Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Anyone familiar with the Russian (a.k.a. Cyrillic) alphabet will immediately spot the typo in posters for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” The letter serving as an “A” in the title figure’s name (see image above) is actually the phonetic equivalent of a “D” in the English alphabet.
The movie ultimately takes advantage of viewers’ unfamiliarity with the Russian alphabet — as well as our collective ignorance on a host of other cultural tips.
Borat’s skyrocketing popularity cannot be denied. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be disturbed by the rave reviews.
Critics have drawn similarities between Borat and MTV’s Jackass. The comparisons are an insult to Jackass. Yes, both entertainment vehicles share a level of crudeness and obscenity. But Borat is rooted in racism. Only a jackass would fail to recognize it.
Forget the proclamations that Borat is an equal opportunity offender targeting everyone and everything with biased barbs. It just ain’t true. There are no gags involving Latinos, Asians, Indians, Muslims, Native Americans and the usual suspects. Borat preys on specific segments in styles ranging from subliminal to slick to sick.
Aside from a cameo appearance by Republican activist Alan Keyes, the Black folks in Borat’s world are prostitutes and dice-rolling punks. It’s interesting that Sacha Baron Cohen forwards this negative vision, given that he’s made a fortune biting hip-hop via his Ali G persona. It’s also interesting that Borat is much more comfortable hanging with homeboys in the hood (and homosexuals!) than with a sweet Jewish couple in a suburban bed & breakfast.
Borat appears to be patently anti-Semitic. But is he really? In a weird way, the movie is almost pro-Semitic. Jewish folks are depicted as powerful and frightening. There are no stereotypical Jews displaying ugly qualities. Borat simply hates and fears them. We’ll let blog-visiting shrinks probe whatever is behind the man’s peculiar attitudes in this area.
On the other hand, Christians get skewered in the film. They are presented as dumb, narrow-minded crackers speaking in tongues. Hell, the movie even shows imagery that’s nothing short of blasphemous. While Borat would never stage nasty acts in a synagogue, he’s eager to disrupt Christian services with his sophomoric sinning.
Kazakhstan receives the worst smearing in this movie. The country is a rung below Third-World status. Its citizens are stupid, thieving, lying, repugnant perverts and whores. Incest is the norm. Misogyny and masturbation flourish. Bashing Jews is cool. And defecation is a public affair.
Hey, why not? Who would possibly complain about the defamation of a foreign nation? It’s just a joke, right?
You’d think Americans wouldn’t need a countering documentary from The Discovery Channel or National Geographic to confirm the mean-spirited caricatures Borat brings to the screen.
Heaven forbid Mr. Cohen would have played the same game by leading with Blacks, Latinos, Asians or Native Americans. The protests would be swift and deadly, at least in terms of killing profits. And focus groups wouldn’t accept Indian or Muslim characters — they’d be too unattractive.
No, Cohen opted to mess with a relatively unknown and obscure community not yet protected by political correctness. The decision feels calculated — and cowardly. Yet sold-out audiences are rolling in the aisles, while Sacha Baron Cohen is laughing all the way to the bank.
Hollywood long ago abandoned icons of insensitivity like Charlie Chan, The Cisco Kid and Amos ‘n’ Andy. Sports teams have reconsidered their Native American mascots. Advertisers like Anheuser-Busch have experienced public backlash when inventing critters like “Steve and Zagar” for Bud Light. Borat far exceeds any of the aforementioned in the despicable department. He’s not very niiiiice.
People insist that you shouldn’t judge this movie unless you’ve seen it. It’s tough to support such an argument. Are we required to attend KKK or Nazi rallies to verify prejudice takes place?
In short, Borat means Bigot. That may not be a literal translation, but it’s definitely a figurative one.