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November 13, 2006

Comments

Amba

While people are quite rightly concerned about Baron-Cohen's alleged exploitation of the people of Glod, it's worth pointing out that the Daily Mail isn't exactly a bastion of journalistic integrity - it's notoriously hostile to immigrants, and plenty of contempt for the Roma has been expressed in its own pages. I have to second Lynn's observation that most of Borat's encounters elicited more complicated reactions in the viewer than simple contempt - I felt rather warm towards many of Borat's targets. When he encountered genuinely nice people (that lovely older couple at the bed and breakfast, the yard sale 'gypsy'), his schtick was so clownish and over-the-top that it was clear that Borat himself was meant to be the object of ridicule, not the people he was interacting with. Conversely, when he met people who really are frightening bigots (the frat boys, the rodeo guy), he was rather subdued, giving them just enough rope to allow them to hang themselves.

Luke Lea

What troubles me is the way such over-the-top anti-anti-Semitism can so easily glide into anti-Gentilism and class condecension, thus provoking the very thing that it mocks. Not good.

Wolf Schweitzer

I have seen Borat. I don't agree to his methods as he is deceiving his subjects. So, if your point is that deceiving subjects is bad, I wholeheartedly agree. But the movie does this for a reason: the latent hatred and racism can only be exposed in today's world by somewhat tricking the subjects who deceivingly keep their active ingredients to themselves. However, they don't always keep their racism to themselves, but it has now become part of a trusted world of like-minded individuals. By posing as a possibly like-minded individual, "Borat" creates the wrongful impression of a closed (or small) circle and people come forward with their ideas they'd not expose if they knew they'd be on national TV or, of course, part of a box office hit such as this movie.

Most importantly, this movie is relevant because of the clear verbal statements it conveys. The content itself is far from extraordinary or new.

I really experienced that in the South ("The South" meaning, the "Deep South" of the USA), an appointment with White people is automatically - and without any further consideration or any further contact ever (!EVER) - cancelled the moment that a black person becomes part of it. Now, this is a problem seeing as if my wife is an African American, and I do relate to this. If your mind is upset about "sadism", would your mind include people like me at all? Of course not. You are only concerned about the US-version of "White People" and "White Privilege". That is why the reversed view - what is seen as sadistic from point of view of a victim of racism - doesn't cross your mind. I can't change it, but it is part of your make and self definition, hence, the active loathing of this film.

So far, people thought I was telling something crazy, particularly in Switzerland, but also in the US, when I talked about Southern discrimination and racism. It is very nice (HIGH FIVE) to see some Natchez White Folks showing on screen that they twiddle with that Borat character's bagged feces, but get up and leave when a black person enters the house (HIGH FIVE). It 1:1 matches real life experience no one believes me. Now what :-)

It does take a fair amount of offered prejudice in order to get another person to admit their prejudices. And this movie is about prejudices that people are otherwise not ready to admit. That such prejudice is more than relevant can be seen when reading simple, very simple statements such as this:

"White households had incomes that were two-thirds higher than blacks and 40 percent higher than Hispanics last year, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau."

If you use the words "more than arrogant" in this context, I am afraid that you may have to revise your definition of arrogant, maybe to compare with "super arrogant" and "extraordinarily arrogant". But then, of course, you're a white American boy and not likely to """understand""" (this being a publically accessible webpage).

As long as all it takes in this world for you to align your prejudices with the rest of the world to "actively loathe" this movie, hm well, maybe you could also actively loathe my office plant that just died?

Hugo

Wolf, I've spent time in the South (if lots of time in rural horse country, Albemarle County, Virginia, counts as the south); I've gone there with my mixed race wife (African-Colombian), and we've been welcomed and embraced. I've got extended family in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and seen less racism there (it's a lovely, steamy city) than in Los Angeles.

The folks at the dinner party were reacting less to a black woman than to what was surely the last straw: the presumptuousness of a rude, inappropriate guest bringing in an uninvited third party.

Jas

An uninvited third party who just coincidentally happened to be black and a prostitute? How is this not racist and classist? If she were a white middle class uninvited female, you think they would have had the same reaction? I firmly believe they would have accepted her and moved on as if nothing had happened. I cannot imagine them getting as upset as they did and kicking him out when he brought this woman over to the house.

