08 December, 2006

Borat is a deconstructivist fun fest - 1a Hypocrit detection

At second glance, 'Borat' is really funny By JOHN M. CRISP -- Dec 6,
2006, 12:01:08 AM

I had considered writing a column about "Borat," the outrageous
mockumentary that chronicles the adventures of a fictitious Kazakh TV
reporter lost in America. But after reading a number of reviews and
columns on the film, I gave up on the idea, thinking that I had little to
add to the already extensive conversation.

In mid-November columnist David Brooks of The New York Times accused
"Borat" of reaching a new level of snobbish condescension, of humiliating
hicks and defenseless "rural goobers" by leading them into unfair
"rube-baiting" interviews.

A few days later, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post criticized
"Borat" for using feigned anti-Semitism in order to expose anti-Semitism
in others, which Krauthammer pictures as an ungrateful thing for a Jew to
do in a country that has been the Jews' best friend in a world where
"real" anti-Semitism is on the rise. Krauthammer ends with the peculiar
notion that Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon somehow purchased
the right to tell derisive Jewish jokes and say "nasty things" about Jews
by being the "two greatest friends of the Jews" since WWII.

So I went back for a second look at "Borat," this time accompanied by a
couple of savvy, well-educated Jews. Here's what we saw:

First, nearly all of its critics have conceded that the film is
outrageously funny. It is. But be prepared for a few of the crudest scenes
you're likely to see in a movie theatre. On the other hand, some people
think Chaucer and Shakespeare are crude, and if we were to extract all of
the bawdy sexual and scatological references from our modern culture,
there wouldn't be all that much left. Besides the film's outrageous
crudity isn't what most of its critics are complaining about.

No, most complaints -- and lawsuits -- stem from indignation over being
taken in by the ruse engineered by the man behind "Borat," Sacha Baron
Cohen. Cohen, posing as the ignorant and charming journalist Borat,
contrives setups of ordinary Americans in the style of "Candid Camera" and
its modern imitators, but with a freedom of subject matter and language
that Allen Funt couldn't have dared on network TV. This is what Brooks
calls condescending "rube-baiting."

Actually, however, the rubes -- the ordinary people -- come off pretty
well in the film. Yes, Cohen is playing them for laughs, but mostly it's
reasonably good-natured fun. The driving instructor, the black ghetto
kids, the car salesman, the antiques dealer all manage to hold their own
unflappably, even in the face of progressively outrageous situations. No,
most of the rubes and hicks do just fine, even when they're at the
disadvantage of not knowing they're being taken in.

Cohen's sharpest satire is reserved for the high and mighty, the
self-important, the arrogant, the puffed up. Those among us who could
stand to be taken down a notch or two have always been fair game in our
culture, fodder for satirists from H.L. Mencken to the Marx Brothers to
the Three Stooges. The Southern Gentry who still live on Secession Drive,
drunken fraternity brothers, and evangelicals who believe that their
version of Jesus is the only path to Salvation -- in short, people who
more or less have it coming -- take the hardest hits in "Borat." And for
the most part they're the ones who are suing Cohen.

Anti-Semitic? My two Jewish companions didn't think so. Funny? Definitely.
Too crude? A split decision.

"Borat" is less about anti-Semitism than it is about prejudice of all
sorts, against Jews, blacks, women, homosexuals, Muslims. Our country has
come a long way, but it's probably healthy to be reminded occasionally
that it doesn't take much to entice a good American to say that maybe we
should think about lynching a few gays. And it doesn't take much alcohol
to induce a frat boy to volunteer that Jews have the power in our country
and, really, we might be better off if we still had slaves. He was drunk,
of course, but in vino veritas. Just ask Mel Gibson.

Yes, Cohen is taking these people for a ride, all right; but it's both
instructive and disconcerting to see how readily they climb on board.

John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in
Corpus Christi, Texas. Email: jcrisp(at)delmar.edu. For more stories visit


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posted by u2r2h at Friday, December 08, 2006


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