Date of Thesis

2010

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Alexander Tristan Riley

Abstract

Sacha Baron Cohen is a British comedian who has garnered a great deal of controversy over the years. Through his characters, Ali G, Borat, and Bruno, he attempts to trick people into letting down their guards and revealing any prejudices (racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, et cetera) that they may have. In doing so, each of his three characters has sparked a debate concerning the different issues they bring up: with Ali G, it was whether the character was racist or exposed racism; with Borat, it was whether the character was anti-Semitic or revealed anti-Semitism; and with Bruno, it is whether the character reinforces homophobia or mocks it. I am concerned with the last of these three debates, specifically in relation to Baron Cohen's film Bruno. Many say the film reinforces gay stereotypes and is thus harmful for the gay community, while a seemingly equal number of people say it effectively mocks homophobia and is thus beneficial for the gay community. Using the data I collected from thirty-one interviews conducted after five separate screenings of the film, I argue that Bruno is not harmful for the gay community as audiences understood that the Bruno character is based on exaggerated stereotypes of homosexuals. That is, the film did not reinforce any negative stereotypes. But, I also explain that the film did not change any opinions on homosexuality either. Also in this work, I argue that within the world of cinema, Bruno fails to fit into any pre-existing genre, including the 'mock-documentary' genre where it is most commonly placed. Rather, I suggest the film is better categorized as what I call a Real Fake Mock-documentary. While 'mock-documentaries' are made up of fictional characters in fictional situations, this new term encompasses the fact that Bruno involves a fictional character placed into real situations. I conclude by noting that the content, release, and debate surrounding Bruno all reveal that it is still difficult to bring up the issue of homosexuality in American society, even forty years after the Civil Rights era.

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