I'm surprised by your analysis of these scenes ... It is almost as if you are protecting the subjects of the film because no one else will. Racists, sexists, homophobes, etc. deserve derision, and are not worthy of protection, even if we recognize that they are still "human beings".

elizabeth

Regardless of how I feel about Borat's humour, I feel he or the creator performs a vital societal role - he is our jester giving the society the needed barb. Is he one dimensional? Yes, entirely so - his whole presentation depends on the complete ignorance of American's to geographic and social cultures - that he is accepted immediately as "a foreigner" with "those foreigner ways" - which he then uses to attack both the passive nature of people to agree or reveal what they might normally not in a polite society (I mean, there are a dozen documentaries that record the racist, sexist and homophobic nature of the US population - is any of this a particular surprise, or is it just the "unpolite" way in which it was revealed) but also pushing to find that aspect of xenaphobia in US culture. There is often the presumption in many of his encounters that there is the "right" way (aka the American Way) and this presumption taints the entire dialogue (or eventual lack thereof). Is Borat's statements about women's "smaller brains" radically different than Harvard Professors paper of months past about women's incapablity of doing math? Or even books like "The Bell Curve?"

I can see that many dislike this particular mirror - but Borat was never meant to be a documentary, he has no interest in fair play, appropriate cultural representation or advancing the understanding of Baltic states. But then, these criticism seem to be as missing the point as complaints that Dr. Strangelove misrepresented the government's motives in adding fluoride to the water (or that not all Texans which to ride a nuclear device down into WWIII).

Starfoxy

Here is an article describing one person's experience of being in Borat. He's "Vanilla Face" from the hotel.

Joe Smith

I don't think it was so much that she was black as that she was a hooker!

mary

good to see others felt the same way I did--I had a visceral reaction to this movie--it made me feel ugly. I also wrote about it on my blog. Many of my friends LOVED this movie--which is disheartening.

Abram Rankin

Thank you so much! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who hated this movie. I spent the entire one and a half grueling hours curled into a ball waiting for it to end. I've never seen such insensitivity to humanity. Many of my friends loved it too, and I didn't know what I was going to do.

Jonathan Dresner

Haven't seen it, not planning to (I get to see about one new movie a year, and this year it's looking like Happy Feet will be it). But the question of sympathy is an interesting one. Clearly, "Borat" provokes some outrageous responses... that he shows. How many outtakes were there? How many attempts didn't really gel as funny? How many people didn't take the bait? If the answer is "a few", then I'd have to say that Hugo's objection is overstated; if the answer is "lots" then it seems much more grounded in reality.

MH

"How was anyone exploited? These people were not tricked into making racist or sexist or homophobic comments. They believed they were chatting with a real foreigner and said what they said."

Exactly. These people did not say anything they did not believe already. In xeno veritas, you might say.

If a ruse was required to get Cohen's subjects to reveal the ugliness within themselves, the real ugliness is not Cohen's facade - it is the lengths we will go to in order to hide our own brutalities.

Michael Devereaux

I remember when I left the theater after seeing 'Pulp Fiction'. It was totally new, different, stunning. I saw it twice more. I have the same feeling now that I've seen 'Borat'. It was stunning and, yes, often very funny. But I will not be seeing it twice more.

I learned my lesson with 'Pulp Fiction'. It can be taken as a SMALL SLICE of a skewed viewpoint on reality. But it has provoked a whole industry of movies that match its vicious nihilism and deeply dark vision of human nature. It had a point! But its point is in the small corner underneath the carpet that it illuminates. People are treasuring it - and its many, many copycats - as true reality.

The copycats will now come out of the woodwork on 'Borat'. These new movies will be cheaper and coarser and more disgusting. People will flock to them to relive the vicarious newness that they got from 'Borat', but that will be less and less effective over time. But this industry segment will blossom. I'm not supporting it any further.

I'm outraged at how little the Romanian villagers have received in compensation for the extended foolery done to them. I'm not so much outraged at the idiots expressing their racist, anti-gay, or other hatreds. The Pentacostal church scene - was that edited to show them in the very worst light? It seemed heavily edited, thinking back on it. I'd like to hear if they thought it was at least accurate.

But - 'The Running of the Jews' was brilliant satire. The naked wrestling fight with his producer was jaw-achingly funny. The Blair Witch video camera-on-face satire in the home of the elderly Jews was the best satire of that Blair Witch scene that I've seen yet. Several other scenes were funny to me.

the Unknown soldier

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I wonder why you feel sympathy for extreme bigots and perpetuators of white supremacy such as the frat boys. Then again, that kind of thing could easily come from you as well, so the empathy makes sense given that context.

stephen Roberts

i watched borat last night, thought it was really funny, laughed my ass off, just a film of him taking the micky out of american idiots. pulp fictions a top movie too. so there

uh-huh.

Ok, so its all about your feewings hugh.

No surprise there.

Very clearly demonstrates how feelings can cloud rational contemplation. Not to mention how letting one's emotions run wild is a good way to upset oneself. Make a concious choice brother, to look on the bright side of life, the part of the glass that's half full.

No need to knock the half empty glass off the table and upset yourself by grinding your bare sole (soul?) into the broken shards. Its unnecessarily painful and you're making a pointless mess, HURTING YOURSELF and blaming the person who made the glass.

Also unsurprising... the host of intellectual pretentions attatched to your instinctual responses. Its quite Ok to feel, that is a large part of being human... you dont need to explain yourself. Your feelings are, by definition, neither valid nor invalid, they JUST ARE.

But wot they hey, it is a blog, the essence of which is personal validation, so yes, l understand, its self evident.

From one propagandist to another... its ALL propaganda.

Your understanding or at least appreciation of what cohen is doing or trying to do misses the point in a very major way. Emotions tend to do that. You have only skimmed the surface of what he's on about. And lm not gonna waste your time trying to elucidate the multi-faceted (often paradoxically) subliminally insightful depth of cohens offerings... if you need it expalined to you then you wont understand.

Hint, think in terms of the self evident. Oh and paradoxically, dont over think it, dont let your preconceptions drive your emotions but rather experience it intuitively. Then it will just APPEAR. l know, sounds contradictory, hence the paradox.

That'll get you on a mind opening path. And l am talking about the mind here, in all of it capacity for clear thought, stripped of all the noisy nonsense that tends to swill about in there, like pointless attempts to rationally appreciate emotions. Wrong tool for the wrong job there. Might as well try peeling an apple with a cork screw.

But, be careful, its confronting. A sense which l think you appreciate, hence your anger, tho l suspect your analysis of your emotion may be skewed by preconceived notions. Yep, its hard to see things as they are when you are essentially a PROPOGANDIST. But you already know that.

So dont go there UNLESS you TRUELY want to see the TRUTH. Or as the saying goes 'dont speak about your problems unless you want to hear them.' Its potentially VERY painful. Depends on how thick skinned you are and how much truth you truely want to see. l think you might call that path... misanthropy. Which is a great little head game to play for those inclined to illusion.

ps. in all my yrs of internet travel, l am struggling to recall any blogger can use sooooo many words, repeating incessantly banal ideas, to say sooooooooo little. (yeah, l know where you're all gonna take that one, so again, surprise me.)

You do have a fairly captive congregation tho, so it must be exceedingly validating.

anti

Is this your way of saying you hate jews?

Lily

Hey, Hugo. I really liked your comments about Borat. I think you've really hit on something there. I saw some Borat clips on Youtube and found them side-splittingly funny, so I was eager to see the whole movie. I laughed like crazy for about the first half hour, but started feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed as the movie went on. It just stopped being funny and started being a little mean. Like you, I felt sorry for so many of the people there. Considering the situation they were in, I think the vast majority of these "ugly Americans" actually behaved very well! (For the record, I am Canadian, female, and a visible minority, although I do admit to having a very black and vicious sense of humour.)

The frat boys, if you ask me, were just very drunk and trying to be agreeable with someone who was inciting them with his comments. Seems to me they were trying to please their guest at any cost more than anything. That speaks to a weak character, but not to some inherent evil. The dinner society folks were trying incredibly hard to be polite and only tossed Borat out when they absolutely couldn't take it anymore. Borat acted like an absolute, insulting boor while singing at the rodeo, and got the correct response. (The anti-semitic rodeo guy behind the scenes was the one character I found truly repulsive, however.)

The actual impression I got from Borat was that Americans are an incredibly tolerant people -- maybe too tolerant, to their own detriment. A "foreigner" arrives, says and does incredibly offensive things, and the majority of these people are unable to stand up for their own convictions and instead fold under the pressure of political correctness and the need to respect diversity at any cost.

I do disagree with you on one point, however. I'm not sure in the end that Sacha Baron Cohen is particularly sadistic or misanthropic. In the end, I saw Borat more like the new brand of shock humour. There's nothing we don't make fun of these days -- except maybe tolerance, which remains one of our last sacred cows. I suspect -- or hope -- that Cohen was just making fun of that over-tolerance because it's the only thing that can get a rise out of us anymore. So yes, Americans were the butt of the joke, but not because they were intolerant, but because they were SO tolerant they were utterly ineffectual in defending themselves.

