Finally Brüno comes out today, earning only middling praise from Borat-chuffed critics. And it makes us wonder: What if Brüno had come out first? Would Sacha Baron Cohen exist in the same way he does now?
Both characters were from Baron Cohen's wildly funny Da Ali G Show, so either could have been made into a movie at any time. But we're just not sure that Brüno would be feasible as a market-ready comedy character had Borat not come and paved the pseudo-real, envelope-pushing path for him. Borat is awful—a misogynistic, racist, antisemitic boor—but, sadly, he's more palatable to a broad American audience than a gay Austrian fashion maven who exists solely to point out one of the country's most dearly-held prejudices: that most gays are just silly mockeries of themselves.
Borat certainly made fun of American xenophobia and jingoism, but those are things that people can't recognize in themselves as easily as a tetchy, and heartily defended, aversion to the gays. Borat was loud and political, whereas Brüno is an out, loud, and proud creation of a more immediate social hysteria, of an issue that's been at the forefront of the American culture wars these past few years. He teases at something far more tangible and taboo and unsettling to the popcorn-scarfing masses than Borat's buckshot blast at Stupid Americans that certainly aren't us. So had oh fashion friend come first... Well, Borat might not have been possible. Because Brüno is unlikely to catch the popular wave as easily, it's already been deemed a bit too dangerous and too outsider (plus aren't we all so sick of it already? We saw this one coming a mile away). And though Borat had its fights with the demands of decency (male nudity!), Brüno is all about those strictures.
And nobody likes to be taught a lesson, especially about themselves.