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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Take another look at ‘Borat’

    Last weekend, Sacha Baron Cohen opened his new movie, “”Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,”” to rave reviews. The highest grossing movie of the weekend, Cohen’s “”Borat”” brought audiences to tears with his over-the-top Ron Jeremy mustache and ridiculously anti-Semitic humor. But not everyone is laughing.

    Opponents to Cohen’s new movie have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. The Kazakh national government removed Borat’s home page from their national Internet domain, has in the past threatened legal action against Cohen and recently invited the British humorist to visit the Central Asian country in order to see that there are automobiles, freely practicing Jews and working women.

    In this country, the reaction of the Anti-Defamation League, a national organization aimed at preventing the spread of anti-Semitism and bigotry, while more placid, remains cautious that many in this country will not understand Cohen’s irony (Cohen is an observant Jew) and thus reinforce stereotypes and anti-Semitism rather than reveal the absurdity of such views.

    Interestingly, the ADL has joined the Kazakh government in criticizing Cohen for promoting such a negative foreign view of the culture and people of Kazakhstan.

    While the ADL’s response to the portrayal of significantly over-the-top anti-Semitism and the Kazakhs’ response to such racism being perpetuated by a supposed Kazakh national are both understandable, it is paramount to first recognize Cohen’s form of humor for what it is.

    Cohen’s portrayal of Borat is not meant as an insult to Kazakhstan. It is not meant as an insult to Jews. It is not meant as an insult to blacks. And it is not meant as an insult to women. Who it is absolutely meant as an insult to is the average Joe American.

    Although Borat makes audiences laugh by describing daily life and customs in Kazakhstan, what he really does is draw out the unbelievably horrifying reactions of his dense American interviewees. It’s offensively funny to hear Borat’s over-the-top, heavily accented description of the Kazakhs’ routine hangings of homosexuals to an American cowboy in the South. We laugh because we know it isn’t true – because we expect such a strong negative reaction from the cowboy Borat is describing it to.

    And then we laugh harder, in a kind of uncomfortable, “”I know he isn’t going to – Oh my God he just said it!”” kind of way when the cowboy doesn’t respond negatively, but in fact leans closer to Borat and gravely mentions that “”we”” are trying to get the same thing done in this country.

    We gasp when Borat asks an American gun-store owner what kind of weapon is best against a Jew. But we can’t control our uncomfortable laughter when the American responds, without missing a beat, that he would go with a 9-millimeter.

    And these scenes illustrate how Borat’s extreme racism and homophobia aren’t just meant to demonstrate how truly absurd such outlandish opinions really are, but serve as foils to the many Americans who don’t respond negatively to it.

    Cohen’s formula is actually very simple. Present an extremely racist or misogynist opinion in a comical way to Americans we believe will react with scold or contempt, and then blow the audience away when our countrymen respond instead with lukewarm distaste at best and zealous agreement at worst.

    And the worse it is – the less disparity there is between the view of Borat and that of the American he is interviewing – the harder we laugh at our compatriot’s idiocy and ignorance. We aren’t laughing because Borat’s a moron or because we think all Kazakhs are backwards, racist Jew-killers, but because he has just made such a fool out of his subject.

    The movie is funny, no doubt. And the Kazakh government and ADL themselves acknowledge Cohen’s “”creative freedom”” and attempt to “”expose bigotry and prejudice.”” But they need not worry about how Cohen’s antics are affecting the stereotypes they seek to destroy.

    When Borat attempts to defend himself from cockroaches that he believes are metamorphosed Jews by throwing $1 bills at them, we don’t laugh because he’s a backwards Kazakh, but because we know there are Americans dumb enough to believe similar things – and Cohen conducts many an interview to prove it.

    So before critics attack Cohen for reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Kazakhis, Jews and women, take a good look at who is really being made the fool by his supposed prejudice. A single viewing of this movie will remind audiences that Kazakhs and Jews aren’t the ones to be feared – that what we really ought to be terrified of are the masses of Americans who still haven’t figured that out.

    Stan Molever is a senior majoring in philosophy. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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