The CEO of the Showtime network said recently he is “dying” to bring Sacha Baron Cohen’s series, “Who is America?” back for a second season.
That’s ironic, in a sense, because “dying” describes the state of civil political dialog in the United States, and the show — a vehicle for “gotcha” questions that catch political operatives, almost all conservative Republicans, unawares — is helping that death along.
We admit to a certain glee in hearing that Utah political operative David Pyne of West Jordan saw through the ruse and fought back against the insinuations and rude suggestions of the fictional character Cohen portrayed in a recent video segment.
Cohen lures people onto his show, generally through false promises, then assumes one of several odd characters to interview them. In Pyne’s case, Cohen’s character, a man claiming to be the father of a 12-year-old boy he caught viewing pornography, admitted to being a pedophile and tried to get Pyne to agree to co-author a disgusting book.
Cohen often does this sort of thing subtly and in ways that confuse his victims and catch them unprepared.
Pyne didn’t take the bait. He said he later contacted child protective services to report the man, which is only right.
Other Utahns have fallen victim to Cohen’s pranks on the show, as have many prominent people nationwide. But even when someone like Pyne stands up to him, the show’s editors are judicious in what airs.
The show is vulgar, and it distorts serious political philosophies. Cohen has tried to prank the liberal Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well, but Sanders also didn’t give in to the comedian’s suggestions.
Political comedy is supposed to be satirical and exaggerated, of course. There is nothing wrong with poking fun at politics. Done well, it can reveal absurdities that otherwise might not be apparent. It can remove the political veneer of self-importance and unite a diverse audience through laughter.
But Cohen plays only to his base. His aim isn’t to enlighten or to be clever, it is to use adolescent pranks to elicit belly laughs from a like-minded audience.
Compare that to the late Will Rogers, whose wit is exemplified by how he once reacted to one of the big issues of his day — whether the U.S. should grant independence to the Philippines.
“You refuse to give the Philippines their complete independence,” he said. “I am with you. Why should the Philippines have more than we do?”38 comments on this story
In three short sentences that skewered politicians while subtly referencing a host of issues he didn’t need to name.
And much of what he said nearly a century ago sounds as if it were written today. “Congress is so strange,” he once observed “A man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees."
This show represents the worst of the current culture of contempt in America. Deceiving people in order to demean them for their political beliefs, in the name of comedy, is no laughing matter.