The Difference Between Gadflies and Bullies

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As John Tierney pointed out in the New York Times a few years ago, there was a time when Sacha Baron Cohen, in the guise of faux hip-hop interviewer “Ali G.,” used his comedic gifts (which are substantial) to skewer the powerful, popular, and pretentious.

But puncturing the inflated self-regard of the powerful isn’t a path to critical acclaim and the kind of popular success one can receive with the help of the elite. So Cohen chose the time-honored career path of mocking the kind of hard-working, harmless, unsuspecting people who, as Tierney points out, were heroically patient with “Borat”‘s crude, offensive behavior.

Gadflies take on the powerful; bullies target the powerless. Cohen is typical of people who prefer to kiss up and kick down, and pose as agents of “enlightenment” even as they reinforce the prejudices of the powerful. This is why it was delightful to see what happened when Cohen, in character as Borat, tried to pull a prank on a savvy New Yorker.

Not surprisingly, shortly after receiving a small down-payment on the massive ass-whipping he deserves, Cohen decided to “retire” the Borat character.

9:23 am on March 17, 2009