Steve

Its a great movie. The red staters did the work for Cohen. Try living down here and see how much sympathy you have for these ding-a-lings

SeverelyAnnoyed

I've just recently watched Borat after being convinced by my friends who constantly tell me it is hilarious. So yes, after a torturing 1hr 30 minutes, I finally finished watching the show. My reaction was, WHAT-A-WASTE-OF-MY-TIME. Frankly, i don't find the movie funny at all. Sure, there are a few scenes in the movie where they might trigger laughter in me, but frankly speaking, the humour in this movie is as dry and as flat as it could ever get. I agree with Hugo about the movie. I don't laugh because the scenes were remotely funny, i was merely amused by the fact that the producer had inserted that scene in. Honestly, I don't find this movie attractive one bit, in fact I find it stupid, nonsensical, and a total waste of time. It is something like Jackass 2, which i was also pushed to watch it by my friends. Guess I'll just have to stop taking dumbtarded recommendations by them.

not_a_fan

My co-worker loaned me this movie, extolling it as one of the greats of all time. I watched it, laughed at spots, cringed at others. Afterwards I felt a little disturbed, like my sensitivities had been violated somewhat.

There is a contingent that maintains that as an art form it has its place, as a documentary on the human condition it serves a purpose. I say that not everything that makes you feel uncomfortable is good for you, or good for humanity as a whole. Why must 'art that offends' be viewed in a lenient light? It does not promote anything healthy. It's like he filmed the trainwreck of the darker side of humanity and we are the rubberneckers who watch its tragedy. And sometimes when you take your eyes off the road to look at the wreckage, you wind up causing some of your own.

Cohen generally relied on the courtesies of common people to get a foothold, pushed them out of their comfort zone, and then filmed the reactions of people who don't have much experience in dealing with awkward situations. A big tip of the hat to the black youths who did not ridicule or belittle him cruelly, but instead more or less welcomed the stranger and provided some much needed stress relief. Another shout out to the guy in the grocery store (DVD extra clip) who shows the partience of Job as he explains that package after package in the dairy case is 'cheese'. Cohen tried to wear out this guy's polite exterior and couldn't do it.

Under false pretenses, he gathered this footage, created a movie, and has made roughly 250 million dollars. In my mind, that makes him less an artist and more an exploitative con-man, and a rich one at that.

borat_fan

i've seen the movie and laughed throughout the whole thing. first, borat is a fictional character and in no way a legitimate representative of Kazakhstan. He presents an over-the-top backwards, third world society and labels it "Kazakhstan," which may not have been the most appropriate thing to do but considering how ridiculous he makes it appear (i.e., his sister is the #4 prostitute in the country? prostitute rankings? jews have horns and can magically shapeshift?), i don't expect that anyone legitimately believes kazakhstan to be as borat describes it. i hope i'm not wrong!

second, there are a fair number of people in the movie who look bad and are prompted to do so by borat in a manner some might call entrapment. seems like fair game for a comedy. however, i think it's important to point out that there are several people who look good in the movie, which doesn't appear to be emphasized enough. the old jewish couple that take them in as guests in their b&b are obviously nice people, despite their ability to turn into cockroaches. there are the black kids he meets in the "bad" part of atlanta who teach him how to talk and dress like them. not the actions of reprehensible people. and last but not least, the hooker who shows up at the dinner party after being invited by borat is probably the nicest person in the whole movie. they hang out and dance after being thrown out and she and borat have a great time together, which is probably why borat eventually marries her! oh, and i think the religious ministry that helps him in when he's feeling really down and out was another example of a positive interaction between borat and hospitable people. all of the above mentioned characters in the movie could easily have told borat to take a hike but they didn't.

so, is borat aka sacha baron cohen really displaying a "nastiness [and] a puerile sadism" when he makes some people look like decent human beings?

Leonel

I Think you should have a little bit more sense of humor, i mean i bet you are all the kind of old guys who rather much rather read a book or spend hours on a computer than watch some good comedy or do something other than have fun , it doesn't matter how bad you talk about borat it won't make a difference i mean the man is a genius he came with something new, the dude made a fortune out of this movie, so stop talking bad about him "i don't see you making a movie" by the way i loved his movie 5 stars.

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