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November 13, 2006

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Amy

That's precisely why I can't and won't watch that movie. I can't even sit through the clips online.

Kathy McCarty

You think Michael Moore is a PROPAGANDIST? I'm confused. Fahrenheit 911 is a documentary of pure facts. (It is quite restrained, actually). MM Offered a reward of ten thousand dollars to anyone who could prove that anything he reported on in F911 was false or misleading.

Have you SEEN Fahrenheit 911? Maybe you haven't seen it.

Hugo

Propaganda isn't always false, Kathy. It's about using art to make a political point. I loved Fahrenheit 911, but I would hardly call it a balanced view, any more than I'd call the "Left Behind" series a thoughtful, multi-sided discussion of the End Times.

But no thread drift here. No more mentioning of Michael Moore; stay on Cohen and Borat.

beste

I haven't seen "Borat" but "Pulp Fiction." was a great film.

If you want to get angry see "9 Songs" that film had my blood boiling.

codepoke

Found you a couple weeks ago, and have been enjoying your stuff. I have not seen Borat, and hoped I wouldn't have to for all the reasons you detail.

Whether I do or don't, a standing ovation for this review. Amen.

a

Thank you. This is why I will not go to see that movie. I'm glad somebody else feels the same way I do.

Tara

I'm a little uncomfortable with dismissing the comments of the fratboys as "gentle naivete and gullibility."

Unless we say that women and minorites don't count as humanity, how were they not displaying "a genuine hostility towards humanity"???

jt

I'm a little uncomfortable with dismissing the comments of the fratboys as "gentle naivete and gullibility."

The fratboys may have just been showing their true selves, but there are a lot of other folks in this movie that weren't so unsympathetic.

It seems to me that what is really being laughed at here is the social conditioning we go through that is so strong that we will be led to endorse horribly bigoted ideas, simply because we're too nice to not play along with a guy who comes off as basically kind-hearted and naive. Do the people Borat leads in singing "Throw the Jew Down the Well" really hate Jews that much? Maybe, but I think that for the most part, they're really just too uncomfortable telling off a poor rube like Borat.

It is, I grant, a movie that does not have much empathy for these people. But, well, perhaps therein lies one of the subtle arguments of this movie: should empathy have bounds? After all, these people are often showing tremendous empathy for Borat himself, perhaps beyond what they should.

(But as for "Natural Born Killers" - well, yeah, that really was awful. Oliver Stone is a grotesque carbuncle on cinema's behind.)

Kathy McCarty

I am going to have to refresh my memory on the definition of Propaganda !

You know, the two movies I HATED THE MOST are Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers (Oh wait: The Worst Movie EVER is "7") and I bet I will hate Borat too. I think we are of one mind about those flicks. (I experienced "Natural Born Killers" to be actively EVIL, if such a thing can be said about a movie).

Hugo

Tara, I'm not endorsing the boys' offensive words. But they were also drunk and mugging for a camera. I heard a lot of silly bravado from them, but I also saw them as victims of a brilliant con man. Even in their drunken ugliness, I sensed a soft undercurrent of innocence. I don't endorse what they said, mind you -- but am convinced that what Cohen was doing was fundamentally worse.

C.W

I wonder if you would have hated this as much if he had exposed the dark, bigoted, hypocritical underbelly of Red State America in a way other than comedy? I thought his indictment of some segments of America were spot on. Everyone who comes off looking terrible has done it to himself.

CW

Stephen Frug

I don't mean to promote thread drift, but since you brought it up, I want to ask about Pulp Fiction. I can understand having a violence threshhold above which you can't enjoy a film; but that's something very different from actively loathing a film. So can you say more about why you actively loathed Pulp Ficiton -- in comments, or in another post? I strongly suspect I'm not the only one who's curious.

(Incidentally, I haven't seen either Borat or Natural Born Killers, so if possible a self-contained explanation, not relying on seeing them, would be awesome. I mean, surely you wouldn't want me to go out and see films you loathe just to undersand why you loathe a different one right? :) Thanks.)

HeavyJ

Borat is just a Jackass ripoff that thinks it has a brain. Just crude misanthopy withoout the mitigating pain and suffering of the filmmakers.

But Moore is a propagandist? Huh. Can you susbstantiate that somehow, or is that just what all the cool kids are saying these days?

Xrlq

To avoid further thread drift, let's just say that anyone who can say with a straight face that Fahrenheit 9/11 was a "documentary of pure facts" (a description so over-the-top I initially interpreted it as sarcasm) should read this.

As to Borat, I'm having a hard time mustering too much sympathy for those poor, racist, sexist fratboys he made look like racist, sexist fratboys. I'm a lot more worried about this.

connie

I haven't yet seen Borat, but have viewed the barrage of promotional footage, some of which I found hilarious and totally offensive at the same time. I think you've articulated something fundamental about the film: that it is uncomfortable to watch. Not that art needs to be comfortable, but as someone who believes in the immediate need for positive cross-cultural education and communication, I feel that Borat, as entertaining a film as it may be, is also creating and reinforcing a lot of unproductive stereotypes across the board. I won't deny the appeal of the movie, but it strikes a sensitive chord in me. Borat's brand of humor promotes callous insensitivity in a time when we need to nurture cultural sensitivity more than ever.

Here's an interesting article presenting a Kazakh POV:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/11/12/america/web.1112borat.php

Jeanette Reid

If Borat was really about exposing and denouncing the problems of misogyny and racism -- as he claims to be -- perhaps he wouldn't be participating in promotional events like "Win a date with a Kazakh hometown hottie at the Maxim Lounge in Miami!" This does not sound like the sort of thing someone who genuinely cared about the bigotry of the U.S. would do.

catty

My issue is that plays on the racist and xenophobic fear of strange, "backwards" countries and their people. Having Muslim and Kazakh friends, it really irks me. My Kazakh friend has already had to deal with assinine comments about being an anti-semite and drinking horse urine. UGH.

Joe Porembski

I stumbled onto your site, actually, because of your Chinchilla. It came up on Google. I read your little schpiel (sp?) on Borat simply out of curiosity.

I have to admit first and foremost, I agree with you on principle, but I disliked Borat for another reason. Borat's character is annoying as all get out. In my opinion, it is an example of how irritating, stereotypical, and pathetic have become the new classically funny.

There is nothing original about Borat. He took a view of how he thinks other people would stereotypically percieve someone from "one of them there -stan countries" and just went around being a complete douche. Anyone could have done it... ANYONE. Moreover, Borat is irritating, just the character himself gets on my nerves. The voice and broken english are biting (probably because I know how well spoken Cohen typically is when not in character). I almost can't put into words how badly concieved a character I think Borat is, completely one-dimensional comes to mind.

Oh, and I would like to make a comment about the whole MM thing with whatever bullshit movie he is pushing now. Mr. Moore is another person I put in the pathetic category. He is just as "spin" as washington, willing to manipulate any statistic and any sentence to serve his purpose. Its no more accurate than the attrocity that was Loose Change.

Hugo

Folks, all future comments mentioning Michael Moore get deleted. All Borat, all the time in this thread.

lorie

Weirdly, I had plans to see Borat with a friend tonight, and while I was reading this post she called to tell me she had a family emergency and had to cancel.

I've been torn about seeing it. I don't enjoy watching people - even stupid, cruel, closeminded people - made to look foolish. The main reason I've been interested in seeing it is because that rodeo was in Salem, VA: a suburb of Roanoke, my hometown, as well as the town where my mother works. When it happened, it was all over the news. People were very upset. I have never seen any of Cohen's shows, and I've mainly been mildly curious to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

I've been kind of worried that I'd find it upsetting, and that my friend would love it and think I was a little silly. I'm a little relieved that I won't be seeing it tonight.

A coworker of mine made an excellent point, similar to Catty's above. He asked, "What happens now if an actual journalist from a little-known foreign country wants to interview some Americans? No one will speak to him, and in fact they might be cruel to him, assuming he's 'punking' them too. It's not going to help people try to learn about other cultures at all."

Oh, and add me to the list of people who'd like to hear more of your thoughts on Pulp Fiction. In film school, it's one of the movies we studied extensively, and I'm very interested in why you loathe it.

