"Borat’s" rage masked as laughter
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor
Aug 1, 2007, 01:08
Two faces are at work in the political “mockumentary” Borat: Cultural Learnings of
America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. One is the British
comedian/writer Sacha Baron Cohen, who is Jewish and also a graduate of Christ’s
College at Cambridge. Then there’s the grinning idiot Cohen plays, the Kazakhstani
journalist, Borat, who will set out from his squalid village, his prostitute sister
whom he’s “inside of,” his stone-age neighbors, rapists, abortionists, dabblers in
incest, to find out all about America, providing us with a bag of belly-turning laughs.
First, what isn’t funny is that the Kazakh village scenes were really shot in Glod
(literally “mud”), Romania, whose inhabitants were told a documentary about their
hardships was being made, not a bizarre comedy that mocked Kazakhstan as well as Glod’s
poverty and isolation. What’s more Borat the movie, which grossed $260 million
worldwide paid the villagers some 3 pounds each for their humiliation, some 30 pounds
daily for the use of their houses, in which the crew trekked in animals and often left
their excrement to be cleaned.
You could say the ‘Borat’ film tricked the poor village actors, who comment about it
all in the article from Britain’s Daily Mail; from the innocent blond turned into
Borat’s prostitute sister and sex partner, to the armless villager, whose prosthetic
arm in the film is a rubber sex toy, ahem, forearm to fist. Borat’s ancient mother he
tells us is 40 and his film wife looks like she came out of the Ozark backwoods. Could
it have been that Glod was used as a town because Romania was bullied into fighting
with the Nazis in WWII and echoed its anti-Semitic policies, including the Iasi pogrom
of June 27, 1941, which resulted in the mass-murder of some 13,266 Jews? Is Cohen’s
degree in history mixing with his comedy?
In his bio, Sacha Baron Cohen tells us, "I remember, when I was in university I studied
history, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And
his quote was, 'The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.' I know it's not
very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an
interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just
had to be apathetic."
Apart from Germans, does he see the Romanians, i.e., Kazakhs and Americans as apathetic
concerning the Holocaust? To my counting, 400,000 American soldiers died in WWII
fighting the Nazis. I mean Cohen’s no dummy although he loves to play one. Is this
Cohen’s residual anger at us all?
His bio tells us, “Cohen plays three principal characters on his ‘Da Ali G Show’
(2003). The title character is Ali G, a lower-class white male who acts like a Jamaican
Londoner and enrages his politically active and powerful guests with stupid questions.
Another one is the Kazakhstani TV reporter Borat, who naïvely searches for porn and
outlets for his scatological, accidental humor and anti-Semitism. The last one is the
superficial Austrian fashion expert Brüno, who often talks up heartless fashionistas
and makes macho men uncomfortable with his blatant homosexuality.” Could Cohen be the
real life white male acting like a stupid person? And could his incessant gay-play be a
yearning for the real thing? And is that the source of the anger?
Cohen goes on to say, "I've been in a bizarre situation, where a country has declared
me as its number-one enemy. It's inherently a comic situation. I mean, it's always
risky when you don't go down the normal route. I wish I would've been there at the
briefing that Bush got about who I am, who Borat is. It would have had to be great."
Well, it wasn’t great or without reason that Kazakhstan was offended by him, to the
point where the president of the country contacted Bush about Cohen’s excesses.
Speaking of excesses, Bush is presently courting all the Stan nations, including
Kazakhstan, for their oil and gas. I guess that’s not funny enough to mention.
Also, Borat is a fellow (who we take it) according to tradition, kisses every man on
both cheeks and on the lips as a greeting, but not women. Needless to say, he gets in a
lot of trouble when he does this on the New York City subway. But then, there are
abundant gags about homosexuality, prostitution, even pedophilia. True, we will find
these issues mentioned in relation to the Middle East in the best-selling novel by
Afghan author Khaled Kosseini, Kite-Runner, but the material is handled seriously, not
for laughs. We will also find these realities discussed about the West in Western
journalism, non-fiction, fiction, film and TV. They are not peculiar to the Middle East.
But the larger issue here is picking on Kazakhstan itself, a country that is 47 percent
Muslim, 44 percent Russian Orthodox, with a tiny Jewish population. There is a scene in
the film where a large effigy of an ugly Jewish woman is carried by Kazakh children. At
some point they put it down, beat her broad skirts with sticks till a huge egg rolls
out. Then they beat the shell till it bursts and the progeny appears, and they beat
that, too. Ouch.
In short, should Kazakhstan be the vehicle for Borat/Cohen to highlight anti-Semitic
and gypsy-bashing, a country surrounded by the heavily Muslim Stan nations of the
Caspian Sea basin? What means this man-kissing, babe-slavering idiot showing us his
perceived dregs of humanity (Muslims and Christians) still persecuting Jews, without a
word about Israel persecuting Palestinians? Is this Cohen’s own lingering rage morphing
The trip to America is more of the same
Borat’s trip to America is mostly all setups. That is, his production company lied to
various groups of Americans. They were told Borat was a Russian with no idea of our
customs coming here to make a documentary of his visit. Then Borat, along with his
rotund producer Amazmet, were unloosed with the most bizarre unscripted behavior. The
camera then catches reactions which make Americans look like they’re from another
planet. For instance, he excuses himself from a dinner with some very straight
Southerners, asking where the “shithouse” is over and over again. He finally leaves,
returning with his produce in a plastic bag, asking where to put it. When the guests
leave in disgust are we to believe what, they’re square? They’re funny for being so
uptight? Somehow the audience howls at the scatology. Sad.
When he falls in love with Pamela Anderson, the “All-American” woman/body, he pumps a
panel of real feminists for her stats. While doing this, he receives a telegram that
his wife has been violated by a bear and killed, and then high-fives the messenger.
This gets a big laugh. He then decides to go to California to make a new life and
abduct Pamela into marriage. What kind of demented anger is propelling that “humor?” He
tells his producer “Pearl Harbor is there and so is Texas.” Azamat afraid to fly there,
fearing another 9/11, says it “was the work of the Jews,” a double-whammy, insult and
parody of involvement of certain Israelis with the attack. But not to worry: Borat
takes driving lessons, buys an old ice cream truck and takes off for the coast.
“On the trip, he finds a Baywatch TV show booklet at a yard sale and salivates,
continuing to gather footage for his documentary.” As Wikipedia describes, “he meets
gay pride parade participants, politicians (including Alan Keyes and Bob Barr) and
African American youths playing Cee-lo. He is also interviewed on live television and
proceeds to disrupt the weather report. Visiting a rodeo, the reporter Borat, after
first exciting the crowd with jingoistic pro-U.S. remarks, sings a fictional Kazakhstan
national anthem to the tune of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’” This receives a predictably
negative reaction. Each group here has been set up to think he’s legit and has managed
to show the worst or dumbest part of him, her or themselves “for laughs.”
In fact, “while staying at a bed and breakfast, Borat and his producer are stunned to
learn that their hosts are Jewish. Fearful of death (or worse) at the hands of their
hosts, the two ‘escape’ after throwing money toward cockroaches which they believe are
their Jewish hosts self-transformed. While Azamat advises a return to New York (where
at least, he believes, there are no Jews), Borat attempts to purchase a handgun to
defend himself against Jews. When told he cannot buy a gun because he is not an
American citizen, Borat purchases a bear, which he names after his late wife, for
protection.” Borat also visits a southern antique shop with a display of Confederate
heritage items; of course, as cliché klutz he breaks the glass and crockery.
“The [westward] journey is interrupted when Borat, just out of the bathtub, exits the
bathroom of his hotel room and sees Azamat masturbating while looking at a picture of
Pamela Anderson in the Baywatch book. Borat becomes enraged and discloses his real
reason for traveling to California.” Things escalate into a fully nude brawl, climaxed
by Borat obviously performing anal sex on Azamat, along with a black-out rectangle on
the critical area. The brawl then “spills out into the hallway, a crowded elevator, and
ultimately into a packed ballroom filled with mortgage brokers at a convention. The two
are finally separated by security guards.” Is it any wonder?
“As a result, Azamat abandons Borat, taking his passport, all of their money, and their
bear, whose head is later seen inside a motel refrigerator. Borat begins to hitchhike
to California, but is soon picked up by Anthony, Justin and David, drunken University
of South Carolina fraternity brothers. On learning the reason for his trip, they show
him the Pam and Tommy sex video, revealing that she is not the virgin he thought she was.
“After leaving the three students, Borat becomes despondent, burning the Baywatch
booklet and, by mistake, his return ticket to Kazakhstan. He regains his faith after
attending a United Pentecostal camp meeting, at which Republican U.S. Representative
Chip Pickering and current Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith, Jr.,
are present. He learns to forgive Azamat and Pamela. He accompanies church members on a
bus to Los Angeles and disembarks to find Azamat dressed as Oliver Hardy (though Borat
thinks that he is dressed as Hitler). The two reconcile and Azamat tells Borat where to
find Pamela Anderson.” There’s more . . .
“Borat finally comes face-to-face with Anderson at a book signing at a Virgin
Megastore. After showing Anderson his ‘traditional marriage sack,’ Borat pursues her
throughout the store in an attempt to abduct her until he is tackled and handcuffed by
security guards. Afterwards, Borat seeks out and marries a black prostitute named
Luenell, whom he had befriended earlier in the film, and returns to Kazakhstan with
her.” By the way, both Anderson and Luenell were paid actors, fully aware of their
roles and the script.
But, after all is said and done, the joke is on us. When Borat returns to his village
and tells us the villagers have become Christians, we see a citizen Christ on a
crucifix being poked by other villagers with spear-like branches. The joke is
ultimately an insult, to Muslims, Christians, even Jews in an off-handed way, and
mostly to Americans as Borat introduces the village to American computer-based
technology: Ipods, laptops and high-def LCD television. In fact, it would seem sheer
rage at Americans and Kazakhs (Muslim and Russian Orthodox) has been driving the very
off-beat humor. And if Sacha Cohen had been looking at his own bloody England, or his
“spiritual homeland” of Israel, spurred on by England for a century and a half to
gobble up Palestine, or was aware that the Jews had been tossed out of England for 350
years, his humor might have been more “fair and balanced” in the words of Fox News.
And, speaking of Fox News, guess who produced this insult comedy? 20th Century Fox,
yes, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Yes it’s Rupert Murdoch: Fox in
the henhouse, the old Zionist-Journo himself. And this, I guess, is the old Fox
Murdoch’s idea of a few good political laughs; Borat, a Muslim journalist who doesn’t
know his ass from his elbow and insults everyone with his tasteless antics. The only
religious group that comes off unscathed is the “perpetually harassed Jewish people.”
After all, any negative comment in that area, any Israeli barbs, would be anti-Semitic.
Personally, I find it all deeply disingenuous, including the one true line about
Israeli involvement with 9/11.
But enjoy, and let’s get a good look at Sacha Baron Cohen when he’s not in his Borat or
Bruno gay-boy drag or Ali-G threads. He’s quite a clever boychik, rich now at the
expense of many.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York.