08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Bruno Worse For Gays Than Perez Hilton?

I am sorry to hear that GLAAD has condemned Sacha Baron Cohen's alter-ego Bruno as a setback for the depiction of homosexuals in popular culture. I do wish to be respectful of others' feelings on this complicated issue and acknowledge my own place as a hetero sympathizer and onlooker.

Throughout the film Bruno, we see Cohen stage increasingly elaborate public spectacles forcing unsuspecting people to bear witness to outrageously homosexual situations. One such scenario involves Cohen shackling himself naked in S&M bondage gear to his boyfriend, and wandering around looking for help to unlock them, including waddling through a gathering of anti-gay protesters carrying signs like "God hates fags." (They totally cut out the shot from the trailer where a furious shopping mall security guard confronts Bruno profanely. I hate when they do that.)

I recognize that the flamboyantly preening Bruno draws from well-worn stereotypes of flaming gay prima donnas. But Cohen brings much, much more to his Austrian fashionista, a character he has been doing for years. Yes, he's gay, but that is not what is funny about him; it's the voracity of his gayness, like Austin Powers in short shorts, an id unleashed to act out in the most grandiose stunts that he can pull out of his ass. (Sorry.) It is actually liberating to see a display of such flaunting of gay lust in a still-timid place: Hollywood. Bruno offers way more fearless gay action than, say, Brokeback Mountain.

Yet Cohen's escapades are consistently outdone by the reactions from the different spectators who suffer Cohen's sociopathic genius. Be it hunters in the woods at night, wrestling fans, or cops, the viewer is continually anticipating violent reprisals from any of these people who look really uncomfortable with homosexual anything. The film exposes the depths of homophobia in some quarters, transcending basic shock humor to capture the face of hatred. False pretenses for filming aside, this is documentary.

Further, Bruno's character is richly defined as so sublimely stupid, his persona presents a landmark in modern movies. Bruno is so dumb, he raises the bar, defying generalization. In the annals of comedy, there has not been a clown such as Bruno, whose idea of a good TV pilot includes a talking urethra. As prurient as he wants to be, the fashion activist Bruno is really a lavish wardrobe for juvenile humor involving butts, slapstick, dirty words, and anything else tried and true that could be classified as base.

Bruno's abject foolishness, farcical self-obsession, and quixotic quest for glamour in all the wrong places are all genuine comic ingredients, and not reflective of gay people. I would venture to say that I have never seen or heard of a gay person remotely close to Bruno, nor find grounds that would lead me to believe other homosexuals would be similar.

Bruno is a composite of our celeb-trash culture, but hilariously missing the point. He aspires to be "über-famous"--in a general sort of way, not for a talent, or body of work, or any work for that matter. That Bruno is just as likely to seduce Ron Paul as he is RuPaul to hook up with someone with a name is further satire of the fame game.

When you compare Bruno's impact on a heterosexual cultural paradigm with that of Perez Hilton, the blogger of celebrities who somewhere along the way became one himself, it presents a striking impression: Bruno is an act, Perez Hilton is real.

Perez Hilton routinely scrawls epithets and insults on photos released online by other photographers that he does not compensate or credit. His scribbling look like the rants of a patient who resides in an institution under protective care. He ridicules their shoes, hair, fashion, cleavage, makeup, aging, if they have been dumped, it they have been dating, if they are glamorous, if they have been widely successful, or not successful enough for him lately. He obsesses over the newest young stars that titillate 'tweens, canonizing his red carpet cartel regardless of ability. He often adds his own enthusiastic rhetorical flourish to ensure proper contextualization of his carnal sensibility, like obsessing over the dude from Twilight's treasure trail, or diagnosing Patrick Dempsey as sex on a stick.

I really don't even care about Perez Hilton or think any of his schtick really matters. It's funny and fine to bitch about Hollywood celebs, it is an American pastime and an industry unto itself. But for those concerned about the impact of gay stereotypes and and the cause of acceptance and tolerance, I would suggest that Perez Hilton's vapidly vicious agenda and his bottomless bitchiness ferments much more repellent opinions against gays than Sacha Baron Cohen's slapstick in shaved legs. Star-fucking is Perez Hilton's raison d'etre -- Bruno's raison d'etre is to shock people with inconceivable antics.

Compare the recent dust-ups with rappers that the two omnipresent personalities recently enjoyed. Perez Hilton went to his webcam in hysterics because the Black Eyed Peas' manager hit him after Perez called "a faggot," because it was the meanest thing he could think of. Considering that his last album was the pop-oriented Songs About Girls, I harbor doubts that is homosexual.

In his tete-a-tete with Eminem, Sacha Baron Cohen staged one of the most stunningly funny pieces of performance art ever recorded at the always-desperate-for-attention MTV Movie Awards. With the high-wire prowess of Cirque de Soleil, Bruno flew over the audience in an elaborate angel costume, somersaulted haphazardly to expose his loins, then took a nose dive into Eminem's lap, executed with excellent accuracy and astonishing grace. While Eminem's slack jawed security responded, Coen continued to unload funny lines as he spun around overhead like a homoerotic pinata.

While Eminem would claim days later that he was in on the gag, it may well have been the last bit of face he could save, after having that face rubbed in Bruno's package.

In this contrast, Bruno humbled the occasionally homophobic rapper by cozying up to him and proffering an obviously staged overture. Perez Hilton dug deep to insult and came up with calling him a faggot, prompting an overwhelming number of observations of the pot calling the kettle black, or the pot calling the Black Eyed Peas gay, or the gay guy calling the ladies' man gay, or whatever.

In Perez Hilton's famous exchange with Carrie Prejean--the one-time Miss California, topless model and future Republican vice presidential candidate--Perez asked the Miss USA contender about gay marriage, leading to the remarkable new delineation as "opposite marriage." In the ensuing national uproar, as conservatives fled to the dense diva, celebrating her as a victim of intolerance for her intolerant ways, how did Perez Hilton advance the debate he had unwittingly launched? He called her "a dumb bitch." This did not do much to diffuse allegations that Prejean was robbed of her crown by queenie conspirators, or rise above the snark with actual insight, or stress that these are other people's lives Prejean so glibly oppresses, and that the issue is not about her or her archaic beliefs. Perez Hilton made it about her, and continued to, as only a myopic hack could do. Perez Hilton hides behind his insults, only without the alliteration, cutsey puns, or highfalutin vocabulary of Maureen Dowd.

Sacha Baron Cohen's stand on gay marriage has received far less notice: Bruno actually tried to marry a guy in drag in the Norwalk courthouse, only to be rebuffed, illustrating the absurdity of enforcing prejudice in action.

For crying out loud, Perez Hilton's made-up name is even far more ridiculous than Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno. Mario Lavandeira's fake name literally aspires to be the low-rent Mexican version of meaningless fame for the shallow and talentless.

My hopes are to help focus the debate on issues that matter, as opposed to focusing on our contemporary clowns. But knowing that I have now risked myself as a target of Perez Hilton's rants, I have taken the initiative to post the below photo of myself for defacement, from the red carpet opening of my feature documentary FREE FOR ALL: One Dude's Quest to Save Democracy.


(The film has some humor with unsuspecting individuals, but it's about voter rights, not gay rights. And my producer Holly Mosher is lying on the ground as part of the 'crime scene,' an actual voting machine from Palm Beach County, Florida, used in the 2000 election.)

Cross-posted at