Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I like the fact that so many people tried to get themselves removed from the Borat film. Look, you got caught being a sexist, or a racist, or a gigantic pussy – just live with it; that’s the whole point of Borat, to expose people’s prejudices and idiocy with a sly wink of complicity. Sure Sacha Baron Cohen helped put the noose round your neck, but you chose to hang yourself.

The scene that makes me laugh the most in Borat is the dinner scene where the Kazakh reporter is invited to a posh Southern dinner party. At first he embarrasses himself in a minor way by asking whether one of the guests is a retard and by questioning the attractiveness of one of the women, but despite this the hostess is still optimistic. When Borat excuses himself to go to the toilet, she confidently states that it wouldn’t take much to civilise this uncouth individual – he could be Americanised in no time. But then Borat returns with a pile of shit in a bag – his shit. This causes red faces aplenty, but still the hostess tries to muddle through. She even shows Borat how to take a crap. But it’s only when a black whore comes a knocking at the door that the hostility begins. Somehow shitting in a bag, calling someone a retard and calling a guest ugly is acceptable (albeit in an exasperating kind of way), but the presence of a black person in this Southern haven is beyond the pale. Nothing is more offensive than this.

Another scene that jabs at America’s dark underbelly is the rodeo sequence. Yeah, Borat’s cries of jingoistic encouragement are amusing, but it’s the exchange between Borat and the cowboy that’s more revealing. This fool spouts nonsense about killing all the Iraqis and then suggests that all of America’s homosexuals should be removed too. He even says something along the lines that ‘they’ (he takes it upon himself to speak for the country) should all be strung up. And this is what makes Borat such a great character. By acting like such an idiot he puts everyone at their ease. And it’s only when people are comfortable that the truth comes spilling from their mouths.

Another painful truth is the misogyny that is present in certain sections of American society. The frat boys, for instance, spout nonsense about men being better than women. Indeed, after the tearful revelation that Pamela Anderson is not a virgin, they tell a distraught Borat that he’s better than any female. For all the progress that Western society has made, it still hasn’t really got that far. And also in the frat boy sequence, the drunken idiots claim that the minorities have the most power. What the fuck are they smoking? Doubtless, later in life, when their marriages fall apart and their careers go nowhere, they’ll blame the Jews, the gays and the blacks for their failures. They’ll do anything but take a hard look at themselves.

A less insightful sequence that had me chuckling was the one on the New York subway. I just love how willing New Yorkers are to tell someone to go fuck themselves. Here in London, Borat’s acts would only be greeted by looks of bemusement and the odd muttered insult. New Yorkers, though, are perfectly happy to get in someone’s face. And there’s an even funnier bit on the streets where a New Yorker, backed into a corner by Borat, tells the Kazakh to get out of his face, that he’ll pop him in the balls if he doesn’t back away (?!?). Quite why this individual would chose to pop Borat in the balls, I’m not sure (there are so many easier places to pop), but the humourless ‘get out of my face’ aggression that is particular to New York never fails to put a smile on my lips.

Something else that put a smile on my lips was the naked wrestling scene. There are few things less joyous in life than two men fighting in the buff (‘my moustache still tastes of your testes’, says Borat later on). And I love the way that Borat’s penis is obscured by a massive black letterbox. You just know that Borat has been in the editing room, trying to make himself look as good as possible. But although the homoerotic grappling garners laughs aplenty, there’s a wonderful little moment that is easy to miss. The fight spills out into the hotel and they even get into a lift. But while most of the people run out in horror, one man remains – he stares passively forward, desperately trying not to lose his dignity.

But although the film points its finger at the numerous freaks and idiots it encounters along the way, it also points its finger at the audience. Just how willing are we to buy into this myth of Kazakhstan – a place where old ladies are 34, where cattle live in houses with their owners and where men snog their sisters (and who are also prostitutes). Few things give us greater pleasure than a false sense of superiority. Our lives may be shit, we think, but at least we don’t have it this bad. Therefore you can’t help but ask yourself why you’re laughing at some of these jokes – am I really that far removed from the homophobic cowboy or the misogynistic frat boys? My excuse is that I’m a jerk. What’s yours?

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