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Who Is America?

Slow holiday weekend, and I fully plan on indulging myself by doing as little as possible -- finishing up a couple of books, playing guitar, knocking back a beer or three, maybe doing a little writing (political and otherwise). So we're getting a free weekend of Showtime, featuring the Season 1 marathon of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest project.

Baron Cohen is a bit of a mixed bag for me; at times his cringe-inducing brand of comedy can be uproariously funny, at other times merely gross. Who Is America? fills both bills adequately right from the start, opening the first episode with SBC's southern conservative journalist character (complete with motorized scooter, natch) baiting Bernie Sanders, following that with a segment featuring SBC playing a paroled prisoner who "paints" with his own feces and semen, pitching his "art" to a credulous gallery owner.

I guess I'd give it a qualified recommendation -- there are few genuine surprises to be had, but that is probably in part due to the fact that we now live in a world where truth isn't truth, a demented old bastard runs the country, and nothing is really surprising anymore, primarily because we've all been forced to confront how said demented old bastard got into office. Reminding us that there are morons and assholes among us, many of them in positions of power, is no longer funny or cathartic. Irony suffered a mortal blow after 9/11, but now it's dead and ground into sausage.

That said, clearly a lot of work has gone into this, mainly in the variety of characters SBC has crafted to gull the dupes into revealing themselves. It's worth watching just for that, though again some segments are more worthy than others. Your mileage will vary, and you enter at your own risk.

One of the more relatively innocuous segments occurs in the second episode, where some interchangeable Bachelor dingbat gets tricked by the decadent Italian billionaire photographer character into doing a PSA for child soldiers. [rolls eyes] Yes, you read that right.

What makes this slightly more interesting is when a teevee critic decides to get in on the hijinks, and decry the seeming fish-in-a-barrel quality of the segment:
What is this segment trying to satirize, exactly? That a woman who’s already been used as a tool in multiple TV ratings ploys would make a fool of herself again? That she’s absurdly compliant with the demands of celebrity, to the point that she’ll go along with any script she’s given? At its most damning, the segment is a swipe at how happy Olympios is to be on television, and what exactly she’s willing to do for publicity.


But the segment does raise questions about Who Is America? and its goals. Why is this reality star a target? Why is the assumption that it’s hilarious to watch a powerful man manipulate a fame-hungry, clueless younger woman?
Those are an awful lot of questions that fail to see the (to me, anyway) rather obvious point of it all: what sort of "culture" routinely makes these random idiots famous and wealthy? Obviously, from movie B-girls to music and sports groupies, the entertainment industry has always used young women willing to do anything (and I mean anything) for what? Fifteen minutes of....well, it's not exactly fame, but let's call it attention of a sort.

The girl in question struck a very dim glimmer of memory, of someone perhaps seen in the "Entertainment" section of the Google News aggregator, a section that becomes increasingly irrelevant as it is overtaken by the children and stepchildren of one of O.J. Simpson's lawyers in his trial a quarter-century ago for murdering his wife and her friend. [Ah, fame! -- Ed.]

And indeed, Corinne Olympios first achieved the glories of name recognition when she caused the dating show she was on to be investigated for allegations of sexual misconduct, when Olympios got one of the male contestants to perform oral sex on her.

You want the epitome of meta-cynicism, folks, there you have it -- a cynical audience watching a cynical exercise in which cynical idiots pretend to be competing for love, filmed and edited to be as cynically manipulative as possible, and to encourage moral judgments from the audience. I've always considered myself a hopelessly cynical bastard, but this sort of shit is a depth beyond me.

Is it possible that that is at least part of what Sacha Baron Cohen is trying to send up here, using a character that is a crude, vulgar distillation of the gaudy Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless bullshit that captivated American couch potatoes for years? That's yet another level of cynicism that we've all just taken for granted for decades -- this idea that people who actually work for a living would like nothing more than to have their noses rubbed in the mostly unearned and inherited excesses of tacky swells and net-worth assholes.

In fact, that might have been the one way for SBC to top the routine meta-cynical excesses of the Bachelorette types, and the rotten, soulless anti-culture that's sprung up around it. There is a clear cultural connection between that sort of mindless Ow My Balls! bullshit, and its current political by-products. Maybe the teevee critic's error was in assuming that Baron Cohen was only interested in duping the Roy Moore types, and not thinking that maybe people like Corinne Olympios also participate in something that is ultimately harmful to the mental health of the people who are hooked on it.

When everything turns into a cheesy wink and a nod, a joke that we're all in on but continue to beat into the ground long after it stopped being funny or interesting, it can't be too surprising when we eventually get what we have now. Random jerkoffs with no discernible talent "monetizing" their side hustles on Instagram and YouTube, hoping to parlay that into some "reality" teevee bullshit, and thence into some Kardashian-Jenner quadrant of Satan's asshole, pimping collagen creams and taint waxes and such like.

Given the longstanding prevalence of this nonsense, it makes a certain perverted sense that a fake tycoon with fake hair and skin and a third trophy wife, a man who brags that he shits in a gold toilet in a marble tower, would be received by a sufficient number of certifiable dipshits as an authentic hero of the working class.

This post first appeared on Hammer Of The Blogs, please read the originial post: here

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Who Is America?


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