21st Century Polish Jokes

Borat

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, December 4, 2006

 

English improvisational comedian Sacha Baron Cohen first broke through with his striking concoction, Ali G, the British-born Pakistani nitwit with a bling-laden canary-colored tracksuit and an And Capp-meets-Snoop Dogg vocabulary. Ali G posed as an MTV news personality popular with "the yoof," enabling him to ask smart people imbecilic questions. In one memorable interview on his HBO show, our own ever-gracious Pat Buchanan gallantly (and effectively) parried Ali's queries about why America hadn't found "any BLTs in Iraq" and "Is it ever worth fighting a war over sandwiches?"
 
Ali G functioned as a brilliant satire on the neoconservative dogma that any problems caused by mass immigration will automatically disappear due to the magic of assimilation. While Ali G was, as promised, wholly assimilated into English culture, it was not the England that gave us Shakespeare and Locke, but the lowest common denominator Cool Britannia of council estate chavs from the unworking class.

Eventually, every publicist in the English-speaking world was warned about Ali G, so Baron Cohen has now been forced to fall back on his less inspired secondary character, Borat, a grinning idiot of a TV reporter from a phenomenally backward Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Information sends the likeable lunkhead to report on the "U.S. and A." in the hit mockumentary "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
 
Baron Cohen, who wrote his thesis at Cambridge on Jewish participation in the American civil rights movement, modeled Borat on an unintentionally funny Russian he had met. His character started out Moldovan and then became Albanian. There are plenty of scary Albanian gangsters in Western Europe who might have taken active offense, however, and Borat was relocated to far-off Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
 
In reality, Kazakhstan is an arid land of mostly Asian-looking people, but in Baron Cohen's imagination, it's a travesty of old stereotypes about Eastern Europe. The vulgar yet somehow innocent journalist's home was filmed 2500 miles away in an impoverished Romanian village so that Baron Cohen can indulge in traditional Ashkenazi anti-gentilism, the clever townsman's disdain for the slower-witted peasant.
 
"Borat" is a 21st Century version of the Polish jokes that Borscht Belt comedians like Henny Youngman once helped popularize. While Ali G was a milestone in contemporary social satire, the anti-Slavic depiction of Borat as the ultimate goyishe kop (he carries a chicken in his suitcase and has no idea what a toilet is for) is old-fashioned and purposeless.
 
Still, the film is awfully funny in its intentionally lowbrow way. One highlight is Borat warmly assuring a Virginia rodeo audience, "We support your war of terror And may George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq!"
 
What are almost as amusing are the rapturous critics' attempts to explain why the film is Good for You. "The brilliance of 'Borat,'" enthuses Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy." Huh?
 
"Borat," we are advised, is an Important Message Movie because it portrays Kazakhs -- and Red State Americans -- as anti-Semites. I suspect the critics (and Baron Cohen himself) are confusing "Kazakhs" with "Cossacks," the Czar's irregular cavalry who were notorious perpetrators of pogroms. Actually, the Cossacks began as Slavic serfs who escaped to the steppe and adopted some of the horse-centered culture of the Asiatic Kazakhs. Anti-Semitism, however, has not been a major theme in Kazakh life.

Dargis assures us the semi-scripted movie "will freeze your blood," exposing the hidden anti-Semitism of the American South when Borat says something casually anti-Semitic to an American, who fails to gasp with appropriate horror or to immediately bundle the visitor off to a cultural sensitivity re-education camp. In truth, Borat must have struck most Americans not in on the joke as either a harmless boob or a demented lunatic. Humoring him would be the sanest strategy for getting him to go away.
 
The Fox studio has marketed the low budget "Borat" superbly, with Baron Cohen working harder to garner free publicity than any self-promoter since Spike Lee's 1992 campaign for "Malcolm X." Fox's masterful hyping of "Borat" is in ironic contrast to how in September the studio drowned like an unwanted kitten the similarly crude and hilarious, but much smarter and more politically daring, "Idiocracy," the sci-fi black comedy about America's dysgenic future by the dazzling but diffident Mike Judge
 
Rated R for relentless filthiness.

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