Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

October 18, 2006

Borat: Equal Opportunity Skewering


The most outrageous, controversial, and (yes) offensive movie of the year is on its way. On Nov. 4, when America sees wide release of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” it is likely that many people and many groups will take offense. But, it may be difficult to hear their complaints, due to all the laughs.


Yes, the film, based on the brilliantly clueless Kazakh immigrant character created by British comic Sacha Baron Cohen for his “Da Ali G Show,” is every bit as uproarious as advertised. Its style can probably best be fit into the burgeoning genre of as anarchic comedy, in which the line between decorum and indecency is challenged, then crossed, and then eventually obliterated.


Like “South Park,” “Chappelle’s Show,” “Thank You For Smoking” and other popular comedic creations of the ‘00s, Baron Cohen’s work is certainly largely political in nature. But what is most refreshing about these works is their willingness to take shots at everyone – left, right and in between.


“Borat,” the movie and the character, depicts its hero as a Kazakh immigrant who is unabashedly racist, sexist and especially anti-Semitic, and lives up to every negative stereotype of the backward, unassimilated Middle Eastern immigrant.


The film, as well as the Borat segments on the TV show, wrings lots of laughs out of the wild sayings and actions of Borat himself. But even more subversive is the way the character brings out such traits in others. (The character, for those unfamiliar, often confronts real people in real situations, who are unaware that Borat is portrayed by an actor.)


In the movie, for instance, Borat tells a cowboy at a rodeo that homosexuals are ritually executed in Kazakhstan. “That’s what we’re trying to do here,” the cowboy replies. On an episode of the TV show, Borat once got an entire bar in Arizona to join him in a song called “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”


Later in the film, Borat attends a Southern society dinner (on a road called Secession Drive) at which he insults the looks of the female guests and later shows that he doesn’t know how to use indoor plumbing. The guests indulge him, as though as a “stupid immigrant,” he doesn’t know any better. (They draw the line, however, when he invites an African-American prostitute into the house.) 


Allow me to speak in crude stereotypes for a moment. When liberals are uptight, it’s often blamed on political correctness. When conservatives are, it’s either for religious reasons, and/or because of a need to be “decent.” The genius of Borat is that among either group, he’s the only one in the room without either gene. No matter how those around him react, hilarity always ensues.


While it’s been written that Baron Cohen’s politics are of the left-leaning variety, it’s not so easy to pigeonhole the Borat character the same way. Humorless liberals don’t like him either. The Anti-Defamation League, for instance, expressed “concern” after the airing of the famous ‘Down the Well’ sketch, though they’re presumably aware that Baron Cohen is in fact an Orthodox Jew.


Meanwhile, Muslim activists – the kind who believe that the biggest current problem in the world involving Muslims is how they’re depicted in movies – defaced Borat posters in the New York subway, writing “anti-Muslim humor isn’t cool.” (It has never been said, in fact, that Borat is a Muslim.)


Political humor, Hollywood finally seems to understand, doesn’t merely need to be of the tiresome “Bush is a moron, na na na na na” variety. The same night I saw Borat, for instance, I also viewed a “South Park” episode that made fun of the idiots from the “9/11 Truth” movement, especially their belief that Bush is really a ruthless and cunning Bond villain.  


These works certainly handle these questions much better than two other “political” films of this season: Barry Levinson’s parody “Man of the Year,” meant to tap into liberal fantasies that Jon Stewart will rescue the country from Bush, and Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation,” a film so preachy and condescending that it may as well flash a 90-minute subtitle that says “FEEL GUILTY!”


If you go to see “Borat,” you can expect to see comedy more over the top than anything you’ve ever seen. But you can also expect some interesting sociological insights into how Americans really think when they think no one is watching.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS13. Request permission to publish here.