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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

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Oy vey. If Will Ferrell movies have prompted us to search our hearts and think deep thoughts about the relationship between Christian moviegoing and vulgar comedy, I can only imagine what this film will do.

At the beginning, it starts off like a SLIGHTLY more risque version of Woody Allen's depiction of Russian villages in Love and Death (1975). But then Borat comes to America and things get progressively weirder and buttons get pushed progressively harder.

I mean, I was laughing pretty much all the way through it, but I wasn't sure that I SHOULD be ... especially since I wasn't sure how much of what happens in front of the camera is staged (some scenes were obviously shot in multiple takes from different camera angles) and how much is genuinely spontaneous, like a reality show to see how much rudeness people will put up with if they think the rude person might not know that he's being rude.

And then there is one scene in particular that had me wondering how the film got away with an R rating. I was reminded of various critiques over the years regarding the PG-13 and R ratings and how the MPAA seems to go easy on juvenile comedy while coming down hard on mature art even when they are showing the same basic things. Let's just say that if a certain scene had been

an actual homoerotic sex scene

instead of

a nude wrestling scene

, there is no way this film could have avoided an NC-17.

Oh, and one of the places Borat goes is a Pentecostal worship service. When Borat speaks in tongues, he REALLY uses his tongue. But this is actually one of the milder comedy bits in the film; in a way, it's as though Pentecostals are so used to craziness that there isn't much that Borat can do there. Certainly it's not like the genteel dinner party he attends in another scene after taking lessons in etiquette -- a dinner party attended, in part, by a pastor and his wife who seem to come from a more reserved, conservative denomination.

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Oy vey. If Will Ferrell movies have prompted us to search our hearts and think deep thoughts about the relationship between Christian moviegoing and vulgar comedy, I can only imagine what this film will do.

At the beginning, it starts off like a SLIGHTLY more risque version of Woody Allen's depiction of Russian villages in Love and Death (1975). But then Borat comes to America and things get progressively weirder and buttons get pushed progressively harder.

I mean, I was laughing pretty much all the way through it, but I wasn't sure that I SHOULD be ... especially since I wasn't sure how much of what happens in front of the camera is staged (some scenes were obviously shot in multiple takes from different camera angles) and how much is genuinely spontaneous, like a reality show to see how much rudeness people will put up with if they think the rude person might not know that he's being rude.

Just out of curiosity Peter, how familiar were you with the original material from Da Ali G Show (in both it' UK and HBO incarnations - much of which is available freely on the Internet via YouTube and other sites)? How many gags are merely recycled and how much is new? Does the "narrative" element of the film disrupt it and go against the spirit of the original (Ali G Indahouse failed, IMO, on this respect)?

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I don't watch TV, so I have never seen the earlier incarnations of this character. I think my first exposure to this actor was when he voiced a lemur in Madagascar, whose complete off-the-wall-ness I rather enjoyed, and then of course when he played the gay French race-car driver in Talladega Nights.

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I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal with a group of rather conservative people. I just borrowed the seasons from a friend because I heard about the movie.

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I found Ali G really offensive - perhaps particularly because everyone seemed to be falling over themselves to say how wonderful it was and how parodic it was of the things which it seemed to be encouraging (racism, sexism, rudeness). I am not going to be rushing to see Borat.

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MichaelRay wrote:

: I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal

: with a group of rather conservative people.

Huh. Would it be safe to assume that these people were not Americans, or Southerners? (I believe the people in the film even live on "Secession Dr." or some such thing.) If not, then it does sound like this film is something of a rehash, or at least has rehashed elements.

Oh, and Anders, re: the narrative element: The film is basically just a road trip across America, from New York to California, and there is almost no connection whatsoever between the various episodes. It's basically a series of sketches.

Interesting that yet another British comedy should have to take place in America when it makes the transition to the big screen. Something similar happened with Rowan Atkinson's Bean (1997).

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Interesting that yet another British comedy should have to take place in America when it makes the transition to the big screen. Something similar happened with Rowan Atkinson's Bean (1997).

I've often thought it's probably do with where the money is coming from.

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Behind the Schemes

In 'Borat,' Sacha Baron Cohen plays unsuspecting folks for big laughs. Meet the real people who became punch lines.

Newsweek, October 16

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MichaelRay wrote:

: I haven't seen the film, but one Ali G episode also had Borat learning etiquette and eating a meal

: with a group of rather conservative people.

