‘Who is America?’ Cohen splits critics with TV return

Sacha Baron Cohen conjures four new characters in ‘Who is America?’ (Courtesy Showtime)
Updated 16 July 2018
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‘Who is America?’ Cohen splits critics with TV return

NEW YORK: “Who is America?” is both the title of Sacha Baron Cohen’s first foray into television satire in more than a decade and the existential question on the lips of liberals living through the Trump presidency.
Trailed by a blaze of pre-launch publicity and a furious backlash from public figures who believe they have been pranked, its splashy debut won most attention Sunday for hoodwinking Republican politicians into endorsing a made-up plan to train pre-schoolers how to fire a gun.
The series brings seven episodes to pay-to-view channel Showtime years after the British comedian was last on television with “Da Ali G Show” — his wannabe-rapper character interviewing the powerful and famous.
In “Who is America?” Cohen conjures up four new characters. Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., is an opponent of “mainstream” media who debates health care with left-leaning Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
There is Nira Cain-N’degeocello, a pink-hat wearing, ultra-liberal hippy, who dines at the home of a Trump-voting couple.
Rick Sherman is an ex-con turned artist who works in the medium of human feces and bodily fluids, and who meets a totally accepting California gallery owner who donates public hair to his paint brush.
Finally, Israeli “anti-terror expert” Col. Erran Morad pranks Republicans into endorsing a concocted plan to teach children as young as three and four how to fire a firearm, along with a “Puppy Pistol.”
Teasers for the new series saw US former vice president Dick Cheney signing a “waterboard kit” and Sarah Palin unleash a furious Facebook attack, upset to have been one of Cohen’s pranked subjects.
Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee and ex-Alaska governor who did not appear in the first episode, slammed the comedian’s “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.’ “
But if early reviews are more muted, they are also mixed.
The New York Times called the first episode “tepid and inconsequential,” and ill-suited to the times.
If The New Yorker waxed lyrical about “sporadically excellent conceptual art,” trade magazine Variety warned Cohen’s nihilism can “itch and irritate more than enlighten and entertain.”
The Guardian praised “one moment of viral gold” but otherwise lamented “mostly a frustrating experience.”
After “Da Ali G Show,” which transferred from Britain to America, Cohen found success with hit movie characters such as bumbling Kazakh reporter Borat and gay Austrian fashionista Bruno.
His 2012 movie, “The Dictator,” starring himself as a Muammar Qaddafi style tyrant was less well reviewed.


BTS’s agency apologizes over K-Pop band member’s A-bomb shirt

Updated 14 November 2018
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BTS’s agency apologizes over K-Pop band member’s A-bomb shirt

SEOUL, South Korea: The agency for K-pop superstars BTS apologized Wednesday for members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atomic bomb and a hat with a Nazi emblem.

Japanese TV broadcasters recently canceled planned appearances in that country after images went viral of the musician wearing the shirt. The South Korean band ran into more trouble after news surfaced that another member wore a hat featuring a Nazi symbol in a magazine photo book and band members flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a past concert.

“We would like to again offer our sincerest apologies to anyone who has suffered pain, distress and discomfort due to our shortcomings and oversight in ensuring that these matters receive our most careful attention,” the band’s agency, the Big Hit Entertainment, said in a statement

The T-shirt portrayed an atomic bombing juxtaposed with the celebration of Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japan at the end of the World War II. The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Tokyo’s surrender.

Before its division into North and South Korea after the liberation, the Korean Peninsula was colonized by Japan from 1910-1945. Many in both Koreas still harbor strong resentment against the Japanese colonial masters. But in South Korea, it’s extremely rare for anyone to publicly celebrate or mock the atomic bombings.

BTS’s agency said the A-bomb shirt’s wearing was “in no way intentional” and that it wasn’t designed to “injure or make light of those affected by the use of atomic weapons.” It said it still apologizes for “failing to take the precautions that could have prevented the wearing of such clothing by our artist.”

Regarding the hat furor, it said all apparel and accessories used for the photo book were provided by a media company involved in its publication. It said the flags in question were aimed at symbolizing South Korea’s restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, not Nazism.

“We will carefully examine and review not only these issues but all activities involving Big Hit and our artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that we never cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone,” the agency statement said.

The seven-member band, which has worldwide following, was the first South Korean artists in May to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with “Love Yourself: Tear.” The band began its Japan tour earlier this week.

South Korean K-pop and movie stars are extremely popular in Japan and other Asian countries.