Sacha Baron Cohen has always walked a razor's edge between satire and reaction. In his new film he has come down on the side of reaction. My first warning of this came from one of the black students I teach at college. He announced that Ali G was a fool, but then added quietly that when he saw the film in the West End he felt people were laughing at him.
The film portrays the most stereotypical and backward elements of some black culture. References are made to gay people as 'batty boys', women as 'bitches' and 'ho's', and disabled people as 'spasticated'. Such terms are only used by people who are none of the above. Ali G has said some funny things.
No one can forget him going to Ireland to meet the master of a Protestant Orange lodge who claimed to be British to the core. Ali G responded with, 'So you is on holiday here in Ireland then,' a well calculated and amusing insult. Another time he played on the word 'caned', which in London means stoned, and got arch-reactionary ex-headteacher Rhodes Boyson to call for students to be caned to calm them down.
Unfortunately Ali G's new film is nothing like these exchanges. He claims that when he is being reactionary it is only his character coming through. He is, of course, a nightmare to analyse if you are into identity politics. A Jewish comic poking fun at white people who think it's cool to be black can be very funny.
But by hiding behind the 'irony' of imitating the reactionary elements of rap he has crossed the line and become the real thing.
Within days of the posters advertising the film going up they had to be taken down because people found the sexist imagery unacceptable and offensive (though I rather liked the one of him saying 'Blair Beware'). When I was at college we had an idea of something called equal opportunities. This took account of the fact that groups in society were not treated equally. When trendy academics began to argue that all points of view were equally valid, they began to undermine the idea that any group suffered real oppression.
Their philosophy meant that racism and sexism were reduced to disagreements between individuals. Moreover, they were opinions that could be reversed. So now you do get people arguing that a black person can be racist towards white people or that women can be sexist towards men. Nowadays whatever was formerly known as 'equal opps' is referred to as 'political correctness.'
But try this out. Whenever someone tells you that you shouldn't be offended at being called 'nigger' or 'bitch' say, 'But you are an ugly bastard.' When I did this the man who was sure I was a humourless, politically correct bore retorted, 'You can't say that to me. That's really personal and offensive.' I think I won the argument.
According to surveys, if Ali G stood for election the majority of first time voters would support him. His language is accessible to millions of young people because the urban sound is integrated. But integration doesn't mean equality.
There was one group of young black people he didn't impress, though they impressed me. They were protesting outside the cinema against the 'N' word being used in the film. The theme of the film is 'keep it real'. This film is real shite.