Who Is America?

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mfunk9786
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Who Is America?

#1 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 1:45 pm

Just watched the first episode of the new Sacha Baron Cohen series on Showtime On Demand (it 'officially' airs tonight)...... and this is going to be in the news cycle, folks. Somehow it didn't seem quite as transgressive to get people on the record as having horrifying opinions on any number of topics back in the Ali G days, but this show is somehow more terrifying than some of Cohen's other work, because of the very fact that it is current. Getting U.S. congressmen to read statements endorsing a program that arms kindergarten students somehow sends ice up your spine in 2018 more than it did then, perhaps because it seems possible now. Still absolutely puzzled as to how he's able to fool these people with the makeup looking so bizarre, but some of them barely seem to have registering brain activity, so, I guess it just all works itself out.

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Re: Who Is America?

#2 Post by zedz » Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:34 pm

That's the same question that greeted Brass Eye twenty years ago, but people who really should know better - or have press secretaries who should know better - will still disengage all analytical thought if there's a camera pointing at them. I think vanity and ego is a big part of it: an insatiable drive for airtime and the cravenness to do whatever it takes to secure it.

Nonce Sense

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Re: Who Is America?

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:43 pm

As seemed apparent after viewing the first episode, this appears to be the clip that has people the most gobsmacked

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Omensetter
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Re: Who Is America?

#4 Post by Omensetter » Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:42 pm

Showtime published the last third of the first episode on YouTube.
----
The art bit was wholly unnecessary and seemed at odds with the show's thesis in that the notion of what-is-art? isn't unique to America and is a stale question besides. The subject seemed to be a good sport and didn't seem deserving of Cohen's ridicule. I have no idea why he went after pretensions in the art world when this awful country is gifting him much better material---I hope he shows up in Silicon Valley in later episodes.

Sanders had some fantastic reactions during his brief appearance (I loved how Cohen had a 1% handout ready for when Sanders inevitably pivoted to that campaign line) and Cohen's portrayal of the identity politics-fetishizing liberal (or really, just liberal) was spot-on outside of the obvious outlandish portions.

If it seemed disappointing, it's because Showtime posted a bloody third of the episode online beforehand! Anyhow, Bruno was one the best comedies of last decade and it's nice to seem him back to more unscripted material.

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Re: Who Is America?

#5 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 9:04 pm

I think there's a certain "both sides" mentality to stuff like the NPR liberal and the art segment. Luckily both segments were funny, but it definitely did make a declaration that the show wasn't just going to exist to create "gotcha" moments out of conservatives.

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Re: Who Is America?

#6 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 15, 2018 9:05 pm

Also, the liberals come off so much better because their "sin" is being accommodating and polite

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Re: Who Is America?

#7 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 10:36 pm

Yes! The art gallery woman was absurdly pretentious in one sense but man oh man, was she willing to go along with the bit to an absolutely shocking endpoint

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Re: Who Is America?

#8 Post by Never Cursed » Mon Jul 16, 2018 12:50 am

I can buy that some of the interactions (namely, the ones that were designed to go viral) were the result of interviewee manipulation, but I don't see how anyone could come away from the art consultant's segment thinking anything other than that she was playing a character or at least given some encouragement to hear Baron Cohen's character out. The opening with Bernie Sanders drove me crazy too - why would he, especially given his highly visible position as a leftist politician and public speaker, even accept an interview with a supposed alt-right mouthpiece? He's only there to be the straight man opposite Baron Cohen's self-satisfied mugging.

On the whole, this was like watching three lame episodes of Last Week Tonight in a row before stumbling upon the segment where John Oliver runs into Edward Snowden (ie gold), and at least I can say that that show is generally well-made. But this? This is just a bunch of half-assed, aimless filler segments placed in front of an entertaining but ill-intentioned closer. I can probably just scroll through (insert nationally reviled conservative politician here's) trending page on Twitter next Sunday and get as much out of my 20 minutes. A pastiche of Americans is not the same thing as America.

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Re: Who Is America?

#9 Post by All the Best People » Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:38 am

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 9:05 pm
Also, the liberals come off so much better because their "sin" is being accommodating and polite
The Trump supporters he had dinner with were exceptionally patient and polite. One of the most striking aspects of his project over the years has been how patient and polite people can be, actually.

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Re: Who Is America?

#10 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 2:24 am

Mungo wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 12:50 am
I can buy that some of the interactions (namely, the ones that were designed to go viral) were the result of interviewee manipulation, but I don't see how anyone could come away from the art consultant's segment thinking anything other than that she was playing a character or at least given some encouragement to hear Baron Cohen's character out. The opening with Bernie Sanders drove me crazy too - why would he, especially given his highly visible position as a leftist politician and public speaker, even accept an interview with a supposed alt-right mouthpiece? He's only there to be the straight man opposite Baron Cohen's self-satisfied mugging.

