What Went Wrong With… And What Is Wrong With… Sacha Baron Cohen?

Caricature of Sacha Baron Cohen by What Went Wrong With

Just as we thought all the racial and ethnic stereotypes shown on TV during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s were dead and buried, in the late-’90s and early ’00s a lanky rat-looking twat gave xenophobia a televisual resurgence. From the first time we saw him on the 11 O’Clock Show along with the other banes of comedy such as the up-his-own-arse Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron Cohen quickly became one of the most annoying yet overrated comedians of the noughties. “Ali G”, his first famous creation, was an offensive caricature of second generation British Black and British Asian youths. Aside from hearing the constant uttering of the line “Is it coz I is black?”, it was seeing Cohen’s prejudiced character on television each week with his broken English and gaudy bright clothing, that made it obvious that this arse-wipe enjoyed donning a subtle blackface in order to jester to a white crowd.

So hypnotised were the white British audience at the time, that they saw appropriated items, such as du-rags and stocking caps (which existed for decades before him) as synonymous with the character Ali G. Ignorant British Caucasians then began calling these black accessories “Ali G style” or “Ali G’s look” for example. This lame excuse for a comedian even had black slang all twisted and mixed up, re-branding “Babylon” from meaning Police to being a Caucasian middle-class joke-name for breasts.

The character “Brüno Gehard” (pronounced Gay Hard) then went further into the realms of prejudice by mocking homosexual males. This offensive creation was cleverly disguised by cloaking the character with the British favourite hate-target; the German nationality. By combining the two, Sacha was able keep the homophobia hidden behind a post-World-War enemy. Following on from this lame pattern of cultural enemy-bashing, came the post-Cold-War psudo-Russian-Muslim hate figure “Borat Sagdiev”, and then the post-War-On-Terror hate-figure “General Aladeen”.

The usual excuse of “it’s the people who interact with the character, not the character himself that is being scoffed at” just doesn’t wash with us anymore. I’m sure a bigger proportion of the audience who watched Borat for example, was laughing at Borat rather than the Yanks who interacted with him.

Sacha’s ridicule of the races may in the future become more irritating when he steps into more serious roles. His weirdly racist, yet incorrect voice-over work in the Madagascar movies as the lemur “Julien” is brought to mind when I hear the news that this fuck-nut will be playing Freddie Mercury in an upcoming biopic Mercury. On a side note, this is yet another case of ethnic mis-casting from mainstream Hollywood, who I’m sure would not do the same if, in a movie about the life of Bette Midler for example; cast Mindy Kaling. Hollywood aside, judging from Cohen’s “King Julien” Indian-esque accent and his other list of offensive characters; if anything is to be mocked about a homosexual Anglo-Indian, Cohen will probably channel it for the sake of fame and wealth.

UPDATE: Hollywood finally saw sense and cast Rami Malek in the role of Freddie Mercury

His disrespectful and stereotypical caricatures of British Black and British Asian males, Middle Eastern Muslims, and homosexuals, proves that Sacha has a propensity for mocking the socially excluded and marginalised sections of society. I mean, what happened to solidarity between minorities? As a British Jew, he should know only too well what it’s like to be constantly derided and belittled by mainstream white entertainment. It seems that Cohen is satisfied in climbing the ladder of fame at the expense of giving prejudice and hatred a bigger audience. Sucking up to a white industry by treading on the identity of ethnic minorities, is what makes Sacha one of the most odious race-hating minority-traitors in recent times.

Barren Cohen.

18 replies »

  1. Thank you for this article, i was waiting on you to do him, but couldn’t remember his name. I have always found him to be offensive and very prejudice in his portrayals on screen. Finding humor and making fun of someone for being different (or not white), got old a long time ago, but Hollywood still loves to do it. I don’t find this crap funny at all, it’s very disturbing.

    The Dictator film was straight up propaganda targeted at Muslims. Most people in America actually believe all the racist narrow stereotypes of these people. Ever since 9/11 they think Arabs are all terrorists, even though most people that judge them have never even met a Muslim in their life.

