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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Endless Tragedy: Another Borat Review

By Eric Kelsey

Your eyes must be tired, drooping at the very headline, but sadly it’s true: this is another Borat review. Besides that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has unleashed his turpitude on us, we have turned him into the cultural phenomenon of the moment as Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan made an estimated $26.37 million over the past weekend. I made up .00000284% of that total, student discount included.

The real reason to write something about Borat is that everyone else is writing something about Borat. If you like open dialogue, then you should seize this moment and write an opinion to The Mac Weekly because Bortat discussion embodies the term “multi-media.” He’s on, CNN, Movie Screens, TV ads, print and Internet publications and traveling fastest from your mouth to your friend’s ear.

Among critics there has been a general apprehension to criticize the film. Borat tends to send the critic searching for the most vague terms possible in an industry that survives on equivocal claims. Most of the time critics are less of tastemakers than paid opinion-givers and if there is one thing to be learned from Borat, it is that he confounds us all.

Manohla Dargis from The New York Times assesses that “The brilliance of Borat is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy.”
William Arnold from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer counters, “the problem with the movie is that it’s not structured as a satire that asks us to laugh at ourselves by seeing our inconsistencies through the eyes of an outsider. It asks us to laugh at the outsider by seeing him as a contemptible boob.”

The problem with labeling Borat as satire is that the film’s purpose is humor. Satire illuminates a fault by the means of humor, but humor is not its end. It’s difficult to tell whether the film is about Borat, or about those duped by Borat.

There is not a moment in the film where Borat doesn’t play a joke on his subjects’ most noticeable social difference. He invites a black prostitute into the home of what would be described as a conservative Southerner. Or, he lets a chicken loose in a New York subway car. In this sense, Borat is too inconsistent to be satirical; there is very little to what he unveils besides our own apprehension to what we have yet to experience.

The most satirical and poignant moments arise when Borat doesn’t look to capitalize on one’s own anxiety, but when he digs into subjects that exist outside of an Alabama manor or an RV filled with drunken frat boys. The best parts come when he simultaneously affirms and negates the status quo with nonsensical satirical claims.

“Government scientist, Dr. Yamatov,” Borat explains to a groups of women’s rights activists, “have proved woman’s brain is size of squirrel.” Here Borat, alas, plays the straight-man character. We don’t laugh at the one woman that leaves in anger, we laugh because Borat simultaneously affirms sexism and negates it through absurdity. The same goes when Borat explains that he will not fly in the U.S. because he is afraid the Jews will repeat their acts of September 11th. The jokes effectively hold up a mirror to the audience, not because anti-Semitism persists, but because it takes an unsympathetic Other in the Muslim and replaces it with the sympathetic Jew.

The comic incongruities produce the widest range of meaning in our laughter. It separates a simple joke of pooping in a bag to one where Borat poops in a bag out of a larger cause. It calls to mind the humor of Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks, or even the Sarah Silverman joke where her grandmother goes to one of the “nicer” concentration camps and is able to get a “vanity” tattoo on her arm.

Their humor unveils a tragic laughter in the end. However, Borat is seldom like that in his film. Rather, one has to go to the “Borat” segments on Da Ali G Show for such brilliant comedy.

Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum gives us the most sensitive and insightful Borat review. Rosenbaum brings up the specific problems between Borat on TV and Borat on the big screen, writing that the TV Borat “managed to tease out moments of appalling honesty from ordinary Americans with a light touch and brilliant comic timing that made it not about him, about Borat, being a clueless foreigner, but about us being clueless Americans. Not even clueless so much as naively blind to our own implicit smugness.”

Rosenbaum goes on to write that the movie “does manage to evoke moments of racial and religious bigotry from Americans, but it’s a bit more of a strain than scary naturalism.” Rosenbaum concludes that in the film, “The portrait of America doesn’t seem representative but selective, designed with disdain.”

I agree entirely with Rosenbaum. The film fails to register on the full comic scale. Especially when we consider that its star has the proven capabilities of taking laughter to profundity.
You will laugh continuously at Borat. The film is such an anomaly that it will only get better with time even if its cultural phenomenon has oversaturated and overshadowed the real enjoyment one gets from its non-stop horrors.

In this sense, the most lasting feature of Borat is its romantic tragedy. Cohen builds the illusion of Borat to the unsuspecting, while perpetually undermining it through its comedy. Although Borat and his complicit audience are in on the joke, his subjects are blindly led astray. The repetition produces one tragedy that only stops when the film ends. It’s utterly painful to experience as Borat drives one person after another to a most painful death.
Here’s to you Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen, or whomever would like to receive this toast because no one has been so collectively stirred and helplessly offended since Bill Clinton entertained an intern with a cigar; to you Borat, because Kazakhstan’s economy will grow 6% alone from tourism; because, if you could, please never make another film because it’ll never come close to being as good.

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