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There's something (crappy) about Borat…

A few weeks ago Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat film was released to the world and pretty much everyone loved it. Metacritic collated all the reviews and came to the conclusion that the whole enterprise deserved 89/100 and described this as ‘Universal Acclaim’. Here is a sample from some of the reviews:

Washington Post: The result is a perfect combination of slapstick and satire, a Platonic ideal of high-and lowbrow that manages to appeal to our basest common denominators while brilliantly skewering racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and that peculiarly American affliction: we’re-number-one-ism

New York Daily News: Though Borat has been likened to “Jackass,” there’s a huge difference. The “Jackass” movies are about extreme stunts. Borat is about interaction and gullibility, and its success is unique to both Cohen and to this one-time-only movie.

Village Voice: Indeed, the man who invented Borat is a masterful improviser, brilliant comedian, courageous political satirist, and genuinely experimental film artist. Borat makes you laugh but Baron Cohen forces you to think.

So it was with this in mind that I went to see the film with my little brother and all I can say in response is what the hell film were they watching?! There are some very funny bits in it, and some very scary bits as well, but they were heavily overwhelmed by clumsy shit jokes, big testicles and fat naked people running around.

There are at least two things I don’t understand about this film. Firstly, I don’t understand the reviews. I don’t understand how anyone can look at that film in its totality and describe it as a cerebral job of political satire that forces you to think. There are chunks of it that I adored (although even then they were often aimed at pretty easy targets), but most of the movie is twelve-year-old stuff. It’s little bags full of shit, bigger bags of pubic hair and general confusion about how to use lavatories. Make no mistake – much of this film is aimed squarely at humour that ten year olds would be quite comfortable with.

And that brings me to the second thing I don’t understand. Given that there are occasionally such brilliant bits of insight and satire in the film, I cannot understand why they put all this crap in it as well. The only conclusion I’ve managed to reach is that the film-makers lost faith in the more general project, worse still that they lost faith in their audience and did not feel that their satire would stand on its own feet. So they decided to aim for the lowest of common denominators. And I can’t tell whether this is because they’re craven, cowardly and clumsy or simply because they’re not smart enough to aspire towards the really good film that they could have made instead. But either way it pisses me off.

Now I’m not a prudish man. I love the South Park Movie to bits if that counts for anything. But given the hysteria around the film I really thought someone ought to stand up and say that this particular emperor is probably walking around at best half-clad. If you’re as much of a fan of cheap gross-out humour and poo jokes as you are of political satire, then I don’t doubt that you’ll find much to enjoy in Borat. But if your toes curled during Something Without Mary, just stay well away from it. I’m with the reviewer from New York magazineone of the only ones to not respond positively to the picturewhen he says:

I found the Borat feature depressing; and the paroxysms of the audience reinforced the feeling that I was watching a bearbaiting or pigsticking. Baron Cohen is such an inspired comic actor that it’s a little disappointing when he jumps so quickly, so eagerly to offend the people he interviews; it would be more fun, I think, if he gave them some room to maneuver. But then, of course, we wouldn’t squirm or cringe. And then comedy wouldn’t be evolving in the way it is nowto the point that it bleeds into horror.

11 replies on “There's something (crappy) about Borat…”

There is a small band who loathe it. Mark Kermode for one, although he couldn’t even find anything redeeming to mention.
I’ve not seen it but having seen Sasha Cohen on The Jonathan Ross Show the other night and various clips on the TV as well I’m not likely too as I sat there stony faced thinking this is shit and I don’t like jokes that consist of laughing at the “funny foreigner” There is something smug and ugly about it.

Yeah, I’m kinda glad that I’m not the only person to think exactly the same way. Some good bits of satire, funny fat naked bloke running and fighting was funny – but it just didn’t have enough material for a film.
All the time I was wondering what the presence of the camera was doing to the people filmed (an how he got permission to show them acting in such idiotic ways).

I think a lot of critics are overstating its satirical content and audience-challenging intelligence, simply because they have to justify to themselves why they found it so funny. Because there is something more than a little unsettling about much of the humour: not so much that it’s crass or scatological, but because it’s really unfair to its subjects.
It’s unsettling because, I think, it’s normally very easy to assume that you detest comedy that’s bigoted, or bullying, or in some other way morally dodgy. When in fact, you’ll actually laugh like a drain at anything if it’s genuinely funny enough. Then you begin to examine other things that make you laugh, and all of a sudden you realise that perhaps a lot of that isn’t as moral as you thought it was…
I was discussing it with a friend after seeing the film, and we came to the conclusion that the only moral form of humour is the pun. Which is a distressing thought.

