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November 13, 2006

Comments

Kielrah

Hi Hugo and all,
I normally lurk and enjoy your blog without commenting, but I thought I'd throw some thoughts out there about Borat. I've been really curious about seeing the movie-partly because of the reviews it's getting, and partly because my best friend is from Kazakhstan (where she majored in cellular biology, by the way). But after reading your post, and the below article, I wouldn't go near this film with a ten foot pole. If you think what Mr. Cohen did to American subjects in his film for comedy is bad, please read about the poor villagers in Romania who had no clue they were being exploited and made fun of for the film (and received nearly nothing in compensation):

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=415871&in_page_id=1770&in_page_id=1770&expand=true#StartComments


Hugo

Thanks for all the links to the Romanian village story, people! Four in one post!

Sebastian Holsclaw

Ugh, I hated it. Similarly I can't stand radio DJs who crank call people to make them look foolish. It just makes my skin crawl.

Toy Soldier

Having not seen the film in its entirety, I cannot comment on any particulars about the film. Given its presentation and obvious mockery of certain groups of people, I am inclined to agree with Hugo in that Cohen's satire is done at other peoples' expense. I think, however, that this film (and the others that have been mentioned) are merely a reflection of attitudes within our culture. They manifest themselves with the kind of arrogant, hateful nastiness most often seen among teenage girls who mock, chastise and belittle those deemed "beneath them." The cruelty knows no bounds, so it quickly shifts from mildly funny to outright bigoted, usually without a break or pause. It is the kind of attitude that fosters and breeds bias and prejudice, all under the guise of self-righteously "critiquing" the "real" bigots.

No doubt Cohen's intent probably was not to shine a light on this aspect of our culture, but he does so nonetheless. It is much easier to say "Not I" and label others than admit that all of us have such tendencies.

distar

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=415871&in_page_id=1770

This article sheds a completly different light on Borat. I refuse to go see it.

Jeremy Henty

Gosh, there is so much in this thread that deserves a response! I'm going to risk starting with a little smackdown. Hugo wrote:

I may be the only person who watched this film whose heart went out to the crowd at the rodeo, to the Chi Psi brothers in the RV, to the Southern dinner party, to -- particularly -- the Pentecostals.

Hugo, I really won't let this pass. If Borat was an obscure cult film that played in a few art cinemas and nowhere else, then, OK. If you had written "I may be the only person who watched this film in that cinema ...", then OK. And if you want to accuse me of taking seriously something that was not meant seriously, then, again, OK.

But otherwise you seem to suggest it is plausible that, of the millions of people who have seen this film, only you had any sympathy for Borat's victims. That is very implausible (and arrogant and self-righteous to boot), and it certainly isn't necessary to support anything else you're saying here.

Hugo

Jeremy, I said "I may" not "I was". Big, big difference. Until I posted this, I had heard nothing, absolutely nothing, about Borat that wasn't fawningly laudatory.

Tara

I don't know what to say except that your excusing of the frat boys' expressions of hatred is profoundly disturbing. The fact that bigots and sexists are also 'normal' people who, in other situations, could be kind and admirable, is part of what makes sexism and bigotry so hard to fight, and in your desperation to excuse those who perpetuate hatred, it seems to me you are not helping.

Related but separate: If all that Baron-Cohen's work does is pique people to think about their go along get along attitude in the face of the expression of bigotry, that will be a great thing. Heaven knows it is easier not to protest and risk being conspicuous and being an object of ridicule, but history knows the cost of good people being unwilling to risk anything, even their face or their stature, to challenge hatred.

trishka

hugo, thanks for your post. i've had misgivings about watching this film & as a result will likely give it a pass.

i'm just not into humour that relies on humiliating other people as it's basis. even if those other people are ones whose viewpoints, religions, beliefs, behaviour &c i neither share nor condone.

as someone said above, if all this serves to do is make me feel superior to the poor misguided loser schmucks in the film, then that doesn't help me examine my own attitudes & beliefs all that much.

i mean, really, is racism or sexism going to be eradicated in anyone as a result of this film? i kinda doubt it.

Lurker

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

Apparently, you would have been well aware that it was a joke:

A very different picture, though, emerged from a conversation with the treasurer of the company that owns the bar, Carol Pierce, who said that she herself is Jewish. Pierce could be seen during the segment on HBO, laughing heartily behind her goateed husband.

In explaining her light-hearted take on Borat, she pointed out that what television viewers saw was only a few minutes of the two-and-a-half-hour performance that Borat gave when he came to Tucson, Ariz., in April. The rest of Borat’s performance, in which he sang about throwing his wife and family down the well, made it perfectly clear to Pierce that the man performing was a comedian in disguise — who was very funny.

“You could tell by the way they presented him. They brought him in and said he was an up-and-coming country music star,” Pierce recalled. “You could tell right away it was a wig he was wearing, and a fake mustache. I would say 99% of the people in here saw that, too.”

Jeremy Henty

Hugo:


Jeremy, I said "I may" not "I was". Big, big difference.

Not big enough to address the point. "I may..." still implies "it is plausible that I was...". And given Borat's immense success I maintain that it is not in the least bit plausible that you were the only person who felt the way that you did, even if you weren't personally aware of any such people. You're a great guy in many ways, but you're really not that great.

Jeremy Henty

I want to second the other people in this thread who say that we need reminding of the awful things ordinary people can do just to "fit in" or "be nice" or "be one of the gang". Read this:

The second was a lesson I received in group dynamics from my high school theater group's director, a guy named Lou. About a hundred of us kids had gathered together in the gym, doing warmup exercises. Lou got up and introduced a new exercise. We were going to count up from one to ten, slowly adjusting our attitude and appearance from utter dejection to triumphant at ten. One... we were slumped over and suicidal. Two... we straighted a little... Three... perhaps I shall not hang myself today. And so on to a hearty, confident, triumphant roar of TEN! "TEN!" shouted Lou. "TEN!!" we yelled back. "SEIG HEIL!" shouted Lou. "SEIG HEIL!!" we roared. "SEIG HEIL!!! SEIG HEIL!!! SEIG..."

Lou clapped his hands sharply for attention. He looked at us for a long moment. "Never forget," he said softly, "how easy it was for one man to make you do that."

I never will.
-- bill.sheehan

(That was originally a post on Slashdot, though I can only find it archived here and here.)

And if that doesn't make you think, read this.

Jas

I loved Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, AND Borat

As far as the "gentle naivete" of the Americans portrayed in the film, I find that a strange choice of words. Since when is racism and insensitivity "gentle"? If he had genuine Klan members portrayed on his film (simply more exagerrated versions of some of the people portrayed) would you characterize them as "gentle"? Every individual on that film deserved to be portrayed as they really are: the rodeo crowd, the frat boys, the Southern people, and the yelling church members. There was no manipulation there; simply a camera put on an interaction between a pretend Kazakstani man and those who interact with him. They all had the opportunity to present themselves differently, but didn't. I don't blame Borat for showing us people's reactions to him; I commend him for it, and respect the film far past the humor it provides.

Starfoxy

This may be slightly off-topic but I want to know what the deal was with the horse & rider in that fell in the trailer. Was there a real person on that horse (from the blip in the trailer it looked like it could have been a dummy)? What made it go down? Were either of them hurt?

Hugo

I don't know, Starfoxy. Let's just say that as a lover of animals, I was troubled by a number of things in the film. Letting a chicken loose on a subway and repeatedly shutting it in a valise was not okay. And yet Pam Anderson, a hero of mine for her animal rights activism, plays a prominent role.

Amanda Marcotte

In defense of misanthropes, because I am one: We love humanity more than anyone. And that's why we hate people, because no one does more damage to human beings than human beings.

Those frat boys got off easy. Had one of them told me he wants to own slaves to my face, I would have thrown the beer bottle at him.

Amanda Marcotte

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.

Indeed. And good Germans and people who attended lynchings no doubt had undercurrents of innocence as well.

Sara

I'm still confused about how Quentin Tarantino got mixed up in all of this. I think that could use a little more explanation.

Hugo

You may be right, Amanda. But I, for one, would rather find a way to attack the bigotry without attacking the bigot. I refuse to believe that hateful ideas are inextricably linked with the identify of he or she who holds them.

Hugo

Sara, I dragged in Tarantino because he is a director whose talent I admire and whose actual films (all two I have seen) I find offensive, ugly, repugnant, and infuriating. I can acknowledge genius and find the product of that genius to be very upsetting. That's exactly how I feel about Sacha Cohen.

mythago

The alternative to that, Hugo, is not to minimize and pretend the boys were just "mugging".

Over and over again, you make the mistake of confusion compassion, and a willingness to see the humanity in even the worst people, with liking, befriending and making excuses for them.

Hugo

If you read the original post, mythago, I say that a. what the boys said was nasty and b. I felt more compassion for them than for Cohen. I will not defend what they said, but to paraphrase Lear, these lads were "more sinned against than sinning." For that view I do not apologize.

Still, we've been round and round on this issue. I accept that many folks find my openness to those who hold misogynistic or racist views undermines my professed feminism. I am still struggling to find a way to hold in tension a commitment to justice, and a willingness to treat every person with love and dignity.

Jeremy Henty

Hugo, I'm curious if the other Tarantino film (ie. not Pulp Fiction) you disliked so much was Reservoir Dogs, because I saw the latter and I thought there was a moral to it, or at least a moral one could take from it, namely that if you decide to join the company of violent men and enter a world where everything is decided by violence then you will very likely die a sudden, unexpected, violent and meaningless death. Which I think is a healthier message than anything you'll get from your average gangsta rap.

Hugo

Yes, it was Reservoir Dogs. If there was a moral message, it was hidden from me by the blood and the ugliness. Forgive me for not having a discerning eye.

Joe smith

No, the point of resevoir dogs is that in the company of vioent men, virtue becomes vice. Mr White is destroyed by his own compassion, while the "professional" Mr. Pink gets away.

I'm a fan of Sascha Cohen, and especially of Borat, but I was pretty disappointed by the movie. I agree with Hugo for once. He came off as vicious and mean-spirited.

I'm less impressed with the case of the poor peope of Glod. Frankly it seems to me that they are just trying to shake the money tree. It does suck that they were ony paid E3 a day, but I don't beleive that they were insulted. They were playing fictional characters in another viiage in another country. No body assumes that the peope of Glod are rapists. It doesn't seem plausibe that they thought they were in a documentary: they admit that they saw things being staged, the kids with rifles, the animals in the house. If you've ever seen a movie being made, youd see the absurdity of that: each of those crowd scenes woud have taken a miion takes...there's no way it coud have been mistaken for a documentary, they were acting, pure and simple. Sascha is being sued by a whole buncha people now, and the Glodniks wanted their slice of the pie.

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