Sacha Baron Cohen speaks
November 16, 2006 1:37 AM   Subscribe

In a rare interview out of character, Sacha Baron Cohen discusses his reaction to the controversy over Borat:

And the reason we chose Kazakhstan was because it was a country that no one had heard anything about, so we could essentially play on stereotypes they might have about this ex-Soviet backwater. The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist -- who believe that there's a country where homosexuals wear blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old."


Maybe this Kazakhstan doesn't exist--but Borat's antics sometimes aren't far off the mark from other parts of the world where gang-rape and stoning are meted out as punishment. Is it so silly to appreciate Borat as a comical icon from these dark corners of the world? Who is ignorant of what is really happening in the world--Cohen or his unwitting interviewees?
posted by Brian James (150 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It always struck me as shortsighted or stupid for Cohen and company to use a real country.

What comedy would be lost calling it Uzburgistan or Elbonia? All the same jokes would work, the same (American) audience would think those were real countries anyway, and you'd accomplish this without risking coming off like a racist fuck.

Am I missing something? Is it funnier that it's a real-country-nobody-knows instead of a fictional-country-that-sounds-like-a-real-one?

Help me, Blue ones.
posted by j-dub at 1:42 AM on November 16, 2006


There is no such thing as bad publicity.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:48 AM on November 16, 2006


He needs to use a real place because people aren't completely stupid. Someone, somewhere, probably at least Googled the name of country he claimed to be from before arranging an interview with their boss.

Besides, when you're watching an old movie and someone in a broad Eastern European accent claims to be from Latervinia or whatever, doesn't that immediately strike you as fake?
posted by Optamystic at 1:52 AM on November 16, 2006


Kazakhstan is pumped about all this. They've launched plenty of tourism-oriented tv ads recently.
posted by mmdei at 1:52 AM on November 16, 2006


Actually, I think his entire body of work shows that there is no shortage of the "completely stupid" or gullible, doesn't it?
posted by j-dub at 1:56 AM on November 16, 2006


Yeah, I imagine Kazakhstan's new tourism push will attract all the (stupid gullible) tourists looking for 9 year old brides.

I wonder if we can pay the gov't to KEEP those tourists?
posted by j-dub at 1:59 AM on November 16, 2006


Are extremely loaded rhetorical questions the only thing that can save us now?
posted by randomination at 2:16 AM on November 16, 2006 [7 favorites]


At least one person has now appreciated Borat... with his fists.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:16 AM on November 16, 2006


If Cohen was wearing a turban instead of a funny mustache someone would have already sawed his head off.
posted by wfrgms at 2:17 AM on November 16, 2006


What's with the editorializing on the front page?
posted by The Monkey at 2:30 AM on November 16, 2006


Borat as a character has been around for a long time, originating as just one part of a TV show. At the time it was probably hardly worth thinking about which country (and whether it should be a fictional one) to use as there wasn't any indication it'd turn into a big movie.

Not commenting on whether he should have gone for Kazakhstan or not, but it needs to be remembered this character was not written for a big movie with massive publicity. He was written for a TV show with a relatively small audience in the UK, and it also seems he evolved from earlier characters of his which were associated with other countries. I'd be surprised if at the time Sacha Baron Cohen imagined it would become such a hot topic.
posted by edd at 2:41 AM on November 16, 2006


I don't remember any time on the Ali G show when it was NOT Kazakhstan, edd, but you're making me want to dig out the old bittorr legal VHS tapes and check. Or is there an older source?
posted by j-dub at 2:48 AM on November 16, 2006


Then again maybe Cohen isn't too far off mark...

Kazakh central bank misspells ‘bank’ on money
posted by wfrgms at 2:49 AM on November 16, 2006


I know I've recently seen a youtube clip where baron cohen was playing a Borat precurser where 1) his name wasn't Borat and 2) he was Albania.
posted by thecjm at 3:20 AM on November 16, 2006


honestly, anyone who got offended by that movie DESERVES TO BE. oh no, he made fun of my country! this OFFENDS me! I HAVE BEEN WOUNDED BY SATIRE AND JOKES!

fucking lighten up a little!
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 3:33 AM on November 16, 2006


I think this guy did more than anybody else to inspire the Borat character. But people have heard of Turkey.
posted by rongorongo at 3:33 AM on November 16, 2006




I thought the movie hilarious, but afterwards I thought this was pretty rotten.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 3:39 AM on November 16, 2006


If Cohen was wearing a turban instead of a funny mustache someone would have already sawed his head off.
Thus proving what? That turban-wearers are hot-headed imbeciles?
posted by Joeforking at 3:39 AM on November 16, 2006


> Thus proving what? That turban-wearers are hot-headed imbeciles?

That it's not dangerout to set yourself up as a target for hot-headed imbecile mustache-wearers, but very dangerous to set yourself up as a target for hot-headed imbecile turban-wearers. You could have thought through that one. Or, I dunno, maybe not.
posted by jfuller at 3:48 AM on November 16, 2006


j-dub: as other comments suggest, the non-Kazakh characters predate Da Ali G Show. Never seen them myself, but I've definitely come across mentions of them. DAGS itself only had Borat in his current Kazakh incarnation as far as I know.
posted by edd at 3:49 AM on November 16, 2006


I've spent extensive time in Kyrgyzstan, which is culturally the sister country of Kazakhstan, and have been to Almaty numerous times. Like any good parody, Sacha blurs the details but the overall picture is right on the money - that's what makes it so fucking hilarious.

For example:

-domestic violence is banal, at least 30% of women I knew there experienced it...."If she cheat on me, I crush her."

-kidnapping brides is commonplace... "I once carried a woman 2km"..."And what hapenned?"..."She became my wife."

-"throw the Jew down the well"... yes, sorry to report, basically anywhere east of the River Spree is still exuberantly anti-semitic, even areas that haven't seen Jews since the Holocaust.

So, it isn't shame on Borat, it's shame on all of us for being such racist, sexist, genocidal morons.

And that's what makes him such a priceless treasure.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 3:51 AM on November 16, 2006


Kazakhstan is pumped about all this. They've launched plenty of tourism-oriented tv ads recently.

Actually, the tourism ads are less a "Yay! Thanks for putting us on the map, Borat!" reaction and more of a "Seriously, our country isn't as fucked up as he makes it out to be. Come and see for yourself" reaction. They're not pumped about the movie - the president of Kazakhstan met with George Bush to tell him how pissed he was about it.
posted by antifuse at 3:53 AM on November 16, 2006


If everything that comes out of your mouth is parody, then you never have to be accountable for what you say.

This sums up the major problem of the post-modern world.

Can we have the 20th century back? At leat they were sincere by default.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 4:07 AM on November 16, 2006 [3 favorites]


See, now it's Borat backstory thread. Useful! That summary-of-evidence page that grouse linked was extra-helpful.

(BTW, did I mistype something rhetorical above? I don't find it offensive; I find the choice to use a real place inexplicable and without apparent benefit. And yes, I believe people ARE stupid enough to believe that Krudpikistan is at least as real as Kyrgyzstan. Don't make me get out a poll to prove it.)
posted by j-dub at 4:18 AM on November 16, 2006


What comedy would be lost calling it Uzburgistan or Elbonia?

