Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Borat And Democracy

The fantastic Kazakhstani television presenter Borat Sagdiyev has got his own film. It premiered recently at Cannes and is scheduled for release here in the autumn. For the uninitiated, Borat is a character created by the man behind Ali G. I actually spotted Borat one time when I was in New York, complete with cheap nylon suit and large moustache.

However, although Borat is incredibly funny, a lesser explored facet of the character is his ability to expose the rampant racism and sectarianism which exists in certain areas of the USA.

The Borat segments in Ali G’s Amercian show on HBO have shown the complete divergence of attitude towards minorities between the somewhat liberal north-east of the country and the conservative Bible Belt.

Originally Borat was deployed to interview unsuspecting Brtitish toffs. He cleverly exposed them as being completely out of touch with the realities of everyday life, and to be fair showed them up as being a little thick.

However, in America a whole new angle was taken by the character. In particular, Sacha Baron Cohen, the Jewish man who plays Borat, used the character’s apparent anti-Semitism to expose true anti-Semitism among certain elements of US society.

For instance, the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish anti-racism group, complained to HBO after Borat performed a Country and Western song that called on people to “throw the Jew down the well”, warning them that “you must be careful of his teeth” and that “you must grab him by his money”. However, while on the face of it this was clearly sectarian, I think the League missed the point that the true repugnancy of the incident occurred when the attendant audience in Tucson, Arizona applauded the song and joined-in, This is what Cohen was seeking to expose, and the singing of an apparently anti-Semitic song was simply the tool with which he brought about the desired outcome.

Like an inoculation injection, the Borat character uses a little bit of the disease of racism to bring about the more important outcome of exposing its existence in wider society.

Similarly, in an interview with James Broadwater, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress stated that Jews will go to Hell. He was told that the interview would be played in foreign countries to teach others about the American political system.

Broadwater later posted a letter on his website denouncing Da Ali G Show, explaining that his statement referred to a theological belief that anyone that “accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour will spend eternity in Heaven, while everyone who rejects Him will spend eternity in Hell.”

Broadwater did not apologise for his comments. Indeed, he insisted that “the liberal, anti-God media needs to be brought under the strict control of the FCC, and that as soon as possible.”

I think Broadwater’s reaction displays a serious problem with a large section of conservative American society. Rather than recognising that there is a problem regarding the treatment of people who do not match their WASP neo-conservative fundamentalist Christian values, they simply condemn those who are prepared to expose the truth. The gross intolerance shown by the likes of Broadwater exposes a fundamental inability to recognise diversity, or indeed their own fallibility, among many in the Bible Belt.

Characters like Borat perform a very interesting and useful job in exposing the hypocrisy of these people who often describe themselves as “Christian” yet display very few of the key requisites of Christianity such as loving one’s neighbour or treating everyone equally. The fact that the manner in which Borat does this is hilarious simply makes its viewing all the more compulsive.

4 comments:

P Armstrong said...

Excellent article El Mat. His show was hilarious, but I didn't like Ali G's first movie. Borat's should be better.

The Phantom said...

Ali G's first movie was not funny or interesting --at all. I couldn't believe it was that bad, after seeing some of the hilarious tv programs.

Borat is a great character. I find the reaction of the Kazakh government to him almost as entertaining. They're kind of astonished, don't know what to do about him.

-canuck- said...

Brilliant article. But I wonder how much of the audience in Tucson reacted is to do with anti-semitism and more to do with ingorance and a blind willingness to be led. Or an amusing but also scary mixture of both.

El Matador said...

Phantom-

I think it's out in November.

Canuck-

I found clips of Borat (including the one from Tucson) on his website at www.borat.tv .

It doesn't look as if it is blind willingness to be led. And even if it was, I think that raises important issues surrounding the whole idea of whether these people are conditioned to follow what they are told, or whether they are free and able to make conscious choices.