Huh. Would it be safe to assume that these people were not Americans, or Southerners? (I believe the people in the film even live on "Secession Dr." or some such thing.) If not, then it does sound like this film is something of a rehash, or at least has rehashed elements.

They were American in the show, but I can't remember if they were from the South. That's the problem with watching the series on DVD, they all kind of blend together. Borat has had dinner with several groups on the show. One element of that particular event was he intercut an etiquette lesson with the dinner. At the dinner he did the opposite of everything his lesson taught him.

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German gypsies in legal bid against Borat creator

A German group representing Roma interests said on Tuesday it had filed a suit to try to stop British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen showing his latest film in Germany.

"We are accusing him of defamation and inciting violence against Sinti and Roma (gypsies)," Marko Knudsen, head of the European Center of Antiziganism Research, told Reuters. Antiziganism refers to hostility to gypsies.

The group said it had filed a complaint to prosecutors over the film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," saying it treated violence and discrimination against Roma peoples as acceptable behavior. . . .

The complaint adds to a series of protests against Cohen's creation, whose views are not only racist and anti-Semitic but also misogynist and homophobic. . . .

Reuters, October 17

- - -

Yeah, and Steve Taylor supports bombing abortion clinics, too. Tee-hee. I cannot help but find such cluelessness amusing, so long as it remains powerless. (The protestors say they contacted the distributors, "but they laughed at us" -- and rightly so!) If anyone takes these guys seriously, well, then, that's another matter entirely.

And let us not forget that Cohen himself is Jewish. So, y'know, unless he is really treating anti-Semitism as acceptable behaviour, there is absolutely no basis for assuming that he is treating any of these OTHER things as acceptable behaviour. In fact, as Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times observed two days ago, "Wherever Borat goes, he encounters a real threat -- not to him, but to his creator. Cohen was educated at Cambridge and is a practicing Jew who clearly finds more than humor in the fact that he can wander into a gun store, ask for the best weapon with which to kill a Jew, and not have the salesman bat an eye."

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nardis wrote:

: There is still tremendous prejudice toward Roma in Europe; Eastern Europe particularly.

Yes, and I hear there is still lots of anti-Semitism in Europe, and I hear Jews were victims of the Holocaust too. Your point?

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There is still tremendous prejudice toward Roma in Europe; Eastern Europe particularly.

Exactly, which is Sascha Baron Cohen's point with Borat's stupid comments! He's not mocking the Roma, but rather those who treat them with such clueless disdain! IT'S SATIRE, PEOPLE!

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Exactly, which is Sascha Baron Cohen's point with Borat's stupid comments! He's not mocking the Roma, but rather those who treat them with such clueless disdain! IT'S SATIRE, PEOPLE!

Yes, like Ricky Bobby praying to the Baby Jesus... he's not mocking Jesus, but lampooning the ways in which Christians sometimes behave with some childishness and absurdity.

However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

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However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

Fair enough. Then let's discuss the questions of appropriateness and compassion. But let's not have people making posts suggesting that some of us are unaware of racism and prejudice toward minority groups. If that were the case, we wouldn't be laughing at Borat, but rather finding ourselves agreeing with his "subjects."

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Agreed.

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Because Cohen isn't funny to all Americans or Western Europeans. His humor is so edgy that it often plays very un-humorously.

You could substitute the name Cohen with:

John Stewart

Stephen Colbert

Eddie Izzard

Woody Allen

Steve Martin

Saturday Night Live

going all the way back to

Mark Twain

and beyond.

If we start censoring or suppressing comedians because some people aren't sophisticated enough or educated enough to get it... or because it's not the kind of comedy certain people like... then there will be no end of trouble, and the "c" word (censorship) will loom dark and threatening.

There's a lot to be said for considering the appropriate times and places for comedy, and there's a lot we would do well to consider regarding discernment in what we watch. But as soon as we decide that Cohen's movie is bad because people who don't get it might be offended, we've just opened up a huge can of worms that will eat away at some of the best comedy going.

There are plenty of examples of healthy "edgy" comedy that would be vulnerable to such critiques...

The Screwtape Letters, anyone?

I've heard people slam Steve Taylor for the song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good," totally missing the point.

Bono took a lot of heat from Christian fans for dressing up like Satan onstage. (See "Screwtape Letters.")

