Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Great Dictator 2.0

Okay, so I'm not the first person to draw a comparison between Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator and Charlie Chaplin's infamous portrayal of The Great Dictator.  But, as an American who's only seen the preview of the upcoming flick once, I'd like to think myself at least slightly ahead of the curveball Baron Cohen has thrown Hollywood's way.

While the Academy scrambles to correct their own PR faux pas, I'm tempted to do a little proactive analysis.  This, of course, could be a very dangerous thing; critics, after all, are writers who react.  While we may scribble like scribes, prophets we are not.  In true Biblical fashion I can only say that my validity should be put to the authentic prophet's test:  If what I say comes to pass, then I am right.  If not, I will still write.  Either way, I will hold fast to my refusal to pick your next Powerball numbers.

My hypothetical analysis of Baron Cohen's latest foray into the spotlight goes something like this: 

Charlie Chaplin used satire to mock the greatest dictator of his time, Adolf Hitler.  Exhibiting a flair for the modernism of his day, Chaplin embraced the self-consciousness of his work, breaking the fourth wall to address his audience with an impassioned plea for real-world action against a real-world dictator.

Enter The Dictator 2.0. Chaplin broke the fourth wall in cinema 72 years ago. Today, in true postmodernist style, Baron Cohen is breaking the fourth wall in real life. And he's destroying contemporary culture's foundation of political correctness, brick by brick.

How, you ask, is he accomplishing such a feat?  Today, we have far surpassed the thought-provoking irony of an actor's fourth wall.  With reality television becoming a staple of everyday life, the fourth wall is nothing more than the illusion of a flat screen TV.  For anyone to turn their art form into a platform they've got to think outside the box.  Arguably, it could be said that Baron Cohen isn't doing anything new.  The British actor has already proved a willingness to dwell outside the boundaries of belief with characters like Borat strutting down the red carpet.  He's exemplified his willingness to pick on stereotypes of people groups with characters like Bruno and Ali G.  At the outset, it would seem that the most postmodern thing that can be said about The Dictator is that Baron Cohen is doing nothing new. 

However, with the character of the Dictator, Baron Cohen is reaching past the shock value of nameless, faceless stereotypes: Now, he has a particular target in mind.  Perhaps this is why, unlike his previous characters, The Dictator ia known by a proper title, instead of a proper name.  This time, Baron Cohen's seemingly impersonal characterization is quite personal, indeed.

The title of the film is not its only irony.  While coverage of the film thus far attributes the inspiration of the film to a novel by Saddam Hussein, one can't help but think that if the dead Iraqi dictator were the butt of the joke, the Academy wouldn't be so afraid to laugh: "'Unless they’re assured that nothing entertaining is going to happen on the Red Carpet, the Academy is not admitting Sacha Baron Cohen to the show.'"  Dead Dictators aren't funny:  Didn't the Brits get the memo?  (Obviously Mel Brooks didn't.)

Perhaps the Academy wouldn't be so hesitant to let Baron Cohen walk the red carpet as a stark-raving mad Middle Eastern dictator if a certain stark-raving mad Middle Eastern dictator weren't threatening impending nuclear devastation while exercising his power over the European oil supplies and global economy. 

After all, how much of a threat can Saddam be now?  The Academy probably couldn't respond to that, inasmuch as they're having a problem explaining exactly why they banned The Dictator's appearance in the first place.

In true Sacha Baron Cohen fashion, he has taken the Academy's stick and turned it into a carrot, announcing, “Admiral General Aladeen will deliver a formal response tomorrow morning [Friday] to being banned from The Oscars by the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Zionists.”

This tongue-in-cheek phraseology exhibits more than an industry-old stereotype.  While Hollywood would like nothing more to decry "Woe is me, another Mel Gibson," they can't: The anti-Semitic, anti-Israel ruminations of a certain stark-raving mad Middle Eastern dictator won't let them. 

You mean, there are certain folks out there -- stark-raving mad, extremist Middle Eastern-types, who *gulp* don't like Jews?  But, certainly, a good British boy with an honored place in Hollywood wouldn't start breaching a politically incorrect topic like that.  How inappropriate, you can hear them whispering in the Academy's hallowed halls, We may walk the red carpet, but we do not live in a red STATE!

True to form, Baron Cohen has yet to break character.  He has, however, used his character to break down the wall of political correctness that has shielded Hollywood and all its lovers from the reality of the world situation.  The only question is: Why?

For Chaplin, his plea was an honest one:  He truly believed that unless the evil of Hitler was stopped, the entire world would suffer the consequences of Nazi ideology.  Turns out, he was right.  So, what is Baron Cohen's goal with this performance?  Is he simply the comedian going to great lengths for self-glorification, or is he using his art to draw attention to a greater cause than himself?

I suppose only time will tell.  But in an era when the voices of hatred are growing louder while the leaders of great nations scramble for cover, one can't help but find a glimmer of much-needed sanity in Baron Cohen's insane portrayal.  My own validity is dependent upon the test of time as well.  In the meantime, I can only cheer: Sacha, tear down this wall.

No comments:

Post a Comment