Hensher on Bruno

Philip Hensher has an interesting essay on Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film Brüno, in which he plays a gay Austrian journalist. I always liked Baron Cohen’s character comedy – by playing prejudiced characters like Borat and Ali G, he draws out and exposes the prejudice in others. Hensher argues that this new film is not laughing at homosexuality but at the heterosexual reaction to it. He looks at the reality of homophobia and contrasts Baron Cohen’s well-crafted character study with what normally passes for British comedy.

Groups, and individuals influenced by group psychology, have murdered in Britain and the United States. Matthew Shepard was murdered by two men acting in collusion in 1998 in Wyoming. Jody Dobrowski was killed by two men on a planned spree on Clapham Common in south London in 2005. David Morley was murdered on the South Bank in London in 2004 by a teenage gang, who filmed the attack. Reading through the horrible accounts of these murders, one thing which recurs is the savagery of each attack, as if not murder but obliteration were the aim of the perpetrators. Dobrowski could only be identified by his fingerprints. Something beyond mere rage seems to have been awoken here.

Open and frank hatred of homosexuals through comedy has been remarkably persistent, and may even be on the increase in the media. The Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles casually uses the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way and ridicules the gay singer Will Young for his sexuality; he was defended by the BBC for the first incident, but censured for the second. Jimmy Carr has discovered that the use of the words ‘gay benders’ is enough to raise a laugh from a Channel 4 audience. Al Murray caused immense offence with a character in a sketch show who was both gay and a Nazi – that was the joke. He seemed to have forgotten that many thousands of gay men were murdered by the Third Reich. Those who survived the war were not, unlike all other categories of the persecuted, eligible for compensation. Still funny?

The appalling Horne and Corden show got a laugh out of a sketch about a gay war reporter – I suppose the joke was that gay men shouldn’t be interested in foreign or military affairs. A presenter of a talent show broadcast for a family audience, Patrick Kielty, mocked a male contestant who seemed moved almost to tears by calling him ‘a big gayer’; the BBC defended this stereotypical comment by saying that it was ‘not intended to cause offence’.

What relationship there is between publicly funded, broadcast abuse and violence against homosexuals is debatable. Probably the media have done no more than reflect some vulgar usage, and propagate it more widely.

Possibly. It reflects, if nothing else, the infantile desperation of British humorists and pundits in reaching for one of the few hatreds that still dares speak its name.



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