Monday, November 20, 2006

The Trouble with Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen, comedian of Borat fame, recently gave a rare out-of-Borat-character interview to the British newpaper The Independent. In it, he expresses surprise that real-world Kazakhs have taken offense at his portrayal of them as urine-drinking cow-raping antisemitic morons:

I was surprised, because I always had faith in the audience that they would realize that this was a fictitious country and the mere purpose of it was to allow people to bring out their own prejudices. And the reason we chose Kazakhstan was because it was a country that no one had heard anything about, so we could essentially play on stereotypes they might have about this ex-Soviet backwater.

I find this an amazing statement. He seems to be saying that if he and his friends don't know anything about you, then it's just as if you don't exist and, if he portrays you in a stereotypical way, you shouldn't complain because you are just a fictional character anyway. Could it be that he has some of the same insensitivity that he cleverly satirizes in others? The Greeks had a word for that.

Okay, I admit there are more charitable ways of reading what he is trying to say here, but I think my underlying point is valid. In the Borat movie there is nothing, from one end to the other, that is the least bit threatening to the Western liberal point of view. It's all about what what racist, homophobic, antisemitic jerks all the people in the world who are not Western liberals -- from Middle-Eastern Muslims to red state Americans -- are. If you are a Western liberal, this movie is very favorable to your Self and very unfavorable to the Other. How stupid it is, how nasty, how unlike you and me!

Some of the liberal reviewers of Borat said the movie made them think. What it made them think, of course, was that their old opinions are even more true than they always thought they were. What it made me think is how similar Western liberalism can be to the narrow ideologies that it piously denounces.

No comments: