Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Comedy and Satire

Borat: a cultural Rorschach Test
Gene Lyons

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 Kazakhstan.” In form, “Borat” somewhat resembles Swift’s masterpiece, “Gulliver’s Travels” —a picaresque tale of a fool traveling through a strange and different land, specifically the U. S. A. At first, audiences were encouraged to see the movie as sheer buffoonery, with British comic Sacha Baron Cohen impersonating a bumpkin from a former Soviet republic so clueless that he mistakes a toilet for a water fountain. Cohen is a one-man Monty Python troupe, a gifted physical comic with prehensile eyebrows reminiscent of Groucho Marx. A masterful impersonator, he simply disappears into the character of Borat Sagdiyev, a journalist supposedly sent to the U. S. to film a documentary for Kazakh TV. Enchanted by an episode of “Baywatch,” Borat’s quest to make actress Pamela Anderson his bride links what’s basically a collection of improvised skits.

Filmed in Romania, early scenes showing Borat departing Kazakhstan in a battered Soviet-era sedan pulled by draft horses constituted high silliness of the first order. Depictions of the make believe Kazakh festival of “The Running of the Jews,” however, set some viewers’ teeth on edge.

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 Kazakhstan,” he told Rolling Stone. “I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist—who believe that there’s a country where homosexuals wear blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to 9 years old.”

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 Washington, demanding an interview with “the mighty warlord, Premier George Walter Bush.”

More recently, a Kazakh newspaper dispatched a correspondent to Vienna to see the movie. He advised everybody back home to chill out.

“‘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 U.S. An earnest people, Americans are famously resistant to satire. New York Times columnist David Brooks decried “blue America snobbery, as people on the coasts try to fathom those who would vote for George W. Bush. The only logical explanation is that they are racist, anti-Semitic idiots who can be blamelessly ridiculed.”

Sigh. Another touchy minority group. I have zero sympathy for those South Carolina frat boys who are suing Cohen, claiming he got them drunk and tempted them into spewing nonsense about how the poor white man can’t catch a break in this country. The cameras weren’t hidden. Besides, they didn’t say anything you can’t hear on the Rush Limbaugh program.

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 Tuscaloosa?

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.


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