  2. Most of your views are right on point on your website, and while I agree with The Dictator and Bruno failing because they ended up Esentially just being homophobic and anti-Muslim jokes (not to mention most of Bruno was staged and The Dictator was an awful film), you have misunderstood the point of Ali G.

    Ali G is not mocking black people, it’s mocking “chav” culture in the UK. The laughs aren’t at the expense of a minority group, they are at the expense of politicians and other people who were duped into thinking they were real interviews. Most of the offensive things he says in this character is comic genius just because no interviewer would ever say these things to a “well respected” public figure.

    I can see why people could have a problem with Borat, but the jokes with Borat were at the expense of the bigots and xenophobic white people who he essentially tricks into saying extremely bigoted things on camera casually. The fact that he attempts to get people to make jokes about Jews while he is Jewish himself proves my point.

    Something definitely went wrong with this guy once his schtick wore out, but I feel like the classic Ali G interviews as well as the Borat film are not making fun of any minority group.

    • I would argue that Cohen’s later characters (General Aladeen, Borat, and Brüno) unmask his real intentions. I don’t feel that his schtick has worn out, just that his real motivations have been exposed; and he has always been a racist.

      When Ali G first came out, it was widely reported that British minorities (either British Jamaican or British Asians) felt he was mocking them. Even his name “Ali” with the initial “G” felt like a dig at British Asians who had adopted Caribbean slang during the eighties and nineties. White “Chavs” were a later derivative of these two cultures, and they also incorporated British Jamaican and British Asian with African-American Hip-Hop culture. So with Ali G becoming popular during the early noughties (during the popularisation of Garage and Grime) it seemed to the mainstream as though he was a parody of the white working-class in England during that time. But the fact that Ali G was a creation of Cohen’s during the latter half of the nineties made this in my opinion a comment on British black youths. Even in the film “Ali G Indahouse” his clique featured the Actor Nabil Elouahabi (a British Moroccan) and his rival crew was led by Actor Ray Panthaki (a British Indian). Surely this was confirmation of who Ali G was really portraying?

      I do agree with what you said about the comedy element of his early work; the interviews he conducted as Ali G with various politicians and celebrities were funny, and they did “expose” the subject’s prejudice (as did Borat). But that doesn’t change the fact that Cohen has continually mocked the minority he is representing at the same time.

      Your comment about his mocking of Jews is something I don’t agree with however. If Cohen had exposed anti-Semitism (which should also incorporate every Semitic race of the Middle East) without simultaneously mocking another creed, I wouldn’t call him prejudice. But whilst he disclosed some American’s prejudice against Jewish people, he was also saying that the character he’s playing hates Jews too. It’s a great way of saying his character’s ethnicity is the same as the bigots he’s encountering but without the impartiality of letting the Kazakhstan people themselves having their say.

      Surely it isn’t a coincidence that:-

      • Ali G is mocking British black people (which includes Muslims)
      • Borat is mocking Khazakstan people (which includes Muslims)
      • General Aladeen is mocking North African/Middle Easterners (which includes Muslims)

      So whilst being White, British, and Jewish himself, he has systematically targeted the main hate-figures of Right-Wing White British bigots… Muslim, Middle Eastern, Asian, Caribbean, African, German, and homosexual people. He is strangely doing the job of British hate-mongers such as the BNP, EDL, Neo Nazi’s, NF’s, and even UKIP via his fake-comedy, and his so-called “exposing” of prejudice is in my opinion a clever cloaking of his hatred.

  3. I don’t care much for Sacha Baron Cohen anymore. When I first caught Ali G and Bruno, by accident one night, I loved it, because to me it was basically about poking fun at bigots that weren’t even aware of it, and in a funny and marginally creative way. I didn’t see it as racist or homophobic (on the contrary). What do you use to measure how racist something is? Is it when group A or group B says they’re offended? What kind of good/aspiring artist cares what other people feel, especially groups of people? Or more to the point, what they SAY they feel?. Nobody can make good art under such subjective preoccupations.

    Anyway, I basically think Cohen was good and fresh for a brief period but he has overstayed his welcome. At this point, I don’t think he’s got much going on beneath the potty humor, shock-value schtick. I see him as a sort of a one-or-two-hit wonder of the entertainment industry.