Having done a fair amount of pranking myself, a few ties to the real world are necessary to make a prank fly. If you've got something that faintly rings a bell in your mark's mind, you get a little bit of trust established that makes the rest of it easier to swallow.
posted by bendybendy at 4:23 AM on November 16, 2006


Kazakhstan is pumped about all this. They've launched plenty of tourism-oriented tv ads recently.

To say that they're "pumped" is a huge strech. A lot of people there are extremely upset, just like the people in the Rumanian village. The ads are there to counter the stereotypes proffered in the movie.
posted by Paris Hilton at 4:29 AM on November 16, 2006


At least, using a real country makes it possible for its inhabitants to react to it and disprove it as nonsensical ("no, horse urine is not our national beverage!"). Nonsensical stereotypes about a fake country like Dilbert's Elbonia are more difficult to refute as they're applicable to a vague group of countries. Albanians cannot complain about the Elbonia stereotypes, but the joke is still (in part) on them.
posted by elgilito at 4:30 AM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


The president of Kazakhstan met with the president of the U.S. to tell him how angry he was about a movie a British comedian made?

What did Bush do? Gave him Tony Blair's number and told him 'This is who you want to speak to about this'?
posted by micayetoca at 4:38 AM on November 16, 2006


It always struck me as shortsighted or stupid for Cohen and company to use a real country.

Exactly, when there such proven alternatives, such as Molvania (A land untouched by modern dentistry) and Phaic Tan (Sunstroke on a shoestring).
posted by fullysic at 4:42 AM on November 16, 2006


If everything that comes out of your mouth is parody, then you never have to be accountable for what you say.

The irony of using this as a way to point fingers at Cohen, of course, is that some on Metafilter have encouraged one of the three frat boys in Borat to use this very tactic as a defense.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:46 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: A lot of people there are extremely upset.
posted by public at 4:56 AM on November 16, 2006


What's more offensive - Borat's portrayal of a Kazakh or the Soprano's version of Italians? Borat's portrayal is full of made up stereotypes yet the Sopranos stereotypes are real. Stereotypes need real life examples in order to flourish.
posted by any major dude at 4:59 AM on November 16, 2006


If Cohen was wearing a turban instead of a funny mustache someone would have already sawed his head off. Lol, Crazy Sikhs and their silly fatwas...?
posted by econous at 5:00 AM on November 16, 2006


There are two books available from Australian satirist's that have sold quite well but didn't use real countries - Molvania and Phaic Tan. I think that Cohen could have used the same strategy and avoided the resulting animosity.
posted by tellurian at 5:06 AM on November 16, 2006


the president of Kazakhstan met with George Bush to tell him how pissed he was about it

The longer I think about this the more it sounds like it should have been a scene in Cohen's film.
posted by localroger at 5:13 AM on November 16, 2006


Damnit, fullysic. It took me so long to find the links I got fed up of previewing, sorry. Point still stands though, fictional countries can be convincing if the presentation, be it written or on video, are polished and well promoted.
posted by tellurian at 5:13 AM on November 16, 2006


I think Optamystic's point earlier explains why he had to use a real country - if he's interviewing real people, and they're not all "random bloke in bar", he's going to get far fewer respondees if the country is completely fictitious.
posted by handee at 5:22 AM on November 16, 2006


I'm mostly with j-dub on this one, but Kazakhstan could really leverage this in tourism ads -- "Come see the real Kazakhstan" type stuff with beautiful people, vistas, etc.
posted by pax digita at 5:31 AM on November 16, 2006


Andy Kaufman's Latka character was much funnier and more endearing, besides being a generic "foreign man".

Cohen's characters have always seemed mean, in my opinion. Kind of like the modern day Rickles. I wonder if he could be funny just being Sacha Baron Cohen?
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:37 AM on November 16, 2006


Because Borat is doing this stuff with real people, the fact that he claims to come from a real country is important. If he claimed to be from Molvania, I think it would alert (some) people to the fact that this is a wind up a lot earlier.
posted by jontyjago at 5:40 AM on November 16, 2006


-"throw the Jew down the well"... yes, sorry to report, basically anywhere east of the River Spree is still exuberantly anti-semitic, even areas that haven't seen Jews since the Holocaust.

Not true. Here
is a report from the U.S. State Department from last year:

A small Jewish community, estimated at well below 1 percent of the population, has synagogues in several larger cities, including Almaty, Astana, and Pavlodar. Rabbis in Almaty reported an increase in the number of people attending services and religious education during the reporting period.

There were no reports of incidents of anti-Semitism by the Government. In August 2004, the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, addressing an international religious conference in Brussels, stated that in 10 years in the country he had never faced a single case of anti-Semitism. He praised the Government of Kazakhstan for its pro-active protection of the Jewish community. Other than the actions of members of the extremist HT political movement, who printed and distributed leaflets that supported anti-Semitism among other beliefs, there were no reports of anti-Semitic incitement or acts during the year.
posted by prost at 5:46 AM on November 16, 2006


I am disturbed to find that Daily Mail articles have been taken as legitimate news sources in this thread.

just sayin'
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:46 AM on November 16, 2006


C'mon, HOW many people actually know that Kazakhstan existed prior to Borat's arrival to the US? I love America, but the number of people who have a clear idea of what all the central Asia states are named does not constitute any where near a majority of the population.

Any amount of "needed" legitimacy that a small number of people need to suddenly find Borat amusing is insignificant to the total population.
posted by Atreides at 5:51 AM on November 16, 2006


Atreides - Borat started on a UK comedy show. Sometime in the late 90s. I for one had heard of Kazakhstan when I first saw it. Whether or not Americans have any idea about central asia is irrelevant.
posted by handee at 5:54 AM on November 16, 2006


Why do so many people think this movie is about Kazakhstan, since Borat mainly is taking the piss out on the US of A?
posted by ijsbrand at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2006


Probably the only intelligent and relevant thing Carlos Mencia ever said or will say was his line about why everyone is making fun of Arabs right now: "because it's their turn." It's an unfair explanation, but it's a true one. Let's face it- right now to most people it's funny and okay to make fun of middle eastern people. I accepted a while back that Borat is merely going to be the Amos & Andy of our generation. By all means, laugh at it, as long as you accept you're going to watch clips thirty years from now and feel at least slightly ashamed.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2006


ClanvidHorse: Even worse, the punching story is the DM lifting a story from The Sun.
posted by i_cola at 6:00 AM on November 16, 2006


Whether or not Americans have any idea about central asia is irrelevant.

Its relevant for the American side of this conversation. After all, its his movie in the U.S. that even spurred this thread.


Why do so many people think this movie is about Kazakhstan, since Borat mainly is taking the piss out on the US of A?

No, the thread is about Kazakhstan, the movie is about the U.S.
posted by Atreides at 6:03 AM on November 16, 2006


> What comedy would be lost calling it Uzburgistan or
> Elbonia? All the same jokes would work, the same
> (American) audience would think those were real
> countries anyway, and you'd accomplish this without
> risking coming off like a racist fuck.

1) Nice little anti-American jab there. Americans aren't as geographically illiterate as you might think. Besides, if he did use a fake country name, people would probably be accusing him of watering down the humor for the "stupid Americans that don't understand British humor" and "stupid Americans that would be offended if he claimed to be from a real country."

