Mon, 06 May 2006

Ordinarily I like a good “prank”-style show. I even enjoy Punk’d. I think what bugs me about Da Ali G Show is that the poor saps are never let in on the joke. At the end of each segment of Punk’d the hoax is revealed, and the victim gets to look into the camera, laugh, and say, “Wow, you got me good.” But the folks on Ali G never get a chance to laugh at themselves.

Another thing that bugs me is that it seems like the subjects are being punished for their good nature. They’re too polite to just tell their interviewer that he’s an idiot, or to walk away from the microphone. They strain to good-humouredly look past the ignorance of the host, and address his questions seriously. Therefore we’re supposed to laugh at them. I wind up feeling sympathy even for people that ordinarily I would have no sympathy for, like the Republican congressional candidate whose number one issue is “building a culture of life”, or the pastor who “cures” homosexuals. When the Austrian fashion reporter Brüno interviews the pastor, and starts hectoring him with questions about blowjobs and lady-boys, and whether having sex with a Brazilian trannie counts as homosexual contact, the pastor makes a sincere, if tongue-tied, effort to answer. As a result, the pastor comes across as gentlemanly, while our guy Brüno just seems like a tasteless boor.

This kind of reminds me of something that came up when Kurt and I had dinner with Joe Geary last week. Joe was gloating about Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in which Colbert unrelentingly satirised President Bush, who was sitting right in front of him. Now, my sympathy for the president is pretty minimal. I used to think he was dim, but I’ve come around to the conclusion that he’s just lazy and indifferent. But there’s something simply rude about attacking someone who is required by good manners to just sit there and take it. Bush didn’t have to be there. He comes to this dinner every year to hear some low-wattage comedian poke fun at him, and smile through the abuse. Colbert’s speech is pretty funny. But the context makes it mean. Bush isn’t the all-powerful ruler of the free world here. He’s just a poor chump obliged to go on eating his Caesar salad while some Hollywood wiseass dresses him down. It’s like that scene in “Witness” where the Amish man sits quietly, constrained by his religion from defending himself, while the town yokel rubs an ice cream cone in his face. Bush is the Amish man, Colbert is the yokel.

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