s open nature, reply others. As Sonia Saraiya writes in Vanity Fair, the interviewees, thanks to careful editing, are left “with one real option: to be the butt of the show’s slippery humour.” And we would all be liable to say silly things when put in such a situation.

You Decide

  1. Is Sacha Baron Cohen cruel? And does it matter?

Activities

  1. Split into groups: come up with a Sacha Baron Cohen-style character. What is their name? Where do they come from?

Some People Say...

“I don’t know if I’m brave.”

Sacha Baron Cohen

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show, Who is America?, aired last night for the first time. Instead of concentrating on just one character, the new show includes four of Baron Cohen’s creations.
What do we not know?
How successful this new venture will be. It could be that the extreme divisions in America help its success.

Word Watch

Creations
Other than Ruddick and Morad, Baron Cohen’s creations for this new series are Ricky Sherman, a recently paroled murderer who has become an artist, and the ultra-liberal Dr Nira Cain-N’Degeocello.
Bernie Sanders
Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 US presidential election.
Noam Chomsky
An American linguist and philosopher, and an outspoken socialist.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.