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Sacha Baron Cohen is Back: Can a Harmless Prankster Become a Weaponized Troll Against the Right Wing?

July 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Melanie McFarland, Salon

The “Borat” creator is back with “Who Is America?” on Showtime Sunday.

Is Sacha Baron Cohen a prankster or a troll? Depended on who’s being asked. Sarah Palin and Joe Walsh, two of the conservative personalities who came forward this week crying foul at being duped by Baron Cohen, probably characterize him as a troll. Baron Cohen himself and Showtime, the premium channel airing his new series “Who Is America?” have remained silent and coy in the wake of Walsh and Palin’s complaining; given the type of entertainment Baron Cohen makes, any whinging from thin-skinned wingnuts amounts to free advertising. (Just as surely, Walsh and Palin are savvy and hungry enough to know that this works both ways.)

Although Showtime describes “Who Is America?” as a showcase for “the diverse individuals, from the infamous to the unknown across the political and cultural spectrum, who populate our unique nation,” nobody really knows what we’ll be treated or subjected to with the show’s premiere, airing Sunday at 10 p.m.

The series was  produced in secret, with details kept under wraps save for a few sightings here and there as well as unconfirmed reports, such as a Daily Mail story alleging Baron Cohen paid O.J. Simpson $20,000 to appear in the project. Late on Thursday came the news of another controversial figure bamboozled by Baron Cohen: disgraced US Senate candidate Roy Moore.

All of these shenanigans are enough to inspire tune-in, but as added insurance Showtime is featuring Dick Cheney promoting his own appearance in one clip — featuring the former vice president signing a plastic gallon jug and a towel, presented to him as a “waterboard kit.”

“That’s a first,” says Cheney, grinning at someone off screen. “That’s the first time I’ve ever signed a waterboard.”

Cheney, you’ve been punk’d. Or is it trolled? Does it make a difference? Maybe it does.

Though it’s been many years since Baron Cohen’s flesh-and-blood caricatures were popular Halloween costumes, I have little doubt that the fictional personalities he’s cooking up for his new show will be perfectly tailored to our times. Yes, …read more


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