Sacha Baron Cohen has duped lots of people on his TV show Who Is America? where, Borat-style, he plays different characters and fools his interviewees into reacting to those characters. He’s tricked lefties, he’s tricked righties. He’s tricked ordinary Joes and lawmakers, celebrities and folks working out their payroll. Baron Cohen isn’t targeting any particular group. But something surprising emerged from the very first episode: right-wingers fell for his lefty character far harder than lefties fell for his right wing character.
Baron Cohen’s Professor Nira Cain N’Degeocello character is the epitome of the right-wingers’ idea of a leftard snowflake: he apologises for being a white male, is obsessed with gender equality, immaturely emotional about Trump’s presidency, frets about accidentally engaging in cultural appropriation, and is judgemental towards Trump supporters while acting like he’s “healing the divide.” He uses words like “triggered” out of context, rendering them meaningless. N’Degeocello stretches sentences to breaking point to avoid mentioning gender, for example when asked if his partner Naomi is a woman, he responds that she “has a round vagina…she has nipples but they are attached to swollen mammaries” when even the most dedicated leftist could have stated that Naomi was born female, is a cisgendered woman or has XX chromosomes. But perhaps an extreme view of what lefties are like is unsurprising for right-wingers who live in a right-wing bubble. What is most surprising is that right-wingers seem to horribly misunderstand what the left stands for- to the extent that it’s easy to see why these misconceptions would lead them to choose right wing attitudes over left wing ones.
In the first Who Is America episode, Professor N’Degeocello meets a Trump delegate and her husband. (Neither bat an eyelid at the fact that N’Degeocello has a daughter named after Malala who has reached puberty despite Malala Yousafzai only becoming famous around six years ago.) What really strikes the viewer is the fact that the couple seem so oblivious to what left wing values actually are that they believe Cain-N’Degeocello when he says that he forces his son to urinate sitting down and his daughter to urinate standing- all so that they won’t be following gender norms. He even uses “compliance cams” to enforce this. Obviously, this isn’t what people mean when they talk about gender norms restricting children’s natural expression, play, and career aspirations. N’Degeocello then claims his daughter isn’t old enough to share her mother’s menstruation cup, so she has to free-bleed on the American flag. (Because lefties are such suckers for ‘hippy’ consumer products and would of course refuse to buy pads or tampons for their child). Malala free-bleeds in front of the entire family including her adolescent brother Harvey Milk. This, and the being forced to urinate standing up, are not examples of gender-neutral parenting. In fact, both practices emphasise Malala’s gender and shame her for it (she’ll probably have a harder time complying with the bathroom rules than Harvey will, and she has to menstruate in the most uncomfortable, messy way possible and be naked in front of her brother, while he does not). The Trump supporters are so out of touch with reality that they seem unsurprised that the Clinton Foundation is, according to N’Degeocello, now funding a flag free-bleeding program. The couple also believed that Professor N’Degeocello’s partner Naomi regularly sexually abuses dolphins, and that their therapist supported this and told Nira Cain to accept it.
It is now clear why some right-wingers despise lefties and are against feminism. If leftist ideals include sexually abusing children, forcing girls to menstruate naked despite the availability of period protection, and tolerating animal abuse (at least if committed by women), then surely lefties are indeed evil. Sacha Baron Cohen set out to create a parody of how right-wingers view the left- and he nailed it.
A similar event occurred in a more recent episode where the professor met David Pyne, the national director of the Utah Republican Assembly. Dr Nira Cain hinted that parents should watch pornography with their children, then contradicted himself by stating that he was against children viewing pornography. He presented a sex education book for children which he had created. It had illustrations of rabbits having sex and presented group sex occurring with children watching as part of sex education. GGroup sex was presented as empowering for women. N’Degeocello also related how he punished his 12 year old son for watching porn by forcing him to masturbate to 58,000 images over two days, while N’Degeocello watched as he cried. The boy was traumatised (shudders whenever the word ‘porn’ is mentioned). Shockingly, while Pyne says he wouldn’t use this method of discipline, he sees this sexual abuse as a good thing since it scared the child away from pornography. Less shocking, but still pertinent, is the fact that Pyne fell for the character.
According to some Republicans, then, feminism’s goals for female empowerment amount to nothing more than women’s participation in group sex. This would explain why some right wingers equate feminism with women ‘being slutty’ or find feminism pointless or harmful. If empowerment equals group sex, then feminism would not be empowering women, as female participation in such activities is not by itself empowering (for example it could be coercive, exploitative or cultural). Pyne supports abstinence-only ‘sex education’. If Republicans believe that actual sex education involves being introduced to pornography, watching parents having sex, and being fed a prescriptive view of what kind of sex they should be having, then it’s no wonder Republicans are against it. But this is a misunderstanding of liberal values. Lefties value freedom and healthy choices. Being force-fed a view of sex as necessarily involving toys and ideally being group sex is hardly less constrictive to individual tastes and development than being force-fed abstinence. Being introduced to porn by parents is also not natural self-determination, and being punished so harshly for viewing porn is also hardly less proscriptive than enforced abstinence. N’Degeocello’s ideas make no sense and are contradictory. But that’s how right wingers view lefties.
Dr Nira Cain also virtue signals, arguably culturally approriates, fetishises blackness, and pretends to find meaning in anything a non-white person does. For example he quotes meaningless sounds from a rap song (disregarding actual achievements by the same artist and being clueless about the rapper he claims to admire) and describes a one night stand with a Syrian national in terms which pseudo-intellectually exoticize his ethnicity. Meaning is ascribed to meaningless acts simply because it was a Syrian who was involved, and the sex act itself presented as somehow enlightening or unique because of the nationality of N’Degeocello’s sexual partner. There may be lefties like this, but it’s interesting that the right-wingers don’t pick up on this hypocrisy. It suggests that right wingers don’t know what leftist values are, so don’t see the disconnect.
However, the lefties on Who Is America seem to understand right-wingers. Sacha Baron Cohen created a parody of how lefties see Trump voters- a fat, Southern-sounding, paranoid, racist idiot. But Bernie Sanders treated the character with kindness and respect even though he couldn’t do basic maths. The anchorman who was interviewed quickly appeared to realise it was a prank and ended the interview. None of the lefties so far bought into the ‘idiot Trump supporter’ trope. They respected Trump supporters enough to realise that someone that dumb couldn’t possibly be a real Trump supporter.
From a right-wing point of view, ‘Leftards’ could be said to be unnecessarily obsessed with animal rights, the environment, children’s rights and consent. But lefty professor Nira Cain lets his partner sexually abuse animals, controls his kids’ toileting with cameras, forced his son to touch himself while he watched, and views children peeing. Who Is America explains rightwing attitudes. If you think feminism=allowing women to abuse animals you’d rbe against feminism. If female empowerment is gangbanging, it’s an idea that doesn’t empower women. If you think sex education is watching mom have sex, you’d choose abstinence-only.
Who Is America has revealed how much the right misunderstands the left. Hopefully a bit more understanding can now be created. Maybe that would go a little way towards meaningful dialogue between the two sides. And perhaps one far-off day, even “heal the divide”…