    PS – I just watched him (not his character) being interviewed at the 2016 Oscars and he seemed genuinely sappy and sorry (and wrong in my view) about the “black situation” in Hollywood. I found it off-putting since I think that whole issue got the wrong attention that it deserves. Cohen could have suggested a different position yet he took a very safe and conventional stance. The question is, does he believe what he said, or was his reaction just “liberal guilt” disguised as sympathy, like most of Hollywood? Who knows, but he looked sincere to me.

    As an aside – if Hollywood wants more black performances, the writers/producers need to write more black characters. But, remember, those films have to sell. From what I understand, making films is quite risky. Only something like 1 out of 10 make any money. Consequently, you get more films that are safe, kitschy, formulaic crap (the lowest common denominator thing). If there was short-term success to be had by writing more black characters, Hollywood would be doing it, since they are very much clued-in to every penny and how it is spent or made. Not so much out of greed necessarily, but out of the nature of a very competitive industry structured around cash and not equity, where money is truly everything… instead of only an important thing.

    Woody Allen comes to mind as a good example of this reality and how to deal with it properly. He didn’t make films for the masses, he made the films he wanted, but he did so in a very efficient and economic way, and as a result he was able to do one film a year, becoming perhaps the most prolific filmmaker in history. Imagine if a good filmmaker could do that with more racial diversity. That kind of output by more filmmakers would push things forward a lot. Crying for a boycott of some stupid, subjective awards show so some stupid group of people will give you a trophy to look good or shut you up, that doesn’t do anything but offend and cheapen good black artists (like Chris Rock, for example).

    • There’s no point in me responding to your defence of Sacha Baron Cohen, I’ve already outlined why I think he and his characters are racist in the comment above. Don’t you think it’s a coincidence that his characters have all been minorities and/or Muslims? If it weren’t for his latest character in Grimsby his entire catalogue of characters would be stereotypes of people of colour, if a Muslim comedian continually made caricatured Jewish/Christian characters would he be so adored and respected? I think not.

      The main part of your comment that I take issue with however is your opinion of the “black situation” in Hollywood (as you put it). Firstly how many failures have Hollywood had, the answer is lots, so that proves that the industry doesn’t know for sure how to make profits, therefore by extension why would a black Actor replacing a white Actor affect a movie’s profits? It wouldn’t, in fact the biggest flops such as Cleopatra and Waterworld were completely filled with white people, as too was Exodus Gods And Kings, and on that note are these historical roles not the “black characters” you want people to write more of? Every time Hollywood makes a film about Jesus, Moses, Ramasses, and Cleopatra they cast white Actors, not to mention Tonto, Captain Nemo, and even Othello, if Hollywood stopped blacking-up maybe these roles would be given to the Actors they’re supposed to go to. (Read my article about whitewashing)

      On the same issue, I can’t see why a specific colour has to play fictitious characters. Pick any script and the roles could easily be replaced by an Actor of colour (or a different sex for that matter), the very idea of a “white character” and “black character” in the world of fiction is in itself racist. If a writer never really mentions the colour only the personality and build of the character, why then can’t an Actor of colour play ANY role written or produced by Hollywood?

      Lastly, if people don’t make an issue of something trivial (like the Oscars) there’ll never be change. Because of the uproar this year there might be different choices made in the future, a boycott may seem stupid if you compare it to other more important issues regarding race, but if everybody just sat back and did nothing, nothing will ever change. “Oscars So White” brought attention to the practices of mainstream Hollywood and that’s a good thing, Chris Rock on the other hand was too dismissive of the issue, he mocked Jada Pinkett when she was one of the few people who had some actual balls to start a boycott. Rock only made it an issue once it became an obvious mainstream viewpoint and his opening routine on the show was so tame that it was almost as if he didn’t want to offend the greater Hollywood community (that he relies on to get his mediocre films green-lit).

  4. I always thought that Ali G was a parody of young white males who act as though they were of West Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent. There is a scene in one of his TV shows where a black DJ runs him down in Jamaican patois and he doesn’t understand. If anything, he’s mocking those who partake in cultural appropriation. The interviews were funny and occasionally insightful in the same way Chris Morris was with Brass Eye.

    I think the rest of your article is spot on.

