By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor
How soon is too soon to laugh at the mass murder and oppression of a people? Will it ever have been enough time?
Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” hits theaters this May, a comedic portrayal of an Arab dictator on tour in America. Premiering just a year after the grueling Arab Spring, the film begs the question: Where do we draw the line between sacred and satirical?
According to a November article in U.S. News and World Report, the Arab Spring cost more than 30,000 lives and sent thousands more to prison. Dictators were overthrown, new leaders were lifted up and regular people found a voice they never knew they had. It was monumental, to say the least.
The importance of the uprisings deserves dignity, not derogatory jokes from the notoriously nasty Cohen. But in a world where, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 21 percent of people younger than 30 get their news from Comedy Central, Cohen’s satire begins to make more sense.
Satire has been used as a political medium for centuries — just look at Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” circa 1729.
Whether Cohen’s intentions are admirable or not, his comedic exposure of international issues — or in the case of his previous films “Borat” and “Bruno,” national issues of stereotyping and racism — could prove a point among America’s unaware youth.
If comedy is what it takes to catch the attention spans of a generation that refuses to watch the news and would rather read their Twitter feeds than The New York Times, perhaps Cohen and people like him have got it right.
In 2006, “Borat” grossed $129 million. At $7 a ticket, that makes for about 18 million moviegoers, and judging from the immature humor that made it famous, most of them were probably younger than 30 years old.
How many news stations could boast that kind of viewership among America’s youth?