Hugo

I loathed Pulp Fiction because I felt as if I was watching the work of a frightened, clever, adolescent boy. How so? My first impression (I saw the film once, in 1994) was that Tarantino must be absolutely terrified of death. He copes with his fear by constructing a fanciful narrative in which death is sudden, omnipresent, inevitable -- but, also, played for laughs. Was it a clever film? You bet. But it was also a film for me in which the brutality utterly and completely outweighed the artistry; whatever redemptive qualities the movie had were obscured by the blood, the ugliness, and the adolescent, know-it-all patter that struck me as mammothly self-indulgent.

Daniel

Hugo,

I think you get at the heart of the conflict when you write that Cohen "has joined the ranks of the great misanthropic satirists." I don't happen to agree with you in your evaluation of that tradition -- I think it's a worthy tradition -- but I understand why it troubles you so much. He is misanthropic, manipulative, unsympathetic. No question about it. Just because, say, the frat boys have pretty gross views on race and gender doesn't mean that someone like Cohen, or anyone, has a moral right to deceive them into humiliating themselves.

That said, I think that good artists should be judged by a different moral standard than the rest of us. I think societies function better, in the long run, when they have some space for people like Cohen who flout the rules of decent conduct in the pursuit of their artistic vision.

I don't question your personal aversion to the movie, and I think it reflects well on you that you're so viscerally put off by the sadism and manipulation of it, but I do think that your aversion shouldn't be generalized to a cultural critique. Not just because I think there's value in having some artists who make fun of racists and sexists, but also because sometimes it's enough for art to entertain us and bring joy and new stories into our lives (I'd defend Pulp Fiction on these latter grounds).

What troubles me a bit about Borat is that since it relies so much on redneck types to serve as examples of racism and sexism, it tends to let the rest of us off the hook for own prejudices and our own unwillingness to stand up to bigotry. I don't know what I would have done, for instance, if I were in the bar when Borat sang "Throw the Jew Down the Well" -- and I'm Jewish! But I'm also a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. To the extent that Cohen makes me wonder about things like that, I think he's doing something really interesting. When he's just letting me feel good about the fact that I'm not a homophobic rodeo organizer, he's not as interesting, though I still see some value in humiliating homophobic rodeo organizers.

-Dan

luci

Haven't/won't see the movie, but agree with your point based on the clips I've seen. In the clip with the square dancing old folks, he exploited the tendency of people to BE NICE to strangers. The targets of his satire were showing patience, sympathy, hospitality to someone from another country who doesn't perfectly understand the language. What I've seen of his Ali G show was similar - his guests would think they were dealing with a guy who doesn't understand something, so they'd patiently try to explain. He's a jerk. I'd start fantasizing about someone just slapping his ass hard, in the face.

I didn't see the frat boy clip, but I also felt sympathy for the rodeo audience. I'm a leftie, if it matters.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

some of which I found hilarious and totally offensive at the same time

Then the promotional footage is about representative of the movie (which I just saw last night, without having seen any promotional footage first). Some parts were funnier than they were disturbing (e.g., the New Yorkers, whom I could totally empathize with, trying to dodge the kisses on both cheeks), while other parts were more disturbing than funny. It was also weird to watch, because I wasn't sure who was an actor (I assumed the whole "Kazakh" town was a set filled with actors, but I see now it's an actual town where ordinary people got paid to do weird things), who was in on the joke (presumably at least Pamela Anderson was? because if she really didn't know what was up, and wasn't playing a part, well, eep), and who was being filmed without knowing the real score.

I think the most disturbing parts were not so much the scenes like the ones with the frat boys (who were basically eagerly competing to be as racist and sexist as they could) as the ones where people seemed to be going along with virulently racist stuff to be polite. And Daniel's right that that kind of thing isn't confined to Red America.

Sarah A.

I had the same reaction to Pulp Fiction (loathing), so I imagine I'd feel the same way about Borat. And yesterday I read an article about the way Cohen lied to and took advantage of the villagers in Glod, which stood in for his character's home village in the movie. I really feel for these people. For their sake alone I won't go see the movie.


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