Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

It’s a real minefield this.  It is definitely funny for a certain demographic (in a childish sniggering down your sleeve at the back of the class at the word penis way) and definitely offensive.  But the counter-argument, as I understand it, goes that it is offensive to everyone equally and that the offensiveness is simply a tool to expose the hypocrisy and bigotry in others.  Borat is defended as a kind of agent provocateur fearlessly exposing others by the act of making them feel comfortable in their ignorance by indulging in behaviour which makes them seem moderate in comparison.  Others may say that anything is fair game in the world of comedy and part of me agrees with that.  I certainly wouldn’t want to see the likes of Borat censored or banned on the grounds of bad-taste, who knows where that may lead?  No, that’s not what I would want at all.  But I don’t have to like it either.

I don’t believe for a second the idea that Sacha Baron Cohen is ultimately trying to do anything so laudable as expose hypocrisy in others, except to point at them and say “look, they don’t even react when I make Bestiality jokes“.  What he does, he does very well but the value of the thing isn’t worth the cost.  If you think a group of people are inherently racist and want to expose that, then reinforcing their repellent and closed-off world-view by portraying them as culturally and intellectually superior is a really dumb way to go about it.

The film itself is pretty muddled.  Cohen talks straight to the camera throughout and is accompanied by a documentary producer (played by Ken Davitian) and an unseen cameraman.  Sometimes the cameraman exists (“don’t film me, film him”) and sometimes he doesn’t (when Cohen and Davitian flee various locations and he films their departure objectively).  The weakness of the plot- go to various niche events and act like a prick so that other people are encouraged to make themselves look half as stupid- then stage an attempted kidnap of Pamela Anderson and get thrown out of a shopping mall- could be covered by the humour of the piece were that not so weak too.  I’m sure that it has thousands of avid fans, but then I’m sure that  American Pie 4 (or whatever number they’ve reached) does too.  That’s the level of humour on show here- fart jokes, gay jokes, naked jokes, sexist jokes.  Oscar Wilde it ain’t.  There is a scene where Borat hitches a lift with some beer-drinking fraternity boys and says ludicrous things to encourage them to do likewise and, being drunk and immature, they do so- advocating the return of slavery, for example.  And this is the problem and this is why the film is a failure as an exposé of latent xenophobia, homophobia etc- it is targeted at the people it is lampooning and leaves them with the wriggle room to enjoy it.  No-one who came into the movie theatre would have their preconceptions altered at all.

There’s no defence of this shit.  It is only funny for people who find the later Police Academy sequels funny and it doesn’t challenge bigotry at all, it supports it.  0/10.  Verily.


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