2) The audience for movies produced in the United States extends far beyond its boundaries.

3) The Borat character started off by tricking Brits, long before the character was known in the US. Those in the UK, being much closer to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, would almost certainly be wise to his ruse if he used a fake country name like "Upper Slobovia" or "Moustachistan".

On a lighter note, last year the Uzbek immigrants next door invited me to a pool party at their house. "You guys built a pool?", I asked? "Yes! Come check it out!" he excitedly responded. I walked next door, went in the back yard, and was greeted by the sight of several fully clothed men, a few holding bottles of vodka, sitting in an inflatable kiddie pool. I shook my head, and then joined them.
posted by elmwood at 6:11 AM on November 16, 2006


While I think that the darker, sleb hatred of Brass Eye is better in a lot of ways and that Chris Morris is a deeper satirist Borat has made me laugh off my chair (as has Bruno). Cheers to Brian James for a great post - I always thought that there was something to it that a man as educated as Baron Cohen must be thinking as well - that in many parts of the world violent bigotry of all sorts reigns, antisemitism has reached amazing levels of conspiratorial absurdity and people do think women are one of the lowest forms of life around. While Borat tricks people into revealing the depth of their ignorance and their own visceral prejudices (which can often no longer be aired as openly in their own nation) he also shows that extreme cultural relativism means that we no longer flinch when we encounter such barbarity. It is as if many believe Kipling's late imperial thesis, that basic human rights are not for "lesser breeds below the law". Brave New Meatbomb said it well. I once saw a Channel Four documentary on the widespread custom of bride kidnapping and it was unreal. Too of the world is stuck in some caveman timewarp.
posted by The Salaryman at 6:15 AM on November 16, 2006


One thing that is rarely discussed in the whole Borat story is the diplomatic response. It seems rather strange that the president of the United States would hold a meeting about a comedy film with a seemingly insignifigant country, unless you follow the oil trail... Kazakhastan has large reserves of oil. The quote "It's sort of unfortunate that he hit upon Kazakhstan." in reference to the diplomatic relations to the USA and Kazakhastan from the wikipedia page is rather telling.
posted by sleslie at 6:22 AM on November 16, 2006


Here's one good reason to use Kazakhstan, rather than some made-up country:

Smart people (like me!) know that Kazakhstan is a real place. It's really, really real. If he had claimed to be from Elbonia, smart people like me (not all smart people, just the smart ones who are like me) would dismiss the whole thing. It's magic comedy alchemy; as someone remarked earlier, you need a touch of reality to make good satire.

It's funny to me because I know where and what Kazakhstan is, and I know that the misogyny and antisemitism that Cohen lampoons are based on real misogyny and antisemitism. So when Borat sings "throw the Jew down the well", the joke is on anti-semites, not on the members of the 12 tribes.

Borat is NOT funny to racists and anti-semites once they realize that the joke is on them.
posted by Mister_A at 6:24 AM on November 16, 2006


So yes, Atreides, there are smart Americans. And this Borat film would not being doing such brisk business if Cohen had not developed the Borat persona, to the delight of Smart Americans (caps on purpose!) like me. The history of the character, Borat, has to be respected -otherwise Cohen will have disrespected his core audience (Smart American and Smart Britons).

Get it?
posted by Mister_A at 6:29 AM on November 16, 2006


I am disturbed to find that Daily Mail articles have been taken as legitimate news sources in this thread.

Well, the Daily Mail story about how Cohen misled the villagers has details it should be easy for other journalists to verify. If it's true he paid them next to nothing and lied to them about what was happening, that's pretty shitty.
posted by mediareport at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2006


The history of the character, Borat, has to be respected -otherwise Cohen will have disrespected his core audience (Smart American and Smart Britons).

Get it?


Yes, I got it the first time. My argument is that there aren't enough smart people who NEED this one tidbit of reality to find it amusing to make it justifiable. Would Borat be less funny if people realized he was a fictional creation?

"Wait, you mean Borat is played by an actor?! That ruins everything!"
posted by Atreides at 6:33 AM on November 16, 2006


"Can we have the 20th century back? At leat they were sincere by default."

Like Stalin and Hitler! Let's bring THEM back!
posted by davy at 6:36 AM on November 16, 2006


"...Borat's antics sometimes aren't far off the mark from other parts of the world where gang-rape and stoning are meted out as punishment."

As if Americans have a position from which to judge, considering that institutionalized rape and violence are two of the most well-known features of our criminal justice system, of which 2.2 million Americans are currently enjoying firsthand experience.
posted by hermitosis at 6:40 AM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


What I'm saying, Atreides, is that, had he not cultivated Smart Americans and Smart Britons as fans over the last decade or so, Cohen would not be in a position to make this movie. There is no movie without the smart people who "get" the whole Cohen/Borat faux-ingenue vibe.

Also, consider that a movie can easily do $27 million in its opening weekend without one stupid person seeing it. Assuming a price of $10 per ticket, only 2.7 million Smart Americans need to see the film. That is 0.9% of the estimated population of the US.

I posit that mostly smart people are going to see this movie. I also posit that there are more Smart Americans than you think there are.
posted by Mister_A at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2006


Americans aren't as geographically illiterate as you might think

Nah, they're pretty illiterate alright.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:44 AM on November 16, 2006


"If everything that comes out of your mouth is parody, then you never have to be accountable for what you say."

Brave New Meatbomb writes "This sums up the major problem of the post-modern world."


I find myself agreeing with Meatbomb here. As far as I'm concerned, it has very little to do with an imagined "End of Irony" or alleged erosion of meaning or whatever an overzealous discourse analyst might dream up, but rather it's the total saturation of nearly every level of culture with irony, (or sarcasm, parody, satire), which in my opinion leads not to an erosion of irony but of sincerity: expressions or sentiments that are commonly presented ironically are now almost without exception questioned for their sincerity, as if people can't figure it out for themselves.

Having said that, Borat (like Jon Stewart et al.) employ irony expertly both to create comedy and to deliver ironic yet salient commentaries on our societies. For a meeting of greats, check out this YouTube clip of Sacha Baron Cohen on the Daily Show (a while before the Borat film). My favourite part is in the beginning, when Stewart asks Cohen what it is exactly that he does as Ali G and he replies something along the lines of "basically I meet some of the most important people in your country and ask them the most stupid questions", to which Stewart says "I do that too" - and they shake hands.

Which reminds me: I'm rather surprised that this is presented as a "rare" out-of-character interview by Cohen - sure, he's in character as Borat all the time lately to promote the film, but it's definitely not the first time I've seen him talk as himself.

And for those who need to be reminded why the "mother country" part of the "foreign man" schtick needs to be a real one, in Borat's case: it is essential to note that Cohen's brand of satire is one in which no one is safe, and everyone is the butt. Most of the time when Cohen satirizes something, it's in a two-pronged fashion: Borat's just-too-far-fetched claims challenge both Western people's conceptions of an unfamiliar ex-Soviet country and the state of affairs of the country itself. When Ali G walks up to Random Joe Sixpack and asks a faux-goofball question, it illustrates the ignorance of some Americans as much as it portrays the just-as-ignorant attitudes other parts of the world may have about the US. Those who have seen the Ali G series might recall him - a white, British, Jewish man - asking "Is it cuz I is black?" with his conversation partners not raising an eyebrow. The faux-antisemitic jokes are only icing on the cake.

