The Dictator: A Prejudiced Parody, But Against Whom?

The Dictator: A Prejudiced Parody, But Against Whom?Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, due in theaters May 11, 2012, has spawned the usual kind of promotional material for his fans: ads which smack of the satirical-stereotypical and reek of the indulgently inappropriate. Stepping somewhat back into his Borat shoes, Cohen plays fictional Arab military despot General Aladeen, who embodies what Americans hate about Middle Eastern dictators and tend to fear about Muslims in general; Cohen’s predictable concoction of brutality, sexism, and anti-Western sentiment makes his Aladeen a kind of cathartic caricature articulating Western frustrations with the Arab world.

And as usual, The Dictator seems more than content to unabashedly “other” the Arab world for comedic effect. For example, in the film’s teaser trailer, Aladeen says a line garbled in exaggeratedly long “Arabic” gibberish to highlight the strangeness of his language. And in a promo in which the character directly addresses the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Aladeen both makes an anti-Semitic slip and references the normalcy of terrorist culture in his region. The film’s promotional material, for the most part, has gleefully embraced distancing Arab Muslims from “us,” the normal culture.

But interestingly enough, the recently-released theatrical trailer seems to promise satirical jabs at not just the Arab world, but at the Western one as well. The end of the ad forces American viewers to acknowledge the absurdity of their heightened fears towards Arab Muslims through minor “surrogate” characters; in the final sequence of the trailer (seen below), Aladeen’s attempt to fool two Americans into thinking he’s one of them goes horribly wrong when he accidentally exploits their 9/11 fears.

Perhaps, like in Borat and Bruno, Cohen will use his stereotypical protagonist to not only poke fun at the people his character represents, but also at the American people harboring nasty prejudices toward them as well. Only the release of the feature will determine whether Cohen will parody both parties in equal measure, but if the promotional material is any indication, it’s possible that Cohen will do what he does best: offend everyone he can.

Photo courtesy of IMDB.

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