Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America” is much more disturbing than the surface-level of officials saying “give children weapons.”

(Brief thread)

“Who is America” opens with Cohen’s Israeli character presenting his case for arming (literal) babies by invoking the paradigm of terrorism.

Interviewees understood the subtext (Palestinians) and reacted accordingly.
It’s not just the US.

This clip shows how American officials understand an entire group of people (Palestinians) as so implicitly threatening — that violence is immediately & uncritically accepted, even to arming literal infants.

The Israel-terrorism paradigm justifies all.
“Who is America” also displays US officials’ blatant Islamophobia.

Cohen’s character recounts a non sequitur about a Muslim gardener he shot, prompting this response: “heheh, should’ve prayed in private.”

It’s not just lethality that disturbs here - it’s the casualness.
Using an Israeli character in this context is a brilliant stroke on Cohen’s part here, intentional or not: what reaction shows us is just how uncritically American politicians accept the totality of Israel’s terrorism narrative — with minimal, if any, subtext of justifications.
Literal armed baby? Insane.

When an Israeli representative introduces the idea with one word “terrorism,” however, US officials are able to swallow it.

What insidious background assumptions does that raise?
In one exchange, Cohen’s character and his interviewee discuss the efficacy of child soldiers — as they’re “too young to be afraid.”

Flip the script. Imagine a Palestinian Muslim asking an American official the same.

Still think they’d agree to arm infants?
#WhoIsAmerica demonstrates that to many US officials, “Israel” / “terrorism” are two paradigmatic words that can provoke agreement with the most — literally — insane and unjustifiable of ideas.
Next up, the role of popular culture and the media.

#WhoIsAmerica features old, out of touch white men reading off a TelePrompter about the impeccable “science” of Cardi B, Wiz Khalifa, and more.

The same “hip hop” influences this demographic likes to scapegoat for violence.
#WhoIsAmerica is clever in the sidestepping of overt “black-and-white” racial issues.

Never thought I’d say this about Cohen, but his scripting here has a subtlety that reveals a broader spectrum of the racial/religious/ethnic tensions in American debates about gun violence.
Next key media reference — #ThisIsAmerica shows Cohen’s character saying “it’s not rape if it’s your wife, right?” Interlocuteur nods, laughs & asks if that bit will be in the video presented to his colleagues.

He assumes it will be cut. Why?

We can assume this happens often.
Finally, only one official in #WhoIsAmerica hesitates to endorse the “arm infants” idea.

“You expect me to say this, on television, without giving me further information?”

Cohen includes this interview, instead of cutting it and leaving it on the editing room floor. So — why?
Cohen includes the “conscientious objector” because of the language in which he couches his objection: “you expect me to endorse this on television.”

It’s not moral anxiety. It’s not desire for rational critique, or reasoned analysis.

#WhoIsAmerica? It’s optics.
#WhoIsAmerica isn’t just indicting the American officials who agree with weaponizing kids.

Cohen shows here how readily American politicians subordinate life-and-death issues to an absurd degree, assuming the usual, implicit villains.

But that’s far from the only guilty party.
Don’t mistake US politicians as the butt of #WhoIsAmerica’s joke. It’s the public.

These American officials are media trained — that they fucked up and fell for Cohen’s bait doesn’t tell you they’re stupid.

It tells you something much worse.
The ONLY hesitation US officials show is over the question of media presentation — not rational criticism, and not moral objection.

Cohen didn’t “trick” anyone.

Politicians say precisely what they know their base wants to hear.
Herein lies the punchline. It’s not media-trained officials who willingly cater to an easily terrified base of supporters.

So, #WhoIsAmerica?

It’s those who perpetuate this cynical, insane system: viewers who think Cohen’s joke is on politicians—and not us.

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