It goes further as well: I'm Dutch, and I find most of what Cohen does hilarious, because I am aware of foreign attitudes to America (or Britain, in the older series), and I probably have the same ignorant notions of Kazakhstan as most people in the West (although I was a bit surprised that some people had genuinely never *heard* of the country before). We "get" Borat, and I guess most somewhat-educated people who don't take themselves too seriously will. My Polish friend, for one, finds it hilarious.

This is what distinguishes Borat from Latka: Latka needed to be loved and even pitied, and Borat serves no such purpose. To me, throwing this part of the character overboard was a brave decision on Cohen's part.

And yes, over-the-top editorializing in the FPP, totally unnecessary. Oh and ijsbrand, properly that's U S and A. :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:54 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


I could go on about how all of you are missing the point about the "fake country", the real harm in making fun of any one group that happens to encompass say, one fifth of the world's population, and etc, but instead I will just say:

Phaic tan? OH HILARIOUS. SOUTH ASIAN HOOKERS, HA HA HA !! Plus they abuse their environment. And that thing about fully clothed massages, how original. Yeah, just making shit up is totally bound to be more humorous than something even rudimentarily linked to reality.

Because truth's not funny guys, right?
posted by shownomercy at 7:00 AM on November 16, 2006


What did Bush do? Gave him Tony Blair's number and told him 'This is who you want to speak to about this'?

In my head, Bush brings the Kazakh President and Borat to Camp David and sits them down, Jimmy Carter style, refusing to let them leave until they've hashed out their differences.
posted by EarBucket at 7:00 AM on November 16, 2006


If I have a complaint about the movie, it's that, since it's not an actual documentary and instead a box office-smashing comedy, the subjects of his film are not simply interview subjects -- they are his cast. Now that the film has made some money, it's time to throw them a little point shares and profits.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:08 AM on November 16, 2006


elmwood: "> What comedy would be lost calling it Uzburgistan or
> Elbonia? All the same jokes would work, the same
> (American) audience would think those were real
> countries anyway, and you'd accomplish this without
> risking coming off like a racist fuck.

1) Nice little anti-American jab there. Americans aren't as geographically illiterate as you might think.
"

Yeah, right.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:08 AM on November 16, 2006


micayetoca: "The president of Kazakhstan met with the president of the U.S. to tell him how angry he was about a movie a British comedian made?

What did Bush do? Gave him Tony Blair's number and told him 'This is who you want to speak to about this'?
"

Wasn't the film produced by a US company?
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:09 AM on November 16, 2006



I posit that mostly smart people are going to see this movie. I also posit that there are more Smart Americans than you think there are.


You're missing my point, A. Its not that there's smart people, its that the number of smart people who need Borat to be from a real country to find him amusing is small.

The character, Borat, is obviously a fake creation, why does he need the legitimacy of a real country?

I.E.

I know that he's fake, so what does it matter if he's from a fake country as well? Nada. I just don't understand why his country of origin is such a crucial linchpin to his comedy value. Its almost like an anal thing. "He HAS to be from a real Central Asian former Soviet Satellite or he ISN'T funny!"
posted by Atreides at 7:09 AM on November 16, 2006


AZ -They signed releases; it might be a good PR move to give 'em a few bucks to say the right things, tho. And to prevent the inevitable "They tricked me into signing that release / misrepresented the project" suits.
posted by Mister_A at 7:10 AM on November 16, 2006


Nah, they're pretty illiterate alright.

Does Barak Obama present a threat to the U.S.?
posted by felix betachat at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


In this case, Atreides, it comes down to a matter of taste, I suppose. Personally, I would not find it nearly as funny if it was a "fake" country. I don't know why, but that sort of thing generally makes me cringe. For you, not so much; I respect that. There's just no accounting for taste, as they say.
posted by Mister_A at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2006


there is no shortage of the "completely stupid"

Not to mention the parts of the world that everybody is just completely insane!

Wonder what the crazy, stupid people do?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:15 AM on November 16, 2006


Would Borat be less funny if people realized he was a fictional creation?

Possibly not, but the humour is largely based on the real people he interacts with not realising he is a fictional creation. So, the more real is character seems (ie actually coming from a real country) the more chances there are of that happening.
posted by jontyjago at 7:18 AM on November 16, 2006


Without the real country, Borat loses his connection with the world and becomes only a character. Cohen would only be a sketch artist then, not a satirist. It would be a pretty masturbatory style of comedy, like if Chris Kattan was to wander around the streets of New York acting like Mr. Peebles. BTW I thought "Borat" was hilarious.
posted by Laugh_track at 7:19 AM on November 16, 2006


Rough ashlar: They do this.
posted by Mister_A at 7:21 AM on November 16, 2006


The fact that Borat is from Kazakhstan is only significant because this is the first time a popular comedian has made fun of Kazakhstan. Lots of people make fun of the US, Russia, and England, and nobody thinks that it's particularly notable.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2006


Americans aren't as geographically illiterate as you might think.

This is funnier than anything I've heard Borat say.

Wasn't the film produced by a US company?

Yup, far as I know. Cohen was the only non-American producer on the film. And it was directed by Larry Charles, one of the main writers of Seinfeld and directors of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I think he also created Entourage.
posted by dobbs at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2006


-"throw the Jew down the well"... yes, sorry to report, basically anywhere east of the River Spree is still exuberantly anti-semitic, even areas that haven't seen Jews since the Holocaust.


*smile*

And if they'd just stop doing that, they'd get them hook-nosed Jewish bankers in and they'd have an economy!

(Now, if I'd do that with a accent and on TV/the big screen, I'd be a wealthy comedian!)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2006


Perhaps he should have used Freedonia, instead. While this doesn't have to necessarily reflect on the people of the country, there was an article in the NYTimes Sunday Business section two weeks ago that had a stat from some study on international corruption which listed Kazakhstan as in the top 30 out of 159 countries listed, in terms of corruption.

I believe this was a separate article, from the same day, on President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, kleptocrat.
posted by 8 Bit at 7:26 AM on November 16, 2006


Has anyone ever asked him any actual tough questions? Like, does he feel at all uncomfortable about being a private school educated Cambridge graduate making fun of people who are often a lot less privileged? Honestly this whole kind of comedy is too much like bullying for my taste.
posted by teleskiving at 7:28 AM on November 16, 2006


Why would anyone ask a comedian tough questions, esp. when they won't ask the Leaders of the Free World tough questions?

Also - putting people "on the spot" is a good way to piss of their reps and eliminate your access to the client. THat's why celeb interviews are puff pieces - because their reps demand it, and will not come back if you embarrass or bring discomfiture the celeb (generally).
posted by Mister_A at 7:30 AM on November 16, 2006


Like, does he feel at all uncomfortable about being a private school educated Cambridge graduate making fun of people who are often a lot less privileged?

Oh man, that's rich. So the poor benighted redneck is the new victim? These people vote and donate money in the most powerful country in the world. And for the last six years, they've been voting to kill and maim people far less fortunate than they are.

So spare us your hand wringing.
posted by felix betachat at 7:31 AM on November 16, 2006


"He needed to use a real country to make the prank feel legitimate" is pretty much total bullshit, since he told at least one "mark" that he was from Belarus Television.

If he was lying about where he was from in the pre-interview phone calls, he could easily have said that he was from a fake country during the parts of the movie seen by the audience.
posted by interrobang at 7:33 AM on November 16, 2006


What is "up" with all the "quotation marks" I'm "using" today? Can I get a little "help" please?

Yea and what felix said.
posted by Mister_A at 7:33 AM on November 16, 2006


Sorry teleskiving. That just pushed a button for me.

To put it in a less inflammatory way, watch this clip of Borat interviewing a republican congressional candidate and tell me if you still think that his bullying is morally questionable.

This is good satire and to be good, satire has to hurt.
posted by felix betachat at 7:34 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


"throw the Jew down the well"

The whole point of throw the jew that episode , as you certainly know, is

1. nobody protested ..which isn't good, but there isn't an obligation either
2. the problematic thing is that, after a little while, many bystanders joined the singing !

thus showing that starting an absurd association isn't that difficult, if you know what you are doing. One of the success
that some attribute to Karl Rove (probably giving a little too much credit) is the demonization of democratic party and the diffusion of the "liberal" scarecrow , in a fashion that very much resembles certain WW2 propaganda even if instead of hate , fear of the "enemy" as being
allied of terrorist was diffused.

Clearly much people don't want to believe they are surrounded by people that buy into such bullshit in a few minutes. Even worse, they don't believe they can fall for these lines of propaganda, yet at the same time they often take lesser cues from advertisement without even noticing.

As for Sacha being accused of both exploiting and underlining ignorance about alien customs, it is worth noticing the customs we best know
are usually the local ones or the ones with are most interested with ; how many among you know that is customary for some african tribe to use shit as construction material for their houses and that they also cover themseleves in rancid butter mixed with red clay ?

Sacha/Borat can exploit ignorance, as much as many other routinely do, but he also allows people to see that Borat is homophobic, jew hating, mysoginistic , consumeristic and with curious sexual morals (if anything that is the point Borat shouldn't have addressed so superficially, but I may be missing the clue) and so people can criticize Borat, laugh at him, understand that he isn't a bad guy after all, but he has got also very bad traits that make him miserable, despicable.

Clearly people that FEEL they are somehow like Borat are befuddled and probably ashamed and would like to crawl into a sewer and disappear ; or much more likely, they will vehemently attack Borat forgetting it is a fictional character, attacking NOT his shortcoming, but the "fact" that he _misled_ people (same as saying he is a liar) and isn't "respectful" , anything but criticize his behavior BECAUSE they (often, not always) share the same behavior, but could be in denial about that.
posted by elpapacito at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2006


Let's face it- right now to most people it's funny and okay to make fun of middle eastern people.

It is. and everybody else, too. Welcome To Joke World. But Arabs everywhere are sleeping soundly tonight due to your concern.

I accepted a while back that Borat is merely going to be the Amos & Andy of our generation. By all means, laugh at it, as long as you accept you're going to watch clips thirty years from now and feel at least slightly ashamed.

Have you ever watched any of those A&A clips? I think they've been buried in steel drums welded shut and put under a New Jersey landfill now, but while they were indeed racist, they were occasionally funny, too. Not always a contradiction.

it is essential to note that Cohen's brand of satire is one in which no one is safe, and everyone is the butt.

except himself and his audience, because that would make them uncomfortable. Look, I think Cohen's a funny guy, too, but his shtick is basically a sophisticated variation on "Gee, these uncool rubes sure are funny. watch me fuck with them? aren't you glad you're not them?"

But like I said he does it well
posted by jonmc at 7:41 AM on November 16, 2006


The whole point of throw the jew that episode , as you certainly know, is

1. nobody protested ..which isn't good, but there isn't an obligation either
2. the problematic thing is that, after a little while, many bystanders joined the singing !


Well, they were also a buncha drunks. Pour enough beer down people and they'll sing along with just about anything.
posted by jonmc at 7:43 AM on November 16, 2006


"Gee, these uncool rubes sure are funny. watch me fuck with them? aren't you glad you're not them?"

Yep, I'm glad I'm not the kind of person that calls for gay people to be put in jail and killed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:50 AM on November 16, 2006


...other parts of the world where gang-rape and stoning are meted out as punishment.

The times, they are a-changin'...
posted by chundo at 7:52 AM on November 16, 2006


So does anyone have a link to the full version of the RS article?
posted by saladin at 7:53 AM on November 16, 2006


Pour enough beer down people and they'll sing along with just about anything.

Oh yeah alcohol does that, reduces inhibitions for sure, but that much ? How frigging drunk were they ?

Here's the video of that episode. It's a not a casual mentiong of jews, maybe upsetting some people, it's the whole goddamn rhyme ! It is repeated over and over so it is hard to believe it was never interpreted, but only always parroted.
posted by elpapacito at 7:53 AM on November 16, 2006


Falling in with Mister_A and felix, why in the world would we hold comedians to the same standards as politicians and journalists, who rarely meet those standards anyhow?

At least when it's all just done for a laugh, it's harmless enough that you can just ignore it if it irritates you.

Everyone needs to keep in mind when they're lamenting questionable taste and mean-spirited humor and ethics and social obligations and yanking each other's chin-hairs that it was just a movie. All the kerfuffle over what we are intended to learn or walk away with after seeing it is just reflexive posturing. We are, after all, talking about a comedy with a five minute naked fight scene, a bear in an ice cream truck, and a hooker riding a mechanical bull. In a good comedy, we can enjoy explorative laughter, finding humor in things we never would have considered possible, even if it's not funny at all in real life.

This overthinking of everything is bound to disappoint-- I can't name any comedies offhand, socially pointed or otherwise, which could stand up to this level of analysis and seem defensible, let alone funny.
posted by hermitosis at 7:55 AM on November 16, 2006


Assuming a price of $10 per ticket, only 2.7 million Smart Americans need to see the film.

Smart People don't pay ten freakin' dollars to see a damn movie.
posted by darksasami at 8:00 AM on November 16, 2006


Oh yeah alcohol does that, reduces inhibitions for sure, but that much ? How frigging drunk were they ?

I've seen the clip and I've been in similar bars. I'm betting they were utterly fucking blotto.

Yep, I'm glad I'm not the kind of person that calls for gay people to be put in jail and killed.

Me too. Bully for us. Aren't we enlightened?

See my point? We get to pat ourselves on the back for being less homophobic than Borat? that's a bit like congratualting yourself for being a better gymnast than Stephen Hawking.
posted by jonmc at 8:01 AM on November 16, 2006


Also, when you consider that Ali G is regularly deployed to deflate pompous and powerful gasbags in the US and Britain, it becomes even more clear that SBC is an equal-opportunity satirist.
posted by felix betachat at 8:02 AM on November 16, 2006


Yea, when Ali G asked PAt Buchanan about the BLT's and said it was "right important" (the quotes are OK in this instance, btw), I nearly shatted myself. With laughter.
posted by Mister_A at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2006


Metafilter : your gymnastic skills are second only to Stephen Hawking.
posted by elpapacito at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2006


We get to pat ourselves on the back for being less homophobic than Borat?

I was talking about the rodeo manager. Have you seen the movie?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:08 AM on November 16, 2006


What the fuck do Borat and a rape in Pakistan have in common? what a shit post.

That being said, the massive ignorance of all things Kazaki by people who claim that Borat is racist against Kazaks is starting to piss me off. Cohen is in very good company being criticized by the government of Kazakhstan. namely all the the dissidents in put in prison by the totalitarian government. Tacking the propaganda that come out of government mouthpieces as speaking for all of Kazakhstan is idiotic. But most americans don't know the fucking difference between a Muslim and an Arab so I guess I am expecting to much.
posted by afu at 8:13 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


No, I don't go to movies in theatres. I'm basing my statements on previous veiwings of the Ali G show, which gives me a pretty good idea of the whole shtick.
posted by jonmc at 8:14 AM on November 16, 2006


this is seriously one of the funniest threads ive ever read.
posted by phaedon at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2006


first, a megathread about the political opinions -- real or imaginary -- of the creators of a cartoon starring a singing turd

now, about 100 comments on the phenomenology of a movie based on scatological humor, with an in-depth analysis of the political opinions of the movie's creator.

toilet jokes are toilet jokes, no matter how hard one makes an effort to pretend they're anything different. Borat can be either funny or unfunny, I don't care what one thinks, but if you take him seriously as a commentator an current events or, even worse, as a satirist against anti-semitism, racism and other evils, well, the joke's on you

I'm sure Sacha Baron Cohen is the first to piss himself with laughter when people take his shtick seriously
posted by matteo at 8:19 AM on November 16, 2006


Haven't seen it linked before: the deleted scenes.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:22 AM on November 16, 2006


toilet jokes are toilet jokes, no matter how hard one makes an effort to pretend they're anything different. Borat can be either funny or unfunny, I don't care what one thinks, but if you take him seriously as a commentator an current events or, even worse, as a satirist against anti-semitism, racism and other evils, well, the joke's on you

This message has been brought to you by Professor No-Shit Sherlock from the Institute For The Incredibly Obvious at Duh University.
posted by jonmc at 8:23 AM on November 16, 2006


I'm basing my statements on previous veiwings of the Ali G show, which gives me a pretty good idea of the whole shtick.

Really.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:28 AM on November 16, 2006


the president of Kazakhstan met with George Bush to tell him how pissed he was about it.

I can't stop thinking that this is a very comical waste of time, for at least two reasons.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:29 AM on November 16, 2006


it's number one enemy, the article says.

I stopped reading there.
posted by emelenjr at 8:32 AM on November 16, 2006


Part of me thinks I better go see this movie before it's sued out of existence.
posted by fungible at 8:33 AM on November 16, 2006


it's number one enemy, the article says.

I stopped reading there.


I just assume it was moose und sqvirrel.
posted by jonmc at 8:35 AM on November 16, 2006


I'm hoping someone will take the Borat schtick to the next level and go around as a Middle Eastern guy loudly calling for the destruction of Israel and September 11 Part 2, Electric Boogaloo. That would be awesome.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:36 AM on November 16, 2006


I accepted a while back that Borat is merely going to be the Amos & Andy of our generation.

Just to further muddy these waters . . .

When Amos & Andy was at its peak of popularity as a radio show during the '30s - a time when movie theatres played it in their lobbies during intermission to avoid losing audiences to it - it was the only national broadcast in the US to feature black protagonists. Many of its fans didn't realize the actors portraying Amos & Andy were white, and it was their first exposure to even a marginally sympathetic portrayal of the northward migration of poor blacks. The head of the NAACP at the time was a fan.

Amos & Andy eventually became everyone's favourite lazy shorthand for flagrant racism, but there's far more evidence that it was in fact moderately progressive for its time (and it was positively enlightened compared to Father Coughlin's radio broadcasts and Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent, if you want to put it in its proper context rather than scoring easy points off it).

No, I haven't dug up sources. Wrote a paper on this back in university many moons ago; they do exist.
posted by gompa at 8:38 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Can we have a Borat thread were only the people that have seen the movie can comment? I can tell there are ALOT of people making comments that haven't seen it.

It is social commentary. Some normal everyday Americans were made to look very dumb, becuase they acted normally. Yes it shouldn't be funny, but some of it is so disturbing that is the only reaction - You think there can't possibly be people that think these things, and then Cohen shows you they are out there. If you get all wrapped up in it then you are just going to be angry.

Lighten up, and choose to be a better person.
posted by Big_B at 8:40 AM on November 16, 2006


it's number one enemy, the article says.

I stopped reading there.

I stopped reading their.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:42 AM on November 16, 2006


interrobang: "He needed to use a real country to make the prank feel legitimate" is pretty much total bullshit, since he told at least one "mark" that he was from Belarus Television.

Er...
posted by papakwanz at 8:46 AM on November 16, 2006


Yeah, I know it's a real place, papakwanz. My point was that since he was lying to the people he was interviewing in the first place, there was not reason for him to use a real country for the viewer's sake.
posted by interrobang at 8:53 AM on November 16, 2006


They're not pumped about the movie - the president of Kazakhstan met with George Bush to tell him how pissed he was about it.

President Nazarbayev will visit the White House and the Bush family compound in Maine when he flies in for talks that will include the fictional character Borat. -- The Daily Mail

Nursultan Nazarbayev has taken Mr Bush up on an invitation to visit this country to help build our relationship with the USA.

I cannot speak for the president himself, only for the government, but I certainly don't think President Nazarbayev and Mr Bush will share a joke about the film.
-- actual official statement on which the Mail hung its claim (by Roman Vassilenko, press secretary of Kazakh Embassy in DC)

As to the question of whether Bush and Nazarbaev will discuss Borat, Vassilenko says "no" and adds that the presidents will decide themselves what to talk about. -- Radio Free Europe

Initial reaction to the Kazakh threats of legal action and the yanking of the domain have led spokesman Vassilenko (who seems to be the only Kazakh official the press ever quotes about Borat) to soften his approach, claiming he's "amused" by the comedian and playing down the issue. So has the White House -- I swear that Snow was asked about it but you can't find the transcript.

Really, even Kazakhs are less concerned than the government. So most of the "flap" is basically unfounded, and was probably fueled by Cohen and the movie's promoters who eagerly exploited the controversy. Cohen even tried to crash the WH meeting. Can we at least acknowledge this before taking it all so damn seriously?
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2006


but if you take him seriously as a commentator an current events or, even worse, as a satirist against anti-semitism, racism and other evils, well, the joke's on you

Oh personally I wouldn't expect him to be consistent, the next shtick could be on anything else and even opposite, as he probably is in the same line of howard stern, a shock jock, an outraged audience manufacturer so to say.

Still it seems to me the biggest and more "serious" joke is on the "serious" commentators, whose skills and dedication maybe aren't that developed when it comes to captivate mass audiences, becoming Cassandra by hubrys, refusing to use toilet tools.
posted by elpapacito at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2006


I always thought that there was something to it that a man as educated as Baron Cohen must be thinking as well - that in many parts of the world violent bigotry of all sorts reigns, antisemitism has reached amazing levels of conspiratorial absurdity and people do think women are one of the lowest forms of life around. While Borat tricks people into revealing the depth of their ignorance and their own visceral prejudices (which can often no longer be aired as openly in their own nation) he also shows that extreme cultural relativism means that we no longer flinch when we encounter such barbarity.

When the movie came out, I feared that this sort of anti-anti-cultureism would come out, and it did -- from what I understand, the movie exploits the usual (and appropriate) approach of respect and neutrality when dealing with differences and diversity, and turns that on its head in order to make a humorous statement. Too many people are now seeing this movie as some sort of 'advocate of free speech', of 'poking fun at the US,' etc etc and tend to get swept up in the tactics it utilizes to correspondingly criticize some sort of leniency concerning culture.

More importantly, the people we cheer on is those who manage to gently yet firmly resist Borat's manipulation (take the driving school instructor, for example); for those we don't, this sort of cultural relativism Cohen's they exhibit is depicted as extreme and shameless. The bigotry or antisemitism of certain areas of the world should never give way to some sort of allowance for extreme cultural absolutism; having standards of morality is distinct from the methods used to harbor relativism. While we're being entertained by the horrifyingly satisfying revealing of racist/bigoted Americans, we should be at glad that the United States is civilized enough that the average citizen accepts Borat's actions with instinctive disbelief and cultural clemency -- regardless of those underlying values.
posted by suedehead at 8:56 AM on November 16, 2006


be at glad --> be at least.
posted by suedehead at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2006


Backstory of the Dallas hotel check-in scene, from the "Vanilla Face" guy.

I enjoyed Borat, and on the whole I found it quite hilarious, but some of these tactics of how he set up people leaves a sour after-taste in my mouth. (Also, I thought the extended nude-wrestling scene was pretty crassy, tasteless and devoid of any humour. I think he could've instead used so much of his other material left out from the film. But that's just a matter of individual tastes and I wouldn't quibble over it).
posted by forwebsites at 9:02 AM on November 16, 2006


crassy?

Is that yet more dialect humor?
posted by jonmc at 9:19 AM on November 16, 2006


EVERYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME IS AN IDIOT K THX BYE
posted by Mister_A at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2006


forwebsites: That is a great link, thank you.
posted by grouse at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2006


crassy?
Is that yet more dialect humor?


No. It is my bad :-> Thanks for pointing that, jonmc. (sheepishly looks around if anybody's still reading).
posted by forwebsites at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2006


oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the Oval Office that day...

"What? Khazakstan? Is this a joke? Next to what? Kyrgyzstan? oh now you're just making things up..."
posted by clevershark at 10:06 AM on November 16, 2006


(I meant, on the day the President of Kazakhstan called to complain about Borat)
posted by clevershark at 10:09 AM on November 16, 2006


No.

It's U.S. of A. Not U.S. and A.
posted by geekhorde at 10:30 AM on November 16, 2006


Nothing gets by you, geekhorde.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on November 16, 2006


When I saw the movie, several things really struck me. One was the music, since at least three parts of the soundtrack are pieces of music that come from Serbian films- it was a little disconcerting to hear a song that was used during a movie about the war serving as the backdrop for Borat stuffing a chicken into a bag (the "Pamela Anderson theme" is from a movie about gypsies, also not a comedy). I thought the movie was hilarious though, because as Meatbomb says, it's a great parody because the details might not be accurate, but the bigger picture is. I've never been to Kazakhstan, so I don't mean in the sense of how he portrays Kazakhs, but in the sense that I think almost any foreigner from a little-known country could make equally ludicrious statements and not many people would recognize them as false, or object to their sentiment, at all. And additionally, you wouldn't have to go and find especially gullible targets to exploit, or anything- I'm from Serbia, and I can't count the number of times people have suggested to me on their own things that made them sound just as stupid or bigoted as anything they say when speaking to Borat. On the other hand, it's hard to fault people when some of the true things I could tell them sound like wind-ups (like for example, that in the park behind our house in Belgrade, a family of gypsies built a house and runs electricity to it from a gas station across the street, illegally). Homophobia is the norm, not the exception there, and if I told people that there was a festival that involved beating up a gay person, it wouldn't be true, but it wouldn't exactly be a defamation of the ever-tolerant Serbian character, since the attitude that would allow for such a thing pretty much exists there already*.

Ultimately, I don't think the humor is directed against either "ignorant Americans" or "backwards Kazakhs", or whatever, but on the citizens of either country that have the racist/sexist/homophobic beliefs that Borat espouses.



*I just realized after I made that example that it's sadly less ludicrious than I would like, since every time the fledgling gay pride movement has a parade, it basically turns into a festival where everyone assaults them.
posted by Oobidaius at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2006


Romanian villagers not laughing at Borat

It's as if someone threw a penny at your feet and yelled "DANCE MONKEY!"

The rest of the world only exists "for make entertain, feed, cloth and fuel glorious westerners"
posted by SSinVan at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2006


Wow, what a wild thread. Pretty much everything I could say has already been said, except this: my candidate for the country Cohen should have used is Turkmenistan. If ever there was someone who needed to be deflated by satire, it's Turkmenistan's President for Life Saparmurad Niyazov aka Turkmenbashi (Father of All Turkmen). What's not to love? A gold plated statue of himself mounted on a rotating dais timed to always face the sun, renaming the days of the week & months of the year after himself (& his mom), there's enough lunacy there to last a lifetime without even making any of it up.
posted by scalefree at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


watch this clip of Borat interviewing a republican congressional candidate and tell me if you still think that his bullying is morally questionable

I wasn't clear, I think politicians are fair game for this kind of thing. A well-off media-savvy intellectual making fun of average people just supports the idea that liberals/Democrats/progressives are smug pricks who think they're better than regular folks.
posted by teleskiving at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2006


I want to say so much but I think it would end up being several paragraphs long.

I can't believe I'm saying this. Liberals (you know who you are) who hate Borat make the flaming baby jesus cry tears of mescaline. Please feel free to interpret that in whatever derogatory way you want.
posted by daq at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2006


I am disturbed to find that Daily Mail articles have been taken as legitimate news sources in this thread.

Yes, the Mail has a notorious bias in favour of Eastern Europeans.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 11:58 AM on November 16, 2006



Am I missing something? Is it funnier that it's a real-country-nobody-knows instead of a fictional-country-that-sounds-like-a-real-one?


I totally agree with you, actually, though one thing did just occur to me. If he uses a real country, he can say afterward: 'Obviously none of this is true. We know that. Anyone who does a little research will know that. It's verifiably farce.'

If he doesn't use a real country name, then there'd still be some speculation about which real-world country he's basing everything on. And any accusations arising out of that might be hairier and harder to respond to. What if militant extremists thought it was their country? He'd be dead. What if a very large country were to take offense and make a huge PR stink?

In some ways, it's simpler to pin it on Kazakstan, a known quantity and a meager threat. And the "verifiable farce" defense comes along for the ride. Using Kazakstan is about limiting fallout. Using a fake country might avoid fallout, but it might also stumble into worse fallout.
posted by scarabic at 12:21 PM on November 16, 2006


Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get Borat.

Stereotyping people for laughs is about as sophisticated as, say, old black-face vaudville acts, or some of the more vile WWII propaganda America made about Japan.

