In his various guises, the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has threatened Uzbekistan with catapults, driven a U.N. Secretary-General to profanity, and ruined New York's Fashion Week. Evincing shades of Jonathan Swift, Monty Python, and Andy Kaufman, Baron Cohen has consistently demonstrated a singular talent for crafting outrageous personae, a ruthless dedication to staying in character, and an uncanny ability to parlay controversy into professional success. Now, in his lively and often humorous study The Many Faces of Sacha Baron Cohen: Politics, Parody, and the Battle over Borat, Robert A. Saunders explores the striking cultural resonance and far-reaching political ramifications of Baron Cohen's portrayals of Borat, Ali G, and Bruno. In Ali G, a wannabe gangsta rapper from the leafy English suburb of Staines, the Cambridge-educated humorist tackled the prickly questions of race, ethnicity, and identity in 'Cool Britannia.' As Bruno, a campy Austrian fashionista with a Nazi fetish, he tapped into a wellspring of homophobia simmering beneath the sheen of political correctness.
Most dramatically, as the roving Kazakhstani reporter Borat, Baron Cohen offended the world's ninth largest nation, provoked the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, triggered dozens of lawsuits, and became the subject of presidential summits. Part biography and part political analysis, Saunders traces Baron Cohen's rise from a small-time comedian-one who might have easily been forgotten in the pre-Internet era-to a cultural lightning rod who set tongues wagging from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Through a probing discussion of the identity politics that mold this jester's unique brand of humor, the author navigates the eclectic socio-political climate that gave rise to the cable television hit Da Ali G Show and the international blockbuster Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The end result is a sublime synthesis of cultural history and contemporary politics that affirms the undeniable power of imagery in the global village.