On July 15, Showtime debuted Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who is America?” In this show’s recently ended seven-episode run, Cohen wore disguises as five different characters and did what trolls do best. He said and did outlandish things and provoked his high-profile guests to say and do outlandish things with insightful and disturbing results to give viewers an insight into who America currently is. The result is both brilliant and shocking.
The show’s brilliance comes from Cohen’s characters and their ability to portray the flaws on every side. “Who is America?” has received most of its attention from mocking Republicans, but really, Cohen’s four characters mock everybody with their horrifyingly believable absurdity.
The four main characters are as follows: Ricky Sherman, the ex-con who uses disgusting and despicable means to create art, mocks the pretentiousness of the art world and their unwillingness to ever criticize an artist. Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, the sensitive ultra-liberal who goes to insane extremes to be “progressive,” mocks the left’s self-righteous extremism. Conversely, Billy Wayne Ruddick, the absurdly paranoid right-wing conspiracy theorist, mocks the alt-right’s paranoid distrust of science and the media. Finally, Erran Morad, the over-the-top militant and alt-right Israeli commander, mocks stupidly prejudiced alt-right militarism and gullibility at its worst.
There are also a few other characters that come up periodically. Most notably for me, OMGWhizzBoyOMG, a Finnish YouTuber who cheerfully opens Shopkins with his Republican guests while talking about issues like gun control and happily mentioning his own gun collection that he is stockpiling for “the upcoming race war.” He mocks the questionable sanity of his anti-gun control guests, overenthusiastic YouTubers, and the fandoms who follow them despite their questionable morality. The others are noteworthy, but as a heavy YouTube user, he’s my personal favorite.
All these troll characters are a wonderfully brutally honest and an insightfully satirical take on American society and the absurd extremes that live in the Land of the Free, but Cohen’s ridiculous characters have nothing on the guests he dupes.
Cohen’s guests come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are art critics, some are Republicans, some are Democrats, some have a high social status, and others are normal, everyday people, but what they all have in common is how easily most of them are duped by Cohen’s characters. This is the shocking part that has grabbed headlines.
Cohen pranked his guests into doing and saying absurd, raunchy, and horrible things. A food critic readily ate meat Ricky Sherman told him came from the legs of a Chinese dissident. A nightclub readily played Sherman’s mix which consisting of sounds of prisoners being beaten. Erran Morad found politicians willing to advocate for his cause of teaching three-year-olds how to use guns. He convinced another politician that exposing his buttocks while running towards a terrorist and shouting the N-word was the best way to defend himself. I could go on.
It feels like black and gross-out comedy in real time, but that’s the point. “Who is America?” is a show that uses comedy to force viewers to face what our nation has become from a viewpoint that only an outsider, like Cohen, can see clearly. He cuts through the rhetoric to show America how ridiculous and nonsensical it has become.
If the question Cohen is asking is “Who is America?” The answer is eye-opening and disturbing. According to the show, we have become a nation of extremists who have chosen to ignore common sense and morality in favor of progressing a cause. We have numbed our ability to think for ourselves and choose leaders who make insane decisions if they say they’re on our side.
To be fair, that does not apply to everybody. There were people on both sides of the aisle who did not take Cohen’s bait and called out his ridiculousness for what it was. That shows that there are still Americans with common sense and morals, but like on the show, the ones in power who consent to the most mind-numbingly insane decisions are the ones with the loudest voices.
News outlets like Vice are saying that the series will most likely not have another season. If that’s the case, I am still satisfied. Cohen’s point has been made, some great conversations have been started, and people have been humiliated. If you can stomach gross-out and black comedy and if you’re ready to face some uncomfortable truths, I suggest you check out Cohen’s wild phenomenon for yourself.