Nov 22, 2006

On Borat, Race, and America

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan I played hooky today and went to see the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

The film says much more about contemporary America than it does about Kazakhstan, and the film actually says very little about Kazakhstan that is not complete fabrication (the filmmakers do correctly place the nation on a Central Asian map, but that is about the extent of factual information about Kazakhstan).

For those unaware of the film's premise, Borat Sagdiyev (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) is a fictitious Kazakhstani journalist who travels across America creating an equally specious documentary. Akin to an R-rated Candid Camera, Borat chronicles the misadventures of the film's title character and the people with whom he comes into contact.

The brilliance of Cohen is his ability to persuade people to believe that he really is a Jew-hating foreigner, and through this ruse get them to forget the cameras are rolling. Borat received an invitation to a Southern dinner party (held, appropriately enough, on Secession Lane), and his hosts enjoy his presence until his "date" arrives: a black prostitute (played by comedienne Luelle).

Party over.

Borat captured on film a rodeo promoter suggesting that Americans ought to jail and murder gays, a group of Southern fraternity boys promoting the idea that America ought to return to slavery, and a gun store owner suggesting the best types of handguns for shooting Jews.

The film, beneath the surface humor, demonstrates that there lurks in America deep-seated racism, xenophobia, and a distrust of people who are different. For those who might think racism is the sole province of swastika-wearing buffoons like the National Socialist Movement, Borat is an eye-opener.

Borat's warmest reception - and one of the funniest bits in the film - occurs when he stops to ask directions to California from a group of dice-rolling black teens. After initial distrust of the strange, polyester-suited Borat walking up to them, the young men open up and give him some lessons in street fashion and gangsta language.

Prepare to be entertained, grossed out, and perplexed in viewing Borat, and plan to leave the theater knowing little about Kazakhstani life - but knowing a bit more about race relations in America.


Anonymous said...

Haven't seen it yet, Mike. Sounds funny.


Hooda Thunkit said...

From the previews that I've seen, it looks like a complete waste of time.

I'm not inclined to spend my one movie night a year on it.

Besides, Mrs. T wants to see "Happy Feet."

wjohnson said...

Hello History Mike,
My oldest daughter came home from Baltimore for Thanksgiving and she and I saw it last night. What a great and funny movie. What I thought was a greater lesson was Cohen’s, Borat charter’s innocence that made people drop their social guard and allowed the Freudian slips and true thoughts and feelings come through. The way he played the Tight Ass Social Aristocrats from Georgia at the dinner table, the Evangelical’s revival meeting showing the fanatical ness of it all, the rodeo scene exposing the redneck, spoon fed, over simplified viewpoint of racial and current issues, and last but not least the Frat Boys in the RV exposing their attitude they had for women.

I agree the movie spoke more about American social morels than it did in presenting Kazakhstan as a backward, inbred society. When Russia censored the movie by not allowing it to be shown in their country, really missed the point the lesson this movie delivered. Whether this was a conscience outcome of Cohen’s or not (and for some reason I think not), never the less came through loud and clear.

I also want to take this time and wish everyone who reads and posts on your blog site and Happy Thanksgiving. Keep up the good work and I am looking forward to more of your writings and thoughts.

The Screaming Nutcase said...

Haven't seen it yet, but how much is instructive of America as a whole, and how much is really just editing out the people who treated him well? Or the parts where they treated him well until they realized they were being taken advantage of? If I shot enough footage, I make Israel look like a nation of Holocaust deniers....