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Sorry, but my point all along has been how and why Roma in Germany might be offended by Cohen's act. Context is very important in this case, as I said in my last psot re. humor not "translating" well.

and hey, I can't blame Kazahks and the goverment of Kazakhstan for being upset over Cohen, either. :)

If you're worried about the Roma being offended because they're not getting the comedy since it doesn't translate well, aren't you the one "assuming that they're clueless, or, for that matter, taking offense at nothing"?

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and

: luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their

: being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

: I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

Not really, because Baron is not duping gypsies, he is duping dumb Americans who think that anti-gypsy prejudice is an acceptable part of Kazakhstani life (and therefore an acceptable part of life, period).

Once again, for those who are so distrustful of satire that they insist on missing the point: Baron is a Jew whose character, Borat, goes around making alarmingly anti-Semitic statements (e.g. "What gun is best for killing Jews?" or some such) and GETTING AWAY WITH IT. This is not AT ALL an encouragement of anti-Semitism. EVERYTHING about the humour of those scenes hinges on our conviction that anti-Semitism is wrong, and that coming from a foreign culture really shouldn't excuse those sorts of attitudes.

So, as with anti-Semitism, so with anti-gypsyism. It's a bad thing. Baron knows it's a bad thing. But he also knows that many people will put up with it if it comes from a foreigner. And that's a problem. And it's a problem that he exposes in this film. No one with half a brain could possibly watch this film and come away thinking that Borat's ignorance and prejudiced attitudes are worthy of emulation.

I have qualms with a number of aspects of this film, but this is not one of them.

nardis wrote:

: Because Cohen isn't funny to all Americans or Western Europeans.

Gosh, who IS?

: Also, humor is something that tends not to "translate" well. What might be acceptable here can be

: highly offensive to people in other countries and cultures.

You're right, there should never, ever be humour about interactions between cultures, and there should never, ever be jokes about how things got lost -- or accepted -- in translation.

And British shows like Till Death Do Us Part should never be remade in America as shows like All in the Family. They don't "translate" well, and who wants to see bigots as protagonists, anyway?

: At any rate, it might have been kinder to give the German Roma the benefit of the doubt rather than

: assuming that they're clueless, or, for that matter, taking offense at nothing.

Kinder, but not better, given that they ARE taking offense at nothing. (I say this as one who has seen the movie. Have you? Have they? Are THEY giving the movie the benefit of the doubt?)

Plus there is the fact that I have no time for humourless people who insist on banning socially relevant comedies and other works of art because there's a slim possibility that some idiot out there won't get the joke.

And that, my friend, woud be true even if I DID give the protestors (who, of course, do not represent ALL the Roma) the benefit of the doubt. But their accusation that the film "incit[es] violence against Sinti and Roma" or treats anti-gypsy attitudes as "acceptable" indicates to me that we SHOULDN'T give them the benefit of the doubt, because that would be as ridiculous as saying that the film incites violence against Jews or treats anti-Semitism as acceptable.

: Context is very important in this case . . .

Indeed it is. But you'd have to see the movie to know what the context IS.

: and hey, I can't blame Kazakhs and the goverment of Kazakhstan for being upset over Cohen, either. :)

Ah, well, no argument THERE!

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I've heard people slam Steve Taylor for the song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good," totally missing

: the point.

Indeed, I believe I cited that very example earlier in this thread.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I haven't seen this yet, but I have watched the Ali G. show and I thought the Borat character was probably the funniest of his three personalities. The thing that blows my mind, however, is the fact that his interviewees don't know who Cohen is or what they're getting into. I don't know who he has appear in the sketches for the film, but he interviewed former director of the CIA, Admiral Stansfield Turner, along with someone from the FBI, David Beckham, and J. K. Galbraith, among others, without them knowing it's a "prank" for his TV series. How does that happen?

Actually, here's someone with a story about just that: How I was Duped by Ali G.

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FWIW, David Beckham defintiely knew the joke when he was being interviewed.

Matt

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Exactly, which is Sascha Baron Cohen's point with Borat's stupid comments! He's not mocking the Roma, but rather those who treat them with such clueless disdain! IT'S SATIRE, PEOPLE!

Yes, like Ricky Bobby praying to the Baby Jesus... he's not mocking Jesus, but lampooning the ways in which Christians sometimes behave with some childishness and absurdity.

