Pop Culture Junkette

Addicted to pop culture.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cultural Learning from Kazakhstan



SPOILER ALERTS!!!! So it took a week after the opening, but Mrs. Bartender and I finally saw Borat. Let's just start with this--it is damn funny. It is a simple road film that doesn't strive for anything grand, but within its simplicity it presents a serious of hysterical (albeit at times repetitive) vignettes. And in the middle is one of the funniest (albeit most disgusting) things I have ever seen in a movie. Let's just say if you ever wanted to see two hairy men wrestle while naked, one of whom is very fat, this is the movie for you. And if you don't want to see such a scene, you will laugh so hard, you will cry when you do.

I briefly want to address some of the constituencies offended by this movie. First, the Kazakhs. Yes, the movie makes fun of "Kazakhstan," but anyone who knows anything about this nation knows that Borat's home country is not real. (Kazakhstan is; it is Borat's that isn't.) Virtually anyone who sees this movie recognizes that this is nothing but a joke and does not take Borat seriously with this depiction. I am glad to see that the Kazakh government seems finally to have woken up on this subject.

Second, the Americans. It is frequently pointed out that the real joke of the movie is on the Americans who inadvertently star in it and are shown to be ignorant, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, or all of the above. But this too is unfair. With a couple of glorious and frightening exceptions--the owner of the gun store, the fraternity boys, and the guy running the rodeo--most of the Americans do not come off as narrow minded or intolerant. Sure a lot of New Yorkers are offended when a stranger comes up to kiss them on the subway and then releases a live chicken or are disgusted when he drops a deuce in front of a Trump hotel, but is this shocking? Or wrong? And many merely try to help Borat and go out of their way to be kind--from the Southerners at the dinner party to the fundamentalists. It is easy to laugh at some of their peculiarities, but they actually try to help this clueless foreigner. This is middle America at its best.

Now as you may be aware, the frat boys are now suing Borat. This raises a few questions, the biggest for me is how staged many of the episodes are. If their allegations are true, the production team got them drunk and had them pick up a hitchhiking Borat. There is no doubt that some scenes are completely staged (the bagging of Pamela Anderson) while others are pushed along and edited for maximum comedic affect. As for a lawsuit, I would imagine the frat boys have little ground to stand on. Even if drunk (which they undoubtedly were), they come off as jackasses, and nothing Borat or alcohol did made them jackasses. See Gibson, Mel.

So who is the joke really on? All of us and none of us? Borat himself? I'm not really sure, but I sure enjoyed the movie.

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