I’m slow on the pickup again, but 36 hours ago the L.A. Times ran two Borat stories, and portions of each are worth quoting because they lay bare what Borat‘s star-cowriter-producer Sacha Baron Cohen is essentially up to, which is a cunning mockery of America’s rural cluelessness.
The piece by Mark Olsen and John Horn quotes Talladega Nights director Adam McKay as follows: “I don’t want to speak for my movies; you could say my movies are just completely silly and dumb, but in the case of Idiocracy and Borat, without a doubt there is a really subversive and sophisticated assault on American culture.
“It’s one thing to mess stuff up and break stuff, but [Borat] is really pointing out the ideology of America. It’s one thing to break stuff and damage people’s possessions, but when you start aiming at the ideology of America, that’s dangerous comedy.”
The article/rant piece by Carina Chocano points out that Borat — i.e., Cohen playing a Kazakhstan culture reporter — hangs out with “normal people” — i.e., non-actors who aren’t in on the joke — and gets them to happily reveal their prejudices.
“Shopping for a house, in one TV episode, Borat asks a real estate agent about a windowless room with a metal door for his mentally disabled brother, whether he may bury his wife in the yard if she dies, and whether black people will move into the neighborhood. At the wine tasting, he asks if the black waiter is a slave, to which the ‘commander’ of the Knights of the Vine society in Jackson, Miss., replies that there was ‘a law that was passed that they could no longer be used as slaves — which is a good thing for them.’ (‘Oh, good for him, not so good for you!’ Borat yelps, picking up an undercurrent that may not have even been evident to them.)
“And he does all of it with a wide-eyed, kiss-you-on-the-cheek, ‘America is No. 1’ insouciance that lowers everybody’s guard — which must be it, because, otherwise, what’s going on? Why is it that Borat can boast to a recruiter at a financial services company that he can ‘hold down a large woman for three hours’ or patiently explain to a career counselor how his last job consisted of masturbating camels, and both men will nod patiently, never so much as cracking a smile or doing a double take, unflappably respectful of their ‘cultural differences’ until the end.
“Are they media-coached to the point of catatonia? So secure in their cultural superiority and so clueless about the world around them that they actually believe that this nice, besuited television reporter from Central Asia has never seen a toilet before? Are they dead?
“This, I think, is where the genius and horror of Borat’s explorations really lie: The joke is not on the U.S. or Kazakhstan or even the fake Kazakhstan of Cohen’s imagination. The joke is on petrified, inward-looking nationalism of all stripes. What’s funny is a jingoism so blinkered it can’t see the joke in a fake Kazakh singing the fake Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the American one. (Or the irony, for that matter, in the malaprop: ‘I support your war of terror!’)”