I really liked "Borat" for the purpose of a good laugh, but I really appreciate your perspective. I never really think about the film from the perspective of the Kazakh people, but because Kazakhstan was not very well known until this film, the majority of people will forever think about the Kazakh people in relation to this film. Now that Kazalhstan is on the map, it would be great if the nationals would make an effort to educate people on the real Kazakh culture.
QUOTE(sadida @ Mar 4 2007, 08:21 PM)
*note: I have been a lurker here for a month or so, and thought you folks might like to hear the perspective on Borat from someone living in KZ.*
I remember one occasion during college when a touring theater company visited our campus, and offered a class on theater improvisation. My roommate and I volunteered to participate, and almost immediately launched into a routine that included some pretty juvenile “bathroom” humor. The instructor stopped us, and told us that use of “bathroom” humor is cheap, because it makes people laugh simply through shock. We sat down, embarrassed, armed with the understanding that good comedy was actually pretty difficult to do.
What reminded me of this story? This weekend I finally had the chance watch Borat! Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. If you somehow missed the marketing maelstrom for this film last fall, let me briefly explain. Sacha Baron Cohen, a British comedian, plays Borat Sagdiyev, a “Kazakh” journalist who tells people that he has traveled from Kazakhstan to the U.S. to make a documentary, and he fools real people into believing his story along the way. It’s like Candid Camera, but with the people fully aware that a camera is rolling.
When this film was released last fall, Cohen was aided in his marketing campaign by an unlikely source – Kazakh government officials who stumbled over themselves with righteous indignation trying to tell the world that Borat did not actually represent Kazakhstan. It was interesting to live in Kazakhstan when this happened, because I’d see officials jumping up to condemn Cohen, and then backpeddling to try and repair the damage their condemnation had caused.
As an expatriate working in the local arts community, I was invited to participate in a local television program that discussed how Kazakhstan should respond to Cohen, with one side wanting to sue him for defamation of national character, and the other side wanting to respond by not responding. It was all very interesting, but the bottom line was that the movie was not to be shown here in local theaters, and so most arguments were from a lack of first-hand knowledge of the film.
This weekend, I finally got my hands on a DVD from Thailand. After watching the film, I can understand the offense people in Kazakhstan felt, but in reality, the only real connection to the country was Cohen’s brief use of the Kazakhstani flag and some authentic Kazakh names. The truth of the matter is that his portrayal of my wife’s people was so ridiculous and over-the-top that you would have to be pretty naďve and narrow minded to buy it, even if you’d never heard of Kazakhstan.
So I wasn’t offended by his representation of Kazakhstan, but I was very offended by Cohen’s cheap use of “bathroom humor”, ad nauseum. And, interestingly, my offense wasn’t so much based on some sort of bruised morality, but I was actually more offended as an artist, that Cohen kept falling back on the cheap laugh.
For example, when Cohen was unable to get a group of white Alabamians at a dinner party to say something incriminating, he resorted to the use of literal bathroom humor (can’t get much more literal than that…), and then he added insult to injury by bringing a prostitute to the table. This, in my mind, demonstrated Cohen’s cheap character rather than any lacking in his hosts, and it was a shoddy method that he fell back on several times.
I did think that Cohen was clever in the way he used his seemingly innocent personae to encourage people to reveal their true thoughts on sensitive topics, such as race. And while the movie does have some funny moments that aren’t connected to the potty or perversion, they are so few and far between that it doesn’t make it worth the effort. To me, the film doesn’t have much by the way of redeeming qualities, and certainly won’t tell you anything true about Kazakhstan.
In conclusion, If you have been thinking of watching Borat, I would say don’t bother. Life’s too short, and there are plenty of other good films to watch. In fact, while I’m traveling around the U.S. this summer, I hope to take the opportunity to show some authentic Kazakh films to show what Kazakhs and Kazakhstan are really like.