However, the difference between the two: Ferrell's is entirely an act. If Baron is doing his satire and luring in unsuspecting folks to take part in the sketch, then the pain they feel in the midst of their being duped... that's real pain, and that raises other issues about appropriateness and compassion.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if this applies.

I do resonate with this point, but I know I will be slammed for the following comparison: Cohen's characters basically do the same thing as the movie Crash. Cohen just makes it amusing (which is arguably worse). Crash simply builds on monolithic stereotypes in a way that forces the audience into a predetermined moral awareness of what its characters are only vaguely narratively aware of, which is the cheapest of all of Hollywood's tricks. Cohen does the same thing, inserting himself fictionally in these racially and politically charged situations in such a way that they are pushed to their extremes.

I'm quoting this post partly to address your concerns, Anders and Jeffrey. Because Cohen isn't funny to all Americans or Western Europeans. His humor is so edgy that it often plays very un-humorously.

But he is funny to most Western Europeans. In fact, his lampooning of American fundamentalism and conservatism are very well recieved in the UK and Western Europe.

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I shall reply to this thread properly in the next few days when I get a chance (and I'm trying to find some stuff I wrote on Ali G seven or eight years ago).

Meanwhile, a tangent ::devil::

Sascha Baron-Cohen's cousin Simon Baron-Cohen is a leading psychologist studying autism. He's very interesting. One of the things I've heard him say is that he has come to suspect that autism is a set of highly exaggerated male characteristics. And before I get into trouble with Alan, if you want to talk about that, don't do it here. Far be it from me to encourage people to get into discussing tangents.

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nardis wrote:

: Whereas Baron-Cohen's humor is deliberately provocative and outrageous - and not always very

: humorous. I think he's more aware than anyone that truly outrageous statements can (and sometimes

: do) provoke genuine outrage. it's not a matter of the audience "not getting it." It's that there's a

: meanness in his humor, and manipulativeness, too. FWIW, the rodeo sequence in the film got a *lot*

: of press here after it was shot ... and it would bother me a lot less if Baron-Cohen and the rodeo

: spectators had all been working from a script.

Ah, but the scene is funny precisely because they are NOT working from a script. The laughter is, in part, nervous laughter, not just funny-ha-ha laughter, and part of what makes scenes like this work is the fact that you, as the person laughing, aren't entirely sure where one kind of laughter ends and the other begins.

And the reason there's nervous laughter involved here is precisely BECAUSE there is the possibility of genuine outrage. It's funny because it ISN'T safe, it ISN'T tame, it ISN'T from a script.

Does Borat/Cohen go too far? No doubt. I am personally wondering what bribe the producers had to pay to prevent

a certain celebrity from suing the pants of these people

. There is, in a sense, a rudeness to that scene that would certainly have pissed me off big time if I were the person in question. (Unless the scene I'm thinking of WAS filmed from a script, though it certainly seemed real enough, and scriptedness at this very crucial point in the movie wouldn't really fit the film's modus operandi.)

: Somehow, to me, this is a case of "See how clever I am? I can dupe anyone!"

No, not clever, I think, so much as bold. Merely duping someone would be clever. Saying outrageous things to their faces (as Stephen Colbert recently did with George W. Bush) is bold.

The question is, Does bold equal funny? And the answer is, Not always. I didn't find Colbert's speech particularly funny (partly, I suppose, because it wasn't particularly clever, except for one or two lines). Borat, OTOH, I do find funny (partly, I think, because I like him as a CHARACTER), even when I'm not sure that I should.

Meanwhile, tangent re: humour translating across cultures: Check out this article on how the French translations of The Simpsons differ between Quebec and France.

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Baron-Cohen has been invited to Kazakhstan. This from today's Guardian:

Following months of angry denunciations by Kazakhstan and a recent advertising campaign in the New York Times extolling its national virtues, the former Soviet republic has finally embraced Borat.

The country noted for its mirthless response to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's fictitious Kazakh journalist - whose antics in the US are featured in a new film - has invited the performer to visit.

"I understand that the feelings of many people are hurt by Cohen's show," deputy foreign minister Rakhat Aliyev told local news agency Kazakhstan Today. "But we must have a sense of humour and respect the creative freedom of others." . . .

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Just discovered "BoratMovie" has been uploading deleted scenes and the first four minutes of the film to YouTube; click here for the list. Of particular (though not exactly special) interest to readers of this board might be the deleted scenes "Dinner Prayer" and "Puppy".

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