Digested week: no sympathy for the second most awful man in America

This article is more than 1 month old
Emma Brockes

Rudy Giuliani gets some comeuppance, Hugh Grant banks another hit, plus weird ways of wearing masks

Rudy Giuliani drives by a protest in New York
Rudy Giuliani drives by a protest in New York. Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/Reuters
Rudy Giuliani drives by a protest in New York. Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/Reuters

Last modified on Fri 30 Oct 2020 21.37 GMT

Monday

I’ve always felt sorry for the victims of Sacha Baron Cohen, no matter how much they seem to deserve it. He plays on their vanity and eggs them on to say terrible things, but he also hoodwinks them using something less laudable: the desire, present in most people, to avoid causing someone else – in this case, Baron Cohen’s buffoonish alter egos – social pain or embarrassment.

There is, it turns out, an exception to this weakness of mine, a person I’m only too happy to see Baron Cohen torment. Step forward Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and the second most awful man in America, who over the weekend continued to push back against his starring role in the new Borat sequel. In a secretly filmed scene from the movie, Giuliani is shown accompanying Borat’s “15-year-old daughter” to a hotel room, before lying down on the bed and sticking his hands down the front of his pants. He said later he had been “tucking in my shirt”.

Even Fox News confessed to being “grossed out” by this episode, but four days after news of the scene broke, Giuliani did what he does best and upstaged himself by engaging in another dispute. On Sunday the 76-year-old sat in a car on Fifth Avenue in New York stuck in traffic caused by a group identifying itself as “Jews for Trump”. Counter-protesters arrived and spotted through the car’s open passenger-seat window the tiny, scowling face of Giuliani. Video footage of the event shows him peering beadily out like a creature in a story by Beatrix Potter introduced for the sole purpose of receiving a comeuppance. Shouting ensued.

“Who would you prefer for the next four years?” said Giuliani in an interview afterwards. “This group of foul-mouthed people who don’t seem to have a vocabulary beyond three words, or these very nice Jewish people who are … not saying anything back and not doing anything other than exercising their right to say they’re for Donald Trump.” To which the answer is, obviously, whichever one grabs the wheel and keeps driving until Giuliani is safely over the horizon.

Tuesday

To escape the world, I am on a television binge, although my choice of shows sometimes makes everything worse. On Tuesday I finished Utopia, Gillian Flynn’s horrifically timed adaptation of the 2013 cult British show of the same name, in which a flu-like pandemic threatens the world. A laborious disclaimer runs at the start of the show (Utopia is a work of fiction “not based on actual, related or current events”), which makes one wonder how close makers came to delaying its transmission. One of its themes is how you can’t trust government health authorities, while the world falls victim to an unreliable vaccine.

If it was masochistic to watch, I enjoyed it for its comic-book thrills and the way it unfolded like Scooby-Doo but with torture. A better escape is The Undoing, the new HBO thriller starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, set in the airless world of hyper-wealthy Manhattan. Grant, who once described his own acting range as “sinisterly narrow”, has prospered where other former romantic heroes have fallen, and as someone who has since Four Weddings and Funeral been, so to speak, totally straight for Grant, it is gratifying indeed. Orlando Bloom, marooned on the terrible Carnival Row; Jude Law, hurling himself ineffectually about in The Third Day; Paul Bettany, with any luck never to be seen in any context again; and here is Grant, urbane, winsome and still a bit mumbly, banking one TV hit after another.

Wednesday

Kim Kardashian West threw a surprise party on a private island to celebrate her 40th birthday, an event that left her feeling, she wrote on Instagram afterwards, “humbled and blessed”, not least “during these times when we are reminded of the things that truly matter”. It has never been clear how nakedly the Kardashians are trolling us but, given that of all their shortcomings a lack of self-awareness has never been one, it’s fair to assume they know what they’re doing. The Instagram post wasn’t tone deaf, it was precisely on brand.

It was the same story with Kendall Jenner’s commercial for Pepsi, in which the model was depicted solving aggressive policing in the US by giving a cop a can of cola. She too was accused of tone deafness, when the ad, which was crass, dumb and self-regarding, was entirely in keeping with the family’s output. Above all, it guaranteed to generate in the form of outrage more grist for the Kardashian mill. If we want them to go away, we have to give up the pleasure of hating them and replace it with stony indifference.

Thursday

There is no trick-or-treating in our building this year, but a socially distanced Halloween parade around the block, during which all the kids will be required to wear masks (not the fun kind). In school, Halloween is banned because of problems with allergens. One good thing to have come out of the reduced school schedule, therefore, is Halloween at the Learning Center, the city-provided facility where kids go for remote learning on the days they are not in school. Today, to their delight, they got to dress up (the only proviso, “no swords”).

Our particular Learning Center is in a public leisure complex, and it’s a lot groovier than school. The staff work for the parks department rather than the education department, which means more tattoos and body piercings and fewer fawn-coloured cardies. It also means that although it’s entirely indoors, it has a forest school vibe of no competition.

After a day of Halloween fun, my kids came home over the moon at the new way of doing things. “We played a game and if you won you got candy and if you lost you also got candy.” I have opinions about this prizes-for-all approach but, given the state of the world, I decided to let this one slide.

Friday

As with everywhere else in New York, the one unbreakable rule of the Learning Center is that everyone entering wears a mask. The number of ways people find to wear their masks wrong continues to be weird. There’s the sizing issue, when the wearer drapes a narrow strip of fabric successfully over his nose and mouth while leaving vast expanses of chin exposed. There’s the nose flasher, who covers his mouth but thinks nose-breathing doesn’t shed viral load. And there is the person who wears it hooked over their ears but pushed way down as a kind of chin hammock. (This person drags out the eating of crisps so their mask can stay down.)

Like the small hacks and variations kids make to school uniforms, everyone has their own style, with the added frisson of potentially infecting those around them with a deadly disease. Happy Halloween.