From his initial TV antics on “Da Ali G Show” through his transition into movie stardom with “Borat” and “Bruno,” Sacha Baron Cohen has mastered the art of the media spectacle. Next week’s release of “The Dictator,” starring Baron Cohen as his newest onscreen alter ego–the bearded General Aladeen of the fictional People’s Republic of Wadiya — once again demonstrates his dedication to bursting as many politically correct boundaries as possible. In the movie, directed by frequent Baron Cohen collaborator Larry Charles, Aladeen arrives in New York spouting anti-American sentiments and promptly finds himself out of place. Appropriately, that description also matches a bizarre press conference Baron Cohen held in character as Aladeen at the Waldorf Astoria yesterday to a packed room of journalists alternately amused and confounded by his antics.
To my eyes, having not yet seen “The Dictator,” the press conference was a beguiling act of performance art posing as a coy studio marketing tactic, not the other way around. Part of the subversive appeal driving Baron Cohen’s work is his ability to get away with it. By toying with crude stereotypes in each of his zany roles, he actually critiques their extremes.
So when “Aladeen” stepped up to the podium at the Waldorf to the supportive chants of stone-faced “supporters,” then launched into a hate-filled introductory speech and answered journalists’ questions with ample anti-Semitic and misogynistic overtones, he was engaging in a form of parody that few others — with the possible exception of Stephen Colbert — can achieve on the same scale.
“Welcome, Devils of the Zionist Media,” Baron Cohen began, flanked by a pair of fierce-looking female bodyguards bearing machine guns. “Today, I wish to highlight an endangered group, innocent victims of a global human tragedy: Dictators. These brave leaders are suffering a daily victimization and brutality for the supposed crimes of embezzling money, oppressing their people and doing a tiny bit of genocide.”
For not the last time, the room was filled with a mixture of uneasy laughter and murmuring; through the shit-eating grin buried in his false beard, it was apparent that Baron Cohen wouldn’t have it any other way.
Watch Baron Cohen’s introductory remarks as General Alladeen in the video below: