Toby Young: How Brüno creates his buzz
Sunday 28 June 2009
Is there anyone better at creating buzz around his own movies than Sacha Baron Cohen? He did a good job of publicising Borat three years ago, but it was nothing compared to his efforts to promote Brüno. His surprise appearance at the MTV Awards earlier this month was watched by 100 million people – and countless more on YouTube.
In addition to publicity stunts, Baron Cohen is a master at creating controversy, another great way to promote a film. In fact, that statement is slightly misleading in that he doesn't try and whip up controversy around his films for publicity purposes. Rather, his films consist of a number of controversial set pieces loosely strung together with some feeble storyline.
Brüno is purportedly about the central character's efforts to conquer America – to become "the most famous Austrian since Hitler" – but it is hard to imagine anyone being gripped by this narrative. The entertainment value resides in the set pieces, such as Brüno's appearance as a guest on The Richard Bey Show. In front of a largely African-American audience, he appeals for a black, homosexual partner to help him raise his newly adopted African baby. The baby is then brought out wearing a T-shirt with the word "Gayby" on it and the audience is treated to photographs of the child sitting in a hot tub with four naked men. Needless to say, it isn't long before Brüno is confronted with a baying mob.
Beneath this melee, Baron Cohen might claim to be "exposing" the homophobia of ordinary Americans, but that is largely beside the point. Will audiences watching the film engage in self-examination afterwards and be less likely to give in to such knee-jerk reactions themselves? I doubt it. The purpose of these set pieces is to be controversial in order to generate buzz.
In a sense, Baron Cohen's films exist solely in order to promote themselves. They are politically incorrect, not because Baron Cohen himself has any objection to political correctness, but because that's a sure-fire way to stimulate controversy and sell tickets.
Baron Cohen is not the most gifted satirist of our age, but the most gifted self-promoter. He is Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley rolled into one.
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