Borat crosses the line in trying to extract prejudice

By Westenley Alcenat

It is an established fact that Macalester is for the most part a liberal institution devoted to the cause of freedom and tolerance of all people. I’ve read about the fight to ban Coca-Cola on campus. Moreover, I watched as The Mac Weekly displayed a student petition that called for the resignation of President Rosenberg.I do not question Macalester’s devotion to civil liberties and the advocacy to protect them. But there has been a lack of response on the part of The Mac Weekly to address the movie Borat: a comedy that embraces discrimination against Jews, gays, gypsies and women, and portrays it as normal. The movie presents itself as a sort of laughing factory where audiences can go to laugh at their prejudiced attitudes without feeling guilty. All the while, people exit the movie theaters and hail Sasha Baron Cohen, the actor, as a Dave Chappelle-like figure who knows how to extract the prejudice out of people. It is my opinion that in our contemporary societies, you should not need racial satire to distinguish between right and wrong. If ever you should feel the need to confront internal prejudices, it is appropriate or rather sufficient that you’ll find many possibilities on campus via the Lealtad-Suziki Center in the Department of Multicultural Life.

Prejudice is, in my opinion, a fear of differences and similarities. While it is complex and has more to it than that, you can simply approach people different from you and you’ll learn of the differences as well as the similarities that form the foundations of your prejudice; thus enabling you to learn about yourself in the process. Prejudice by any other name is still prejudice and carries the detrimental effect of “isms” directly and indirectly, regardless of intentions. Therefore, justifying Borat as “ok” because the actor is himself Jewish, doesn’t it make it any less wrong or make you, the individual viewer, any less responsible for accepting the pervasiveness of such wrongdoing. The way I look at it is that Mr. Cohen has only been successful in gaining a new level of acceptance into the anti-Semitic circles that uphold the views expressed in his movie.

I am not implying that anyone who has watched or is going to watch Borat is prejudiced against Jews, gays, Gypsies and women; doing so would be hypocritical for I have seen parts of the movie myself. I am simply asking that you reflect about the consequences of monetarily supporting the movie, thereby indirectly supporting the messages of hate and prejudice. I am also asking that you take the responsibility to recognize that satire has its limits. I am not Jewish or gay, nor am I a liberal or an activist; seldom do I make an effort to protest. I am simply speaking out on the basis of moral responsibility, of recognition of right and wrong and equal respect for all people.

To those who claim that Borat is an expression of free press, I do not refute that claim. However, I think that liberalism ideally supports equal respect for all over the freedom to ridicule and hurt others in ways you would not want to be treated. We have an obligation to be thoughtful and consider our audience when using free speech. It is ironic that people can express outrage against Coca-Cola but not express the same attitude against Borat for dehumanizing Jews, for objectifying Gypsies as objects of magic, and gays as subjects of ridicule; and maintaining that women are inferior subjects to men.

A friend of mine once asked these questions: What if you take the satire from Borat and replace it with the real? Would you still laugh at the notion that a man recommends the best gun to hunt Jews? Would it be hysterical that a white southern bully calls for the hanging of all gays? Or that Gypsies are merely objects of sorcery? Would one then laugh at the fact that sixty years ago Jews and Gypsies were slaughtered and butchered near extinction? Is it a laughing matter that in many parts of the world being gay is a license to death? Is it funny that women are still struggling to overcome men’s hegemonic control in society? At some point in history what seems funny now was once and still has the potential to be real. The potentiality only increases with the justifications we make to embrace the satire. It is foolishness to think that the contemporary world is too civilized for history to repeat itself. The fallacy of this is seen in Rwanda, the Baltic countries, and Darfur.

Hollywood is oblivious to our moral responsibility and cares more about profit maximization. But Hollywood is not my concern. My concern here lies with people who internalize and appropriate the messages of Hollywood in their own social behavior thereby helping the media to capitalize on the wrongfulness of social, racial, and gender degradation. Borat is appealing because people thirst for a larger discourse on prejudice. However, looking to the media is not the right alternative. That alternative rests within your voice to protest for what’s right.