On the whole, this was like watching three lame episodes of Last Week Tonight in a row before stumbling upon the segment where John Oliver runs into Edward Snowden (ie gold), and at least I can say that that show is generally well-made. But this? This is just a bunch of half-assed, aimless filler segments placed in front of an entertaining but ill-intentioned closer. I can probably just scroll through (insert nationally reviled conservative politician here's) trending page on Twitter next Sunday and get as much out of my 20 minutes. A pastiche of Americans is not the same thing as America.
One of the most impressive things about Cohen's work is the off-screen efforts of the producers to make things run smoothly. He's explained in interviews how integral they are to the entire process, and also explained how no one is prepped ahead of time that whatever is going on is a bit of any kind. So despite how bizarre something like the art segment might seem, I strongly doubt Cohen would have even gone to the effort to do it if there was an actor of some kind prepped to do it the way he wanted. The entire appeal of this kind of comedy is to manipulate sincere (for better or worse) people into unironically involving themselves in extreme situations.

Having watched it again: one of the most amusing things to me is how the Trump delegates' dining room is designed and lit so so similarly to Bush voters' used in Borat and Bruno. So dark, so weird, so impersonal.

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Re: Who Is America?

#11 Post by Omensetter » Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:09 am

Rewatched it again this morning and, generally, I think the criticisms against it (just in this thread) are probably correct but I'm not sure I ultimately care. The country feels so utterly humorless right now that having Cohen return with new characters feels welcome. I'm also out-of-touch with the comedic landscape, though---all of the Hollywood comedies feel like they are engineered to play just as well abroad, losing essentially all cultural nuance and specificity, leaving us with "horrible bosses" and "bad moms", etc.

I can buy Sanders accepting that interview. The guy legitimately does not stop campaigning---he was with Chuy Garcia in opposition to Rahm Emmanuel (the only national politician to endorse him) weeks before he announced his presidential candidacy and he's been to Kansas so many times that he had to add current leftist superstar Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez to his upcoming rally/endorsement in Koched-up Wichita (well, he didn't have to add her; people would fill up the venue, regardless---but it feels so novel that I'm more interested in seeing Ocasia-Cortez). That interview probably took a very small chunk of Sanders's time, of which he's seemingly willing to give to those who might not necessarily vote for him which, you know, is how you basically win elections.

I just straight-up hate the art bit now. Punching left is more than fine, but the subject was playing along so knowingly that it didn't register (going out of her way to give him like ten of her pubic hairs); it just felt like the third of the show it was. It was also the weakest and less-developed of Cohen's characters by a significant margin.

The other characters and bits went down fine.

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Re: Who Is America?

#12 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 12:00 pm

Omensetter wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:09 am
Rewatched it again this morning and, generally, I think the criticisms against it (just in this thread) are probably correct but I'm not sure I ultimately care. The country feels so utterly humorless right now that having Cohen return with new characters feels welcome.
This is a great point. There is nothing less funny at the moment than political comedy on television (up to and including the ads I saw for Our Cartoon President that bookended the Cohen episode - who watches shit like that??), and this is an absolute breath of fresh air as well as a pretty stellar tightrope act. In the age of Twitter, an episode of The Daily Show or a Weekend Update segment or pretty much every other political commentary show feels instantly stale at best, and this is... not that. No humorless 'Drumpf' lecturing here.

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Re: Who Is America?

#13 Post by McCrutchy » Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:48 pm

I just finished watching this and my feelings are largely the same. Although I have to admit that I don't find things like this that funny in the first place, more amusing and sort of entertaining. The bit with the art gallery consultant was probably the most unnecessary, but it was also nice to watch a segment that was devoid of politics, too. Having said that, I'm not 100% sure the woman didn't have some sort of suspicion of exactly what was going on and possibly who was sitting with her. Initially, she seemed very professional, and she kept that up, but slowly, she also became sort of amused, and the fact that she actually allowed herself to be filmed trimming her own pubic hair to give to Cohen makes it seem like she was just really cool with it, honestly. After all, of everyone in the episode, she (as a young art dealer) is far more likely to have seen some of Baron Cohen's comedy before than most people he interviews. Even if she didn't know who it was--a strong possibility, since Americans are terrible at recognizing people--she probably figured out it was a joke and decided to play along because she knew it was for Showtime. If anything, I expect she'll get a lot of prospective dates out of it, assuming she's single, of course (I wasn't looking at her hands).

The Kinder-Guardians segment was absolutely chilling, though. The only part that brought it down for me was when Cohen had that Prat(t) read those gobbledygook claims using terms like "Cardi B" and "Wiz Khalifa" to show just how out of touch he was with pop culture.
All the Best People wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:38 am
The Trump supporters he had dinner with were exceptionally patient and polite. One of the most striking aspects of his project over the years has been how patient and polite people can be, actually.
I have to agree. I don't think it's unfair to say that Trump supporters have by-and-large been painted as angry, petulant racists who are not accommodating to other people's viewpoints, and while on the one hand the subjects were seemingly well-off and were probably behaving for the Showtime cameras with their reputations in mind, I was surprised to see just how "well" they took everything the Cohen character said to them.

And there was also that bit during the credits where the husband volunteered that Trump's values were "fucked up", which again reinforces the idea that Trump's base doesn't care about many of the aspects of Trump that the media focuses on that have to do with his style, presentation or personal life.

