Unfortunately or not, I must digress from crankiness and address "Borat" in a way other than my usual sarcastic, semi-amusing schtick. This is because piling sarcasm upon sarcasm doesn't work very well, a lesson I learned all too painfully once writing for a national media outlet when I tried ripping apart an article that was itself a parody because I failed to understand the nature of the article in the first place. To say such an incident is a blow to one's intellectual self-esteem is a mild understatement.
I think I understand "Borat" pretty well. I suppose that it's more than possible that its star and writer, Sacha Baron Cohen, is a self-hating Jew, right along with the movie's director, Larry Charles. If so, that might make the charges of it being anti-Semitic valid. The other racist angle in the film concerns Borat's nationality. Since Cohen paints Kazakhstanis as backward, racist, sexist pigs, the film has been condemned as being racist. I didn't know Kazakhstanis were a race, but that's another argument.
It's just pathetic and sad that the Anti-Defamation League saw fit to complain about Cohen's so-called anti-Semitism due to a particular country western song calling on people to "throw the Jew down the well" on HBO. The irony is that Cohen is doing them a favor. Given Cohen's religion, do they actually think he's pulling a Gibson? Does anybody? Jesus, start asking some simple questions before calling the lawyers. Cohen is emphasizing the prevalence of anti-Semitic thought, not trying to spread it. Sweeping its existence under the rug doesn't make it go away, it just sends it underground. The more it's out in the open, the more good people can work to make it go away - to educate and inform and satirize if need be.
And that's hardly Cohen's focus here. What he does instead is connect the same sorts of social and cultural retardation in one part of the world with similar cultural retardation in America. What Cohen is examining is the ugliness caused by intolerance. American audiences ought to be a lot less frightened by the satirized attitudes of Borat than they are by the real gay-hating, race-baiting, women-hating attitudes of the Americans in the film. These are real people. Borat is fake. What Cohen is saying is, "Hey look, you've got more than enough real-life Borats to make lots of films right in your backyard." Frankly, it's disheartening as hell that more people don't realize this. They want to attack Cohen because looking inward is too hard.
The most pointed connection occurs at the rodeo, where Borat (Cohen) goes to sing the national anthem. For those unaware, Cohen's shtick is that he takes Borat into the real world and fools people, often catching them saying and doing things in reaction to Borat that are simultaneously hilarious, embarrassing and uncomfortable. At the rodeo, he interacts with a guy who spouts a variety of group-bashing bigotry. Cohen seems to be saying that one kind of hatred isn't all that different from another.
Cohen isn't attacking a race or a religion. He's satirizing bigotry. There is nothing wrong with that. It opens people's eyes to stupidity. Those who attack Cohen for being racist not only completely miss the point, they reveal their ignorant selves.
To spread the word about this Borat review on Twitter.To get instant updates of Mr. Cranky reviews, subscribe to our RSS feed.