  5. Do you think that Cohen’s latest series is doing some good work to unveil the heinous bigotry of right wing one-percenters ? ?

    • I tweeted about it on the day it premiered in the UK:

      Firstly it’s taken way too long for Cohen to create a Jewish Israeli character, back in the 90s/00s it was non-stop minority stereotyping. Hey, the Terror Expert character may even be a reaction to all the criticism he got about Ali G/Borat etc. Who knows?

      The other thing is that the concept of the show now feels a bit stale. It’s strange that when time passes the same setup that once seemed new and subversive doesn’t have the same edge. In 2018, “Who Is America?” seems weirdly tame, like everything he’s calling attention to is already common knowledge. Is it surprising that middle American, middle-aged white people are Islamophobic, pro-gun, and racist? Not really.

      The main concept of the show is that the right are too far-right and that the left are too far-left, an idea that’s gathering momentum thanks to a lot of media denouncement. Cohen seems like another centrist propagandist to me.

      Plus it seems to me that some of the people he speaks to are in on the joke (judging by their demeanor). How by now, can you not see Sacha Baron Cohen through that badly-applied latex makeup?

      Actually, I’d like to know (since I don’t know the ins-and-outs of TV filming): do you need people to sign release forms after they’ve been told they’re being filmed for an entirely different purpose than they originally thought? The town meeting for example, where he shows the racist town-folk a proposal for a gigantic mosque (which was actually pretty hilarious) – once they’re told it’s a joke, do they need to agree that their face will be shown on a comedy show? I’d genuinely like to know.

  6. Well , look at Bernie Sanders’ appearance on the show . That bit was brilliant . Cohen’s characters of the Zionist ex-Mossad agent and the Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theorist are brilliant . The other characters are a let down . Especially the Italian wannabe philanthropist .

  7. Actually after rewatching the first two episodes on Showtime Canada I would say that the New Age radical left professor is my favourite character . I don’t care for the blue collar British ex-con outsider artist or the Italian playboy . Which character is your favourite ??

    • After the shite Dictator and Grimsby, anything that harks back to the good old days of Cohen doing satirical characters on TV seems refreshing and even anarchic on the face of it but there are problems with the show. The intro for a starters – insinuating that all presidents pre-Trump were great (including Ronald Reagan for fuck’s sake).

      I do like the characters of Erran Morad, Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, and Billy Wayne Ruddick, but they are once again stereotypes of Israeli men, liberal socialist “hippies”, and right-wing conspiracy theorists (respectively). Despite these characters being white, they do still mock the demographic they represent as much as the people he interviews – which was the same problem with Ali G, Borat, and Bruno. That slight issue Sacha Baron Cohen can never seem to avoid. (Yes, the ex-con and photographer are crap characters).

      Seriously though, back to my earlier question about release forms, the three white anti-Mexican men (one of which was told to dress up as a teenage girl and then were fake-questioned by the fake-police) once they were told it was a joke did they seriously sign something to approve the clip? Wouldn’t their faces be blurred if they didn’t agree to what was staged? The absurdity of the situations he puts people in I’m a bit suspicious that almost everybody knows the joke beforehand. Or is everybody a fucking moron?

    • I’ve been thinking more about this and I think release forms are used when a person is unaware of being filmed or are caught unawares (like a sting). I assume everybody on Who Is America signed a contract beforehand which absolved the makers of any deceit. So if these right-wing bigots signed something without reading it, I guess the second option is true; they’re all fucking morons.

  8. I’ve got many laughs out of Borat & Ali G over the years but SBC is hopelessly overrated. His strength is having the balls to ask cringemaking questions whilst keeping in character, beyond that there’s little of any comedic substance. If ‘Who Is America?’ makes us laugh it’s the peurile humour of seeing someone slip on a banana skin, there’s just nothing there beyond dick jokes & prosthetics & it’s all been done before on ‘Brass Eye’ & ‘Face Jacker’.

    In 10 minute doses, Borat, Ali G & even the pathetic gay stereotype Bruno, provide a lot of cheap laughs, it’s when people ( most often Americans not nearly as well versed in British humour ) talk about SBC as ‘genius’ that I shake my head.

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