Comedy and Satire
Borat: a cultural Rorschach Test
Posted on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Satire, wrote Jonathan Swift in ©7, “is a sort of [looking] glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended by it.” As usual, he was being doubly ironic. As Swift knew better than anybody, the more penetrating the satire, the more anger it provokes. Everybody loves seeing his enemies mocked. Audiences that suspect the joke may be on them, however, can get testy. So it is with the hit film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of
A Cambridge-educated, observant Jew, Cohen has expressed surprise that anybody took offense, explaining that he thought audiences would realize that he was joking about a fictitious country.
“The joke is not on
Then why not invent a fictitious name? Cohen made brilliant use of the Kazakh government’s indignation to promote his film, turning up in character outside the White House on a day its president visited
More recently, a Kazakh newspaper dispatched a correspondent to
“‘Cultural Learnings’ is certainly not an anti-Kazakh, anti-Romanian or anti-Semitic,” he wrote. “It is a cruelly anti-American movie. It is amazingly funny and sad at the same time.”
Needless to say, this theme has provoked worry in the
Sigh. Another touchy minority group. I have zero sympathy for those
Then there’s the New Yorker tenderfoot who worried that “Borat’s” send-up of bigots might be mistaken by the “latenight college audience” for the real thing. “Could the movie become a safety valve,” he worries, “encouraging its fans to let off steam?” By doing what, staging a “Running of the Jews” through downtown
I found “Borat” very uneven, varying from extreme hilarity to cringe-making bad taste. It’s like a cultural Rorschach Test. At the expense of partly agreeing with the bluenoses, I found the scene of Borat being brought to Jesus by weeping Pentecostals almost unendurable. As weird as I find such public emotionalism, subjecting it to ridicule struck me as sadistic. That said, “Borat” wouldn’t be much of a satire if it didn’t take risks. The title character’s a kind of unholy saint, a chthonic Everyman (how’s that for digging out the old grad school vocabulary?) too naïve not to blurt out whatever pops into his mind. If that means saying he finds two of three women at a dinner party sexually attractive, but his host’s wife “not so much,” then out it comes. The joke is that everybody else at the table has secretly made similar calculations, but the others keep them hidden. We’re all ignorant peasants at heart. To Cohen, that’s the essence of the human comedy.