His whole act seems to center around pretending he's an idiot and exploiting people.
posted by rougy at 12:30 PM on November 16, 2006


People have geographical stereotypes. Whenever I'm travelling or living in a new place I would always take advantage of this fact. I was a military brat and lived all over the US and abroad growing up. It always amazed me how ignorant Americans could be about the geography of their own country.

And not just the geography, but the culture as well. On the west coast I met a girl who wouldn't believe I was from NY until I showed her my passport because I didn't have a Brooklyn accent. Or when I told somebody I was born in Alabama and the person I told this too immediately sequed into a nigger joke.

So it doesn't surprise me that Cohen gets away with it.

And to Salaryman, I agree about Chris Morris, Brasseye was genius.
posted by mortisimo at 12:35 PM on November 16, 2006


Perhaps he should have used Freedonia, instead.

Yeah, that'd be fine unless the Sylvanian ambassador called him an upstart.

Seriously, there was a similar situation with Duck Soup:
The people of the city of Fredonia, New York protested the film because they feared that the similar-sounding Freedonia hurt their city's reputation. The Marx Brothers responded with, "Change the name of your town. It's hurting our picture."
posted by Opposite George at 1:27 PM on November 16, 2006


Like, does he feel at all uncomfortable about being a private school educated Cambridge graduate making fun of people who are often a lot less privileged?

That's a great point, teleskiving. I'd love to see an interview with Baron-Cohen where the interviewer asked that sort of question, and conspiritorially insinuated that it was a brilliant move because stupid, uneducated oiks deserve nothing better. See how the shoes fits on the other foot, as it were.
posted by Sparx at 1:49 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


A lot of people are making points about the higher message this film has that's behind what some would consider offensive humor. Without that message, it's just another version of 'jackass.'

The thing is that this message is undermined by the way they got people to be in the film, particularly the villagers in Glod, Romania (a google search of which would reveal the story carried by more than the 'Daily Mail'). This wasn't a benign entertainer having a bit of fun; this was a corporation lying to and cheating people to exploit them, and being applauded for it. If Exxon had done this kind of thing, to the same kinds of people, we wouldn't imagine it being so entertaining if they were to make a joke of it. That it's funny doesn't excuse disregard of the dignity of a selection of folks who aren't setting the agenda, who aren't in power, and who aren't doing anything nearly as harmful or hypocritical as the kinds of things we'll allow corporations or politicians--or filmmakers, apparently--get by with.

Baron Cohen might do some funny stuff otherwise, and maybe he does have something important to say or reveal. That he had to go this low to accomplish it rather proves that his genius is overrated.
posted by troybob at 2:33 PM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


Well, this thread has aged to the point where my original intent is irrelevant now, but what the hey.

Thank you to The Salaryman and suedehead, who got the point I was trying to make. I tried to condense my post into as few lines as possible so as not to hog the front page, but it looks like I failed at making my point clear in limited space.

I love Borat. I find the movie and the sketches hilariously funny. But what moved me to post was that in the portion of the interview I quoted, Cohen says that the joke is on whoever believes that the real Kazakhstan remotely resembles the Kazakhstan Borat portrays.

So I think you can read this quote in (at least) two ways:
1. Some people really believe Kazakhstan is like what Borat portrays, buy into his antics, and expose their own unworldliness. Ha ha, how silly those people are, they don't know anything about Kazakhstan!
2. Some people really believe that there are parts of the world similar to those Borat portrays, buy into Borat's antics, and expose their own unworldliness. Ha ha, how silly those people are, those arrogant Americans think there are still some parts of the world where women are subjugated and human rights are irrelevant!

My point is that if you accept #2--which is what I understand Cohen to mean--then I don't think that this belief is far off the truth. Yeah, I know that Pakistan is culturally and geographically very different from Kazakhstan, but are we then just laughing that some people don't appreciate the distinction between these two countries? Is that the big joke? Just an ignorance of modern-day Kazakhstan?

If this is Cohen's intent, then my point is that his comedic premise is far less insightful than some would have us believe, and tends to expose an ignorance of the present state of the world on his part. If this is his intent, then he's trivializing the very real struggles still ongoing in parts of the world, by making it seem as if our belief that they exist stem from some ignorance or arrogance, rather than a real disdain for those practices.
posted by Brian James at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


That's a very interesting point, Brian.

I have nothing to add, except that I enjoy SBC.
posted by Espoo2 at 3:47 PM on November 16, 2006


Americans aren't as geographically illiterate as you might think.

You reckon?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 PM on November 16, 2006


His whole act seems to center around pretending he's an idiot and exploiting people.

It worked for Emperor Claudius. Sometimes idiocy is the only way to get close enough to strike.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:45 AM on November 17, 2006


I may be too serious for this thread, but I am pissed off by this movie.

I totally agree with Brian James when he hypothesizes that Borat's "trivializing the very real struggles still ongoing in parts of the world".

"..his genius is overrated". His genius is the same as Hitler's was. It sells well. He is basically spreading these messages - look at these ignorant dumb asses with cows in their living room, feces I brought to their dinner table, listening to me at their rodeo, ranting on the misogynist themes I brought them, AREN"T THEY STUPID?!. Look at this far too serious and way intolerant feminist!

It makes me sick. This is not a smart joke. This movie is deliberate and carefully planned ritualized humiliation.

To think that smart people are the ones who will pay to see it says more about your interests than it does the intelligence of the viewer.
posted by abbotuhhm at 8:27 AM on November 17, 2006


I may be too serious for this thread, but I am pissed off by this movie.

I totally agree with Brian James when he hypothesizes that Borat's "trivializing the very real struggles still ongoing in parts of the world".

"..his genius is overrated". His genius is the same as Hitler's was. It sells well. He is basically spreading these messages - look at these ignorant dumb asses with cows in their living room, feces I brought to their dinner table, listening to me at their rodeo, ranting on the misogynist themes I brought them, AREN"T THEY STUPID?!. Look at this far too serious and way intolerant feminist!

It makes me sick. This is not a smart joke. This movie is deliberate and carefully planned ritualized humiliation.

To think that smart people are the ones who will pay to see it says more about your interests than it does the intelligence of the viewer.
posted by abbotuhhm at 8:28 AM on November 17, 2006


Wow. I didn't expect this thread to get Godwinned. Awesome.
posted by antifuse at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2006


Why not? Cohen's acts focus on anti-semitism. How could the nazis not come up? "Throw the jew down the well"?
posted by abbotuhhm at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm apparently going to need to condense the point of this movie into 3 words for some of you to get it:

Kazakhstan is America.

All of the prejudices Borat espouses are ones held by some segment of the American population- homophobia, anti-semitism, male chauvinism. He's not creating some fictional faux-Kazakhstan out of thin air and random absurdities, he's carefully looking under the mask of acceptable discourse and seeing what people are still really thinking in a lot of cases and exposing these prejdices to the air.

Also it's funny that Sean Hannity was happy that such a seemingly ignorant pig like Borat said that he prefers Republicans. He'd be right at home with them.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:41 AM on November 21, 2006


Kazakhstan is America.

OMG
SPACE COYOTE + BORAT = GENIUS × 2
posted by grouse at 3:41 AM on November 21, 2006


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