Originally published by Mintpressnews.com.
MINNEAPOLIS – Sacha Baron Cohen is widely hailed as a comedic genius, using his sheer audacity to mock the absurdity of his targets. The creator of Ali G, Borat and Brüno has become one of Hollywood’s hottest commodities. Yet his outrageous stunts often belie his agenda and his own proximity to state power.
Baron Cohen is often reluctant to make direct political statements. But a close examination of the comedian’s background and views suggests that much of his work is pro-Western propaganda masquerading as satire.
For example, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Department of Defense was involved in the production of the 2009 mockumentary “Brüno,” wherein Baron Cohen plays a flamboyantly gay Austrian reporter traveling the world. In his quest to become more heterosexual, Brüno visits a military base in Alabama. The scenes on the base feel rather staged, with the officers setting him up for a glut of witty one liners. Download the PDF file.
The production company’s version of events is that they lied to the National Guard in order to gain filming permission and that, after suspecting the military smelled a rat, they hastily fled the base in their vehicle, with the guards chasing them and yelling at them to stop. The car apparently just made it out in time, squeezing under a rapidly closing front gate, like the iconic escape scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” As to the question of why nobody spotted one of the most well-known comedians in the world playing a character that had been around for a decade, the production team said that, because of strict discipline at the base, none of the dozens of recruits Brüno interacted with were allowed to speak freely to their superior officers, meaning they were none the wiser.
Not everybody is convinced by this explanation. Tom Secker, an investigative journalist who analyzes the connections between the Pentagon and Hollywood, commented:
If the footage was obtained illegally, by the production company deceiving the military – which they certainly did and so it certainly was – then it would have been a relatively simple matter for the Pentagon to prevent them from using it in the final movie.”
This raises the question of what sort of concessions they gave the military in order to use the footage, or whether the entire encounter was pre-scripted from the start.
“Brüno” was also made with the help of the CIA. In an interview with David Letterman in 2009, Baron Cohen casually stated that a CIA contact had arranged some of the scenes in the movies. Baron Cohen’s idea was to interview Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah members and show them images of homosexual sex to get their reaction on camera. The agent in question was John Kiriakou, who became a public figure after he blew the whistle on the agency’s use of torture in Iraq. He is now an author and radio show host.
Kiriakou told MintPress that he advised Baron Cohen that his crazy stunt was “an exceptionally bad idea.” “I said, ‘listen, they’ll kill you. They’ll kill your crew. They’ll go out into the streets and kill people who remind them of you. That’s how bad this is going to be.’” When asked about the national security state’s role in shaping pop culture, the former intelligence officer said that it is “far more cynical” than most people realize, explaining:
“There is a branch inside the CIA’s Office Of Public Affairs whose job is solely to work with Hollywood Studios. This is something that the FBI has been doing since the 1940s. They’ll cooperate and give the red carpet treatment to any Hollywood studio that’s willing to make the CIA look good.“
Since “Brüno” was filmed, the level of CIA involvement in Hollywood has escalated, thanks to the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which legalized the use of government propaganda on the U.S. public. “What that then does is it allows the likes of the CIA to assist Hollywood studios in making pro-CIA films,” Kiriakou explained, noting that many top TV shows and movies – all of which show the agency in a good light and perpetuate falsehoods such as torture being an essential part of keeping America safe – are now made with CIA help. “They can just make up these lies now and just go with it!” he added. The extent to which the government directly manufactures popular culture, however, is far from limited to just one agency: the Department of Defense has been involved in the production of at least 814 movies and 1,133 television shows, including many of the most successful titles and series.
In the end, “Brüno’s” production company did interview someone they claimed was a terrorist (in the Letterman interview, Baron Cohen described the man as such eight times in the space of three minutes). However, the person in question – Palestinian grocer and NGO worker Ayman Abu Aita – vigorously denied he was a terrorist at all. He claimed that Baron Cohen had told him the interview would be about his peace activism and that his life and business had been destroyed as a result. Abu Aita sued for nearly $100 million. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2012.
It is this sort of casual demonization of Arabs and Muslims that has led to much criticism of Baron Cohen’s work as anti-racist on a superficial level but perpetuating gross stereotypes and contempt for the people of Western Asia. Sina Rahmani, an academic and host of “The East is a Podcast,” a show about orientalism in popular culture, was especially critical of Baron Cohen’s casual racism and how it is used to bolster Western objectives in the Middle East, telling MintPress:
This isn’t rocket science. He [Baron Cohen] very likely has some connections and that’s how he gets all this amazing access, only to claim to be some kind of Andy Kaufman-esque genius. While a lot of people fall for this, underneath it all, it is all just your run-of-the-mill white supremacist raceplay.”
If this seems overly critical, then consider “The Dictator,” Baron Cohen’s 2012 satire of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The timing of the production could hardly be any more conspicuous – and useful for U.S. and Israeli interests. Written and filmed at exactly the same time as NATO was working with jihadists to overthrow the leader that had constantly been a thorn in the West’s side, the movie features some of the crudest Islamophobic stereotypes seen anywhere on television. Muslims are presented as interested only in killing Americans or molesting women, while the dictator himself is working on developing nuclear weapons to use against Israel.
“The Dictator” was released just after the real-life Gaddafi was publicly executed by Western-backed jihadists, who control the country to this day and have turned it into a failed state replete with open-air slave markets.
Rahmani was highly critical of the movie, telling MintPress:
“The Dictator” is essentially an Israeli-American imitation of a crass stereotype borrowed almost directly from the low-budget action/military movies that proliferated throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Ultimately, it comes down to a very profound cultural Islamophobia, which can be turned on and off as needed. And those deeply radicalized sentiments build up over time and crystallize as foreign policy through invasions and regime-change wars.”
Originally published by Mintpressnews.com.
Author: Alan Macleod
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 at the Glasgow University Media Group, Alan published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles.