28 May 2012

The Dictator diminishes the haunting figure of Gaddafi

I went to see The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s take on Gaddafi, ready to be offended, but in the end I just laughed. The plot was bonkers and the jokes variable, but after 18 months immersed in the horrors perpetrated by Gaddafi, it was good to see him diminished by humour.

Not that General Aladeen, the eponymous dictator of the fictional Wadiya, was the only butt of the jokes. The prostitute insists on leaving the dictator’s huge, round golden bed early saying “I have to see the Italian prime minister”.

The lesbian feminist organic vegetable shop coordinator fails to get his jokes, (“Ah – humour! I went to a feminist clown workshop once”). General Aladeen loses his temper in a New York hotel:¬† “US$20 a day for internet? WTF? And they accuse me of being an oppressor?”

I’m not sure the masturbation jokes will go down well in the Muslim world (or amongst born-again Christians, come to that) but the point is that no-one is spared: Jews, Arabs, Americans, feminists, we are all targets for politically incorrect satire, including TV journalists: “Across the globe, people are glued to their televisions,” intones a pompous newscaster in the way pompous newscasters do when they don’t have a clue what’s really going on. Every absurd plot turn turns into slow-mo, or some other Hollywood clich√© – the joke is on us all.

Some of the parody is close to reality. General Aladeen changes many words in the Wadiyan language to “Aladeen”, including “negative” and “positive”, causing much confusion when giving an HIV diagnosis. Well, Gaddafi renamed July and August, Nasser and Hannibal, and changed the way the calendar was calculated, so that for years Libyans didn’t know which day it was. Such was the absurdity of Gaddafi, we often laughed when we should have investigated. His victims, sadly, really died, unlike those in The Dictator who end up in a restaurant in “Little Wadiya” New York (you’ll have to go and see the film to get that bit).

Real dictators never relinquish power, and I won’t reveal what happens to General Aladeen. At least he has a moment of doubt: “I don’t want to be a dictator anymore,” he says. “I have been on a spiritual journey like Eat, Pray, Love.”

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