Liberals love Sacha Baron Cohen, because he exposed the absurdity of Republicans. Yet, they say nothing about his racism and their complicity in it. Satire doesn’t excuse routinely portraying negative stereotypes. It actually affects people. For example, Kazakh students in the US and UK were mocked because of Borat. Kazakhs have no representation at all in the west. Frankly, Cohen’s intentions do not matter. The consequences are indubitable: Borat made life worse for many Kazakhs in the west.
Satire loses its edge when the target is powerless. Libyans and Kazahks have no social capital in the west. James Franco’s film, The Interview, is horrible for similar reasons. North Koreans are only presented as fat, ugly maniacs or brain-washed goons. Unsurprisingly, Cohen mocked Kim Jong Il’s death at an awards ceremony, dressed as Gaddafi. Unlike Republicans, none of these people have a standing to be ridiculed. Cohen, for the sake of pointing out his country’s racism, will drip himself in racist portrayals that negatively affect these people. Shock value is his game, and it’s more important than Kazahks and Libyans.
Some might claim that it’s just “benign ignorance.” If so, why is this “benign ignorance” allowed and sustained by those who know better? Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense under Barack Obama, has openly talked about many of the things I mentinoed above: North Korea is not irrational, there is a complicated history between US and NK, and etc. William Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is even more sympathetic to North Korea — and he’s talked about this openly too. The US military is clearly aware of the things I have pointed out above. Yet, why aren’t these voices as emphasized as the negative steretypes? Why was Hussein suddenly demonized, despite US presidents like Reagan praising him as “great leader” in the past? Why is Gaddafi now a joke? All in all, one should be wary of ridiculing dictators who have no social capital in their country. We should be learning more about the other. Without prior knowledge, satire becomes a blank canvas for racism and xenophobia.