Is Brüno South-a-phobic? 

Fingers point toward gay stereotyping, but Southerners get the harshest treatment

On the opening day of Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie Brüno, in which the comedian portrays an outrageously flamboyant, homosexual Austrian, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released the following statement: "[T]he movie was a well-intentioned series of sketches — some hit the mark and some hit the gay community pretty hard and reinforce some damaging, hurtful stereotypes ... Scenes like that don't help America understand the hundreds of thousands of gay families who get up every day, do the carpool, then rush home to make dinner and be with their children ..."

Of my homosexual friends and acquaintances, none of them behave like Brüno. That said, I have met or seen the occasional homosexual man who behaves in the same over-the-top, ridiculous manner as Brüno, and they have annoyed me just as much as Baron Cohen annoyed or offended his unwitting subjects. When I have mentioned this prejudice to friends or even made some off-color remark, some have accused me of being "homophobic." Yet somehow, whenever I've made fun of some over-the-top, ridiculously macho straight man — some wannabe stud layered in gold chains, AXE body spray, and possessing an inflated, yet fragile ego — somehow I'm never called "heterophobic." In fact, my politically correct friends are usually laughing with me.

Brüno is a raunchy but hilarious movie, and if viewed primarily by an audience that had never come into contact with real-life gay men and women, GLAAD might have a point. But after his film Borat, Baron Cohen's fans knew exactly what to expect from the guerilla comedian, and I seriously doubt social conservatives were flocking to see the R-rated, borderline X-rated, movie.

While Baron Cohen made fun of everyone from black Americans to starry-eyed stage mothers, the worst stereotyping in Brüno was the film's portrayal of working-class Southerners. The most damning stunt in Brüno occurs at the end of the film, when Baron Cohen makes out with another man during a cage fighting event in Fort Smith, Ark. Predictably, the working-class Southern audience is both surprised and offended, but the cameras focus mostly on a dozen or so stereotypical rednecks, who yell "queer!," "faggot!," and even physically threaten Baron Cohen. It's pretty funny, actually. It's also pretty brutal.

The entire cage fighting scene was orchestrated by Baron Cohen to illicit a desired reaction — and he got it. Advertised as "Blue Collar Brawlin': Hot Chicks, Cold Beer, Hardcore Fights" the ticket price for the event was only $5 and beer was only $1. Hell, I would have gone to that. I also would have laughed my ass off if two guys started making out in the ring, precisely because of the predictable audience reaction. I'm a huge pro wrestling fan, mostly because I find how the wrestlers — good and bad — manipulate the crowd to be extremely entertaining. It's theater at its most basic. WWE mastermind Vince McMahon has even been known to flaunt gay characters just to spark a reaction. In 2001, WWE introduced the ambiguously gay duo Chuck and Billy who attempted to exchange wedding vows on live TV, and longtime, homosexual-tinged wrestler Goldust remains a popular character. Funny enough, Chuck, Billy, and Goldust all ended up as comedic, fan favorites.

While a majority of Southerners might not have attitudes about homosexuality that would be acceptable to members of GLAAD, they also are not the hate-filled, toothless goons portrayed in Brüno. In fact, the enraged, anti-gay rednecks in Baron Cohen's film are no more representative of all Southerners than Brüno is of all homosexuals.

When conservative religious groups have warned of the "gay agenda" by using footage of the more outlandish characters at gay pride parades, many have found such material to be cherry-picked propaganda that gives a ridiculous, cartoonish portrayal of gay Americans.

Yet I have yet to hear a single film critic say that the portrayal of Southerners in Brüno is just as ridiculous or cartoonish, and I don't expect to. Liberal or urban media elitists are quite comfortable with the Southern, redneck stereotype. In many ways, so am I. I find stereotypes hilarious — hence my love for pro wrestling — and believe they usually contain at least a grain of truth. But rarely the whole truth.

Flesh-and-blood human beings, whether gay or straight, black or white, Southern or not, are much more than two-dimensional characters. They are real people, who get up every day, do the carpool then rush home to make dinner and be with their children.

But a glaring double standard remains, and whether or not the movie Brüno contributes to homophobia will continue to be a hotly contested debate, precisely because homosexuals are an integral part of a now well-established, politically correct pantheon of groups who must never be maligned, misrepresented, or made fun of. Southerners are not.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.

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