I thought there was an interesting contrast in some of the scenes. Borat puts his feces in a bag and people react politely. But bring a prostitute in and suddenly he’s gone too far?

Spot on. I haven’t seen the film yet but have seen some of his other stuff. He reminds me a bit of Mark Thomas in that there are flashes of brilliance but also a lot of manipulation to “prove” a point that has been decided in advance. At times the manipulation is so over the top that it becomes embarassing.

I went to it expecting to get offended and upset. I even had a nasty review of it prewritten in my head (comparing him to Benny Hill). It was all made worse by the fact that a lot of the audience were young and rowdy (there were a loud group or rugby players sitting in the row behind me).
But perhaps because I wasn’t expecting much from it, I didn’t find it as offensive as I’d expected. I’m pretty much immune to gross-out humour – I can either take or leave it, although the spectacle of some of it (the naked fight and chase through the hotel) did make me cover my face in mock shock. Yet in the end, I kind of enjoyed the gross-out stuff, perhaps cynically, yes, they are aiming for a lowest commmon denominator audience (and so what if they are – at least that’s fairly inclusive and ensures the relatively more subtle messages in the film might “reach” a wider audience), but also, the bags of shit, pubic hair etc seemed to fit quite well with the gross attitudes of both Borat and the Americans he met on his journey. The over-arching theme was grossness, in other words.
I guess one reason why we laugh is because we don’t know how else to respond. And in a lot of it, that’s why I did laugh – because how else do you respond to someone like the guy at the Rodeo or the obnoxious frat boys. At least laughing at them takes away some of their power.
However, I initially thought the point of it was to show that right-wing, deep-south Americans to be much worse than the supposed backward East Europeans, but then you have to ask, how much of this was in careful editing and selection of the most awful clips. And are we any more superior, “in on the joke” and laughing at these people. Or are we just making the same mistake as the Americans who thought they were laughing at Borat. We can all have the joke turned on us at any time. I’ve had conversations with people who are from different cultures, where there’s a language barrier, and I’ve probably come across as just as awkward, patronising and eager not to offend as some of the people Borat interviewed.
Ultimately though, it did have a kind of morality and a rudimentary “message” to it – he ends up with the nice prostitute at least. In that sense it’s quite an old-fashioned type of film, with a structured narrative, goals, “learning” etc.

I saw it last night and agree completely. There is no question that most of the laughs are directly at the expense of (a fictitious portrait of) kazakhstan, not the US. Nothing very subversive about that.
But the other major flaw is that the seams between ‘fact’ (i.e. documentary footage) and fiction are blurred in the production. You can’t quite tell who is in on the joke, or to what extent, and there are some scenes where you strongly suspect a set-up (e.g. the Pamela Anderson finale). So what’s the point?

Is It Easier Now To Be Anti-Semitic? I haven’t seen the movie, but the reviews I get from my friends have been mostly favorable. The film’s humor references to woman, Jews and Americans in general got a big laughs with most of them. However, there was the thought lingering among the synapses of my brain, ‘Is It Easier Now To Be Anti-Semitic? Is It Easier Now To Be Hate?’

I just watched it now, after this Borat craze exploded everywhere with everyone I asked about it saying that it was hilarious and that they loved it.
I must say I am 100% with you. I am sooo confused as to why critics were actually giving this piece of film As…I REALLY don’t understand. I barely laughed, I was more like “what the heck am I watching??” I was just really disappointed and am still just really confused as to how there are so many people who think this film is amazing and is a truly great piece of work…because I clearly do not see it.

I agree with everybody that don’t laugh at this movie. The jokes are totally pathetic, and dumb. I don’t think baron is brilliant, sorry. It is a normal person with ordinary and right thought about racism. Nobody with a healty mind likes racism. I am a Brazillian, and racism exists here too, but it’s very lower than in other countries. So, the film is a bit pointless to my culture. I don’t find any fun at it. I don’t know why American People likes this movie. I guess that they like because the movie talks about it’s own society faults. But this is not funny. It’s sad.

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