Raznor's Rants

Costarring Raznor's reality-based friends!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why Borat will rock

Posted by Raznor

Since moving to Seattle, I've been able to listen to The Adam Carolla Show during my morning drive - I recommend it if you get it in your area. It's made my morning commutes extremely enjoyable, even during heavy traffic.

Anyway, today there was a bit of a surprising interview. Since the Kazakh government has apparently threatened a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Carolla interviewed, via phone, a spokesperson for the Kazakh embassy in Washington. When asked what he thought about the movie, the spokesman said he liked it, and thought it was funny. And, what I think is the most important fact, the fact that it wasn't demeaning to Kazakhstan since the only fact about Kazakhstan in the movie other than its geographic location. (note: doing this by memory, since I couldn't find a transcript)

And really, therein lies the genius of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen plays what is essentially an over-the-top stereotype of what Westerners consider "the other". He is unbelieable ethnocentric and racist (starred in the movie "Kill the Jew" and is a formal "gypsy catcher"), he speaks in a nonspecific but distinctly foreign accent, he carries a suitcase full of live chickens, and he speaks fondly of particular despots (in an episode of Da Ali G Show, Borat helps a Republican Congressional candidate canvass door-to-door and tells one woman "this is a great leader, he is like Stalin"). And while playing to stereotypes isn't in itself very creative or funny, what makes Borat a brilliant social commentary is that he fools people. A man claiming to be from Kazakhstan and conforms to all the most egregious, ridiculous and downright offensive stereotypes of how Americans expect people from the Middle East and Central Asia to act like has made a film showing Americans falling for it.

This is by no means an anti-Kazakhstan film - because Borat doesn't portray traits that are indicative of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is just a convenient location that allows him to play to "the other". It could just as easily be Kyrgyzstan, or Uzbekistan, or Chechnya, or Cambodia for that matter. Anyplace most Americans are unfamiliar with, but know it's far away and different. And it should embarass every Western person watching even as we're laughing our asses off. Ask yourself honestly, if you didn't know what Borat specifically was, and he approached you, would you fall for it?

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