Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
There is something in Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan that is bigger than the film itself. The film is an attempt at filmic commentary on America and Americans disguised in a ridiculous and patronizing portrayal of a fictional character’s antics.
To briefly describe the film, Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is traveling to America to make a documentary for the local Kazakh TV network. He arrives with a suitcase packed with a chicken in it, and his ignorance of American culture becomes an excuse and validation for the character to publicly act out cultural taboos. The film takes on its classical Hollywood structure – like every good male protagonist, Borat falls in love with Pamela Anderson after seeing her on television and travels to Los Angeles from New York by car to meet her.
The film is filled with anecdotal scenes like that of Cohen’s TV sketch series, Da Ali G Show, and are linked together through the narrative of Borat trying to make a documentary, and the “capturing” of Pamela Anderson. Using hidden cameras, holding interviews for Kazakh TV and staging scenes, the film leaves viewers confused and wondering what scenes are real, and who is acting and who is not. This ambiguity creates humor some of the time. Borat approaching men on the train and introducing himself while trying to kiss them on each cheek conjures up reactions that are hysterical in their bluntness and rudeness. These reactions are very telling about how people in America are supposed to act and how some actually act and exemplify a piece of the cultural mentality. Having Borat try to introduce himself to people on the street, and having one kid be so scared that the he runs away so fast, it is really hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness of this type of mentality.
Time and time again, Borat is able to put people on so much, that the audience can’t believe these people fall for it. For the audience, knowing that Borat is just an actor, privileges us to the jokes. The cultural practices Borat injects himself into – a rodeo, an etiquette dinner, a humor coach, a feminist group and a fundamentalist Christian gathering – and the acts that he does in these situations, makes viewers laugh because they know the joke. But what is the craziest part of this film and why people find it so funny is that we are laughing at ourselves. Probably every person that sees this film will say, “God, those people in the film are so racist and ignorant, I am definitely not like that.” I think all of us are on that screen. We are implicated in the film because if you are American, it is about your culture.
So many times hype ruins movies, and if one enters Borat! thinking they will never stop laughing, or that it is the funniest movie ever made, it just ain’t gonna be that good, ya heard? Not everything in the film is funny. I realized this once people in the audience were laughing during the opening credits. Yes, the credits are creative and a little funny because of the imitation of low-budget television, but it instantly becomes apparent that people knew they are supposed to laugh, so they do no matter what.
This becomes very problematic, because if the film is only thought to be funny without serious consideration afterward, then I don’t think the creators have gotten their point across. I just refuse to believe that the people behind this are just a bunch of racist, bigoted people who have no idea what they were doing. The cultural critique that is going on with in this film is spot-on, despite its problematic nature.
There will be three types of viewer responses: Some people will be too sensitive to the issues in the film and find it absolutely racist and inappropriate. Others will question the jokes that they are laughing at, but laugh anyway. The rest will recklessly laugh at every thing that happens in the film, whether or not it is funny. A film like Borat! is very dangerous. It can perpetuate racism, not expose it. And if it is not considered correctly, then it has lost its value. To laugh at every joke without considering some of them is blindly watching the film and is irresponsible.
There is some serious shit going on here, and I don’t want to dwell. However, one scene that really stuck out is the etiquette dinner. The people there try to be as tolerant as they could, sticking to the political correctness to make themselves feel better about their racist tendencies. In the end it is apparent where they really stand.
One of the most valuable parts of Borat! is its proof how much racism still exists. Political correctness has become a shield that everyone hides behind to try and make himself or herself feel better. I think it is now apparent that people need to consider where we are in our ideology. We have let racism slip in between our fingers of political correctness. And I will humble myself after how preachy I just got. I laughed at this film, and I laughed hard. I laughed at things that I was embarrassed to be laughing at. I had to cover my face because I believed I was better than that. Watching Borat! was a humbling experience for me because it made me reconsider my views and values.
© 2006 Myles David Jewell. All rights reserved.
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