The fool held up to ridicule should not be one of those men whom we hold in respect, nor should he be someone whose behavior deserves punishment or pity.
– Cicero (probably a misquote, but not my fault)
We bourgeoisie insist that comedy must not be too cruel to the legitimate, but it’s an old value system with old roots. Supposedly, according to classical literature (Aristotle in particular), being too mean with your comedy makes it cease to be funny. And in contemporary society, there is a belief that failing to pull back on this cruelty has the power to remove social legitimacy, so it is dangerous.
You can see the influence of this concept in most Hollywood comedies. Look at the major films of Will Ferrel, which are in a lot of ways similar to Bruno and Borat – they feature protagonists who embody a specific sort of undesirable set of characteristics that are laughable to us, because they reflect the flaws in ourselves and in people we know.
Ricky Bobby is obsessed with winning and competition to the detriment of pretty much everything else in his life. Ron Burgundy has a warped sense of how awesome he is, especially relative to and in the eyes of women. Both of them fail at life because of their arrogance, but both of them reform and recover and get back everything they loved and more.
Comedy is morally useful and justifiable, this sort of philosophy contends, because it points out our flaws, lets us laugh at them, and gives us hope to become better people.
Moliere, among others in the New Comedy, as it was called, turned this on its ear. But they weren’t the first, and they weren’t the last.
Bruno is never reformed. His attempt to un-gay himself ends in a shower of beers making out with his assistant at a fraudulent underground MMA match. Borat, though he less of a fully formed character in a different sort of movie, still does not make apologies for himself or go hug a Jew at the end of the film.
Of course, this is somewhat misleading. Bruno’s flaw isn’t that he’s gay. Bruno’s flaw is that he’s a huge oversexed attention whore who sees his own celebrity as the biggest, most important thing in the world. He thinks his own dance moves are about on par with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is so fixated on getting the superficial things he wants that he practically sexually assaults Ron Paul. The way he throws his homosexuality at everybody is a secondary joke about the customs of his time.
And the movie does plenty to try to undermine those who seek to illegitimize LGBT persons. But Bruno doesn’t make apologies, so neither should I. In order to make his jokes about oversexed attention whoring, self-obsession and celebrity, Bruno makes a whole lot of shameless gay jokes. Cruel ones. And it deserves none of the forgiveness the bourgeoisie might want to muster for one of its favorite sons.
Because what is the worth of that rubric? Why should a system that says Bruno ought not to exist as a movie be called upon to pardon it? I thought Bruno was hilarious and awesome, so I say, let that system – the system that requires us to be kind when we mock the flaws of the people of our time – judge what it will judge and fail where it will fail. Then, let us disregard it when we do not want to hew to its purposes.