Thursday, November 09, 2006

Borat

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We need to think about Borat. His movie earned the top spot at the box-office last weekend. Cohen's style of humor is almost unprecedented as far as I know. If you want to see a sample, a quick search from any engine will produce lots of fodder. No video links here. Keep reading so see why. I predict Borat will be like the original Survivor in that a new genre has arrived. Here are a few beginning thoughts:

1. Cohen is a genius. He is hilarious. I have rarely laughed harder than at some of his work. His sense of timing, his creative improv is just stunning. He has put out a large body of work in a short time. He is simply hilarious. Not only hilarious, but he's got balls of steel. The comic genius of Robin Williams with the balls of Johnny Knoxville. From Wikipedia:

In January 2005, after convincing the authorities that he was shooting a documentary, Borat managed to infuriate a crowd at a rodeo in Salem, Virginia, USA: first by saying that "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards...and may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq" (which received a fair amount of applause); and then, by rendering a mangled version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was misreported as ending with the words "your home in the grave" by the Roanoke Times (Borat had actually sung "home of the gays"). "If he had been out there a minute longer, I think somebody would have shot him," said one witness. "People were booing him, flipping him off." For his own safety, Borat was escorted from the venue.

2. His humor almost always comes at the real expense of unsuspecting victims. He wanders through a public situation and is willing to engage anyone and everyone. He does not usually plan or know his victims (such as a "punk'd" type show). He never lets his victims know about the joke at their expense (unlike as a practical joke show). His style of comedy is more like an emotional drive-by shooting. For those who can see through his act and thereby disarm his weaponry, there is no real harm, but he preys on those more gullible and emotionally weak. This is not a documentary of people's weaknesses in daily life, but rather he lures them into his trap so that we can all laugh at them in the trap.

3. Some will say that he is illustrating the cultural ignorance and elitism of our country. Of course this is true. Cohen is Jewish. When he (as Borat) sings "Throw the Jew down the well" encouraging a crowd of country music lovers in Arizona to sing along -- they join right in. He is uncovering at least a real apathy for racism. Some will say, "He is only exposing what is already there." Perhaps, but as these people find that they have become the laughing stock for the entire internet community, what is their response likely to be? Borat consistenly accuses Jews of being "sneaky" and "shape-shifters." They can "hide their horns so you can't see them." How ironic!

4. I think I have to put Borat in the category of hilarious but immoral. And this is related to the reality TV problem. It is immoral to exploit real people. TV Shows like Survivor and Big Brother offer false emotional intimacy by displaying real relationships for the voyeuristic satisfaction of emotionally starved people. Not unlike pornography. Cohen's work is cruder. He exposes the weakenesses of people who have not agreed to such exposure. While the stars of pornography and reality TV may feel like victims (and indeed they are), they all "agreed" in one way or another.

Brothers and sisters -- as we call for repentance, we must be careful to do so with all seriousness and care. Sin and brokeness is not a game. A surgeon does not remove a cancer by cutting it open with a rusty knife and inviting other cancer victims to come and marvel at the grotesque patient on the table.

I'm not sure where this is going. I think the spirit of our age will latch onto Borat for a variety of reasons, but that might be for another post. Perhaps someone else can pick up that torch and give us an esasy on why Borat is popular in our culture.

I think I won't see the movie, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it if I did.

3 Comments:

Blogger nickg said...

Interesting thoughts, thanks Willy.

I've seen some, but very little, of Cohen's work. And I've not seen the movie. It seems like the kind of stuff I would find funny initially or for a short while, but then grow bored and eventually frustrated with. Indeed, I heard someone describe "Borat" as a one-joke movie, and while that joke is very funny, it's still just one joke.

I semi-plan to see the movie (though I'll have to wait for the DVD), not to see it for enjoyment, but just to be culturally conversant. Of course, that strategy in itself is open to question, but I guess it's a discussion for another time.

Voyeurism is an incredibly powerful temptation for fallen people. It allows us to look away from the brokenness of our own live and peek at that of others. That is why pornography is one of the biggest busninesses in America. But, as you hint at, not all pornography is sexual. For some reason, the church is very vocal against sexual pornography, but virtually silent about emotional pornography or pornography of violence.

7:55 PM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger nickg said...

Are you following all of the news of the people from the Borat movie that are p.o.'d? Some frat guys are suing and another lady lost her job. I guess what our parents used to say is true, "It's all fun and games until somebody gets sued."

1:46 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger W Sofield said...

good thoughts, nickg.

I've followed a little on the suits. I'm not planning to be a "Borat Expert." His success overshadows those who cry for justice against him, though, I think.

7:06 AM, November 14, 2006  

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