Sacha Baron Cohen banned? No, but 'General Aladeen' is. Woe be unto Dictators.

Sacha Baron Cohen has been asked by The Academy not to dress as 'General Aladeen' at the Oscars. The world is becoming a very unfriendly place for dictators, even fictional ones. 

Phil McCarten/Reuters
In this October 2006 file photo, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who played the character Borat, arrives for the US premiere of 'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Cohen, who portrays General Aladeen in the upcoming film 'Dictator,' has been asked by the Academy not to dress as 'General Aladeen' at the Oscars on Sunday.

It’s hard to imagine how 2012 could be any worse for the world’s hapless and beleaguered dictators and warlords after that (ahem) horrible Arab Spring craze last year – with people-power movements toppling despots in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Consider the arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, issued by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the anticipated human rights investigation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the looming trials of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré and former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, the pending verdict on former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and the ongoing manhunt for Joseph Kony, warlord and founder of the genocidal Lord’s Resistance Army in the dense borderlands of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As if that list of indignities wasn’t long enough, we can add another dictator to the list of the banned: General Aladeen.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has banned a certain General Aladeen from attending the 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26.

Technically, General Aladeen isn’t a real person – he’s a character portrayed by the satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of “Borat” and “The Ali G Show,” as well as the voice of King Julian in “Madagascar.” A movie portraying the general, entitled "Dictator," is due to open later this year. 

It should also be mentioned that General Aladeen’s country, the Republic of Wadiya, doesn’t exist on any maps and no country profiles have been found on Wikipedia. (Note: this may have changed. We checked last at 10:23 a.m. on Thursday).

But for the academy, General Aladeen – if not an actual real person – is a real problem. The academy doesn’t want Mr. Cohen, the actor who portrays Aladeen, to show up to the awards ceremony as Aladeen. They think that it would be inappropriate to “hijack” the ceremony with a publicity stunt. Like that would ever happen in Hollywood.

 “Unless they’re assured that nothing entertaining is going to happen on the Red Carpet, the Academy is not admitting Sacha Baron Cohen to the show,” a spokesman for Paramount Pictures told movie blog “Deadline.”

That satirical characters might intrude where they aren’t wanted and don’t belong has been evident for quite some time now. Just ask Newt Gingrich, the former US House Speaker and current presidential candidate, who was … how to say this? … duped into giving an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen in one of his other comedic personas, the British hip-hop talk show host Ali G. Watch this, o political press secretary, and embrace the modern miracle of Google Search.

But for this column, the matter of greater concern is the fact that dictators have now become the butt of jokes and the subject for a satirical Hollywood movie shows.

How far hath dictators fallen. Just a few years ago, Hollywood could be depended upon to portray dictators as fearsome, wily, or at the very least, edgy. Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in the 2006 film, “The Last King of Scotland” was a high-water mark of Attila-the-Hun-like gravitas. There were exceptions to this rule, of course (Naked Gun?). And who can forget Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator?” But in general, Hollywood saw dictators as they preferred to be seen: in fear.

Human rights observers would assert that there are still plenty of dictators out there, and that there are even a few democratically elected leaders – in Senegal and, of course, in Zimbabwe – who have begun to experiment with their inner despotic tendencies by staying in power longer than originally planned.

But where’s the joy of staying in power, if the world openly, cinematically mocks you?

Get daily or weekly updates from delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to