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Re: Who Is America?

#14 Post by Omensetter » Mon Jul 16, 2018 5:24 pm

McCrutchy wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:48 pm
The only part that brought it down for me was when Cohen had that Prat(t) read those gobbledygook claims using terms like "Cardi B" and "Wiz Khalifa" to show just how out of touch he was with pop culture.
That actually heightened the bit for me since they seemed inserted to showcase how he'll unthinkingly read anything off the teleprompter, so long as he feels secure in the knowledge that he's on his team (and, as zedz mentioned, on camera). The point seemed more Milgram than anything regarding pop culture. I don't even think blink-182 are anywhere near relevant now, except as a monoculture nostalgia act.

The man in the South Carolina "Heal the Divide" bit would have definitely been less accommodating without his wife/paramour keeping him in check.

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Re: Who Is America?

#15 Post by McCrutchy » Mon Jul 16, 2018 5:44 pm

I know, but it was obvious he was reading off of a teleprompter, anyway (he put his glasses on, for one thing), and I'm many people would, especially in mid-paragraph, read almost anything off of a teleprompter written as text to read, because at a certain point, it all becomes a sort of automatic action. Besides, the other stuff he was reading was disturbing enough.

I just felt like Cohen was beating an old drum by "revealing" that some 75-year-old white guy probably has no idea who people like Cardi B are. That's obviously not surprising, and I would have been more shocked if he'd stopped reading because he recognized something was up. Perhaps if Cohen altered it to something Pratt should have been familiar with, like, say, "the Lucille Ball neural pathway", it would have been a stronger indictment.

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Re: Who Is America?

#16 Post by swo17 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:02 pm

It's all a punchline to the comment that "members of Congress don't just hear about a program and then indicate whether they support it or not"

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Re: Who Is America?

#17 Post by BenoitRouilly » Mon Jul 30, 2018 4:18 pm

McCrutchy wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:48 pm
I'm not 100% sure the woman didn't have some sort of suspicion of exactly what was going on and possibly who was sitting with her. Initially, she seemed very professional, and she kept that up, but slowly, she also became sort of amused, and the fact that she actually allowed herself to be filmed trimming her own pubic hair to give to Cohen makes it seem like she was just really cool with it, honestly.
I'm guessing she felt pity for him (emphasized by the neck brace) so she played along. But her comment on the "art" are not very flattering.
As for her pubic hair (an obsession of Sacha Baron Cohen apparently since Borat), I don't believe she would have accepted the camera crew filming her "collecting" it... unless she was convinced to "pretend to do it for the camera". Thus the weird shot of Cohen waiting out at the door (half-closed) and her turning her back (but right in the frame).
And there was also that bit during the credits where the husband volunteered that Trump's values were "fucked up", which again reinforces the idea that Trump's base doesn't care about many of the aspects of Trump that the media focuses on that have to do with his style, presentation or personal life.
I believe the values he found "fucked up" were the ones of his guest (Cohen).

I watched the 3rd episode. And another thing struck me. The bit about the Quinciñera is hilarious and unbelievable, up until the police arrives.
Who I'm suspicious of. They turn to the camera (and cameraman), turn back their head to the "offenders" and ask if "there are only the two of you?" (omiting the cameraman while the third guy is hiding in the piñata). I think the police was hired actors for this time. But the explaining they would have to do is pretty delirious... "it's part of the training" he said haha

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Re: Who Is America?

#18 Post by Omensetter » Tue Jul 31, 2018 10:08 am

I'm sure the best is yet to come, but so far that second episode is hard to top, even with the firmly unfunny Bachelor contestant segment. Incidentally, the only two segments to fall completely flat are the only segments involving women. I'm not certain it has anything to do with gender, more than their roles---the art curator plumb didn't seem deserving of Cohen (let alone one of his weakest characters) and the revelations that emerged from the bachelor contestant segment are pretty well embedded within American culture.

To focus on the positive: The bits bookending the second episode are glorious and, well, is America even as I laughed less in the first segment (the Georgia state rep) than had my mouth agape. The Kingman, Arizona segment is surely a highpoint for television fr the year (full disclosure: the last show I watched was Twin Peaks: The Return and even then I regard it as a film) and the Cheney interview at least offered some jabs, even if we'll never see the man in prison, much like all high-ranking American officials previous. Maybe it at least reminded viewers of how awful that administration was when the American population seems to be perpetually afflicted with amnesia?

As an aside, I want to see the Truthbrary character more---it brings out the best of Cohen's improvisational instincts (and I suppose I not-so-tacitly feel flattered since his subjects essentially dismiss him).

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Re: Who Is America?

#19 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:55 pm

Omensetter wrote:
Tue Jul 31, 2018 10:08 am
As an aside, I want to see the Truthbrary character more---it brings out the best of Cohen's improvisational instincts (and I suppose I not-so-tacitly feel flattered since his subjects essentially dismiss him).
Well, he's the one who interviewed Sarah Palin, so we'll definitely be seeing more of him.

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