So finally I saw Borat. And it’s really funny, I won’t deny it. I laughed. A lot. And I was watching it alone—I don’t laugh when I watch movies alone.
It’s also quite clear that Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius. Borat is an very smartly-developed character portrayed with stunning consistency throughout the film. It’s too bad for him that Oscars do not get given to comedy actors.
But Borat is a disturbing film in a few ways.
Firstly, it’s a mockumentary. I have no problem with mockumentaries (three cheers for Christopher Guest), but the difference between this and many previous such films is that only (I believe) four of the characters were actors.
So that means I just spent 84 minutes laughing at real people. That smarts a little. I don’t really mind laughing at people when they really deserve it, but one couldn’t help feeling that many of these people were unfairly represented. In the “Southern Manners” scene, for example, it seems pretty clear that the hostility comes after the deception is revealed, but that the reveal itself is edited out. This paints the real people involved in a very negative light.
Which brings me to my next point: editing.
This may be true worldwide; I don’t know. But it is definitely true in America that people do not understand that it is possible to lie in a documentary. Fahrenheit 9/11 probably helped to dispel this misconception a little, but overall I think most people believe whatever TV-like footage you show them.
And that sits a little uncomfortably with me. I don’t like the idea of playing on the audience’s ignorance.
And overall, Borat seems designed to highlight the most outlandish, bigoted, intolerant and insane aspects of middle-class America. Apparently I live in a country populated mostly by racist, sexist, homophobic idiots.
But you know what I thought while watching many of these scenes? “Wow, Americans are really nice people.”
It’s true that some people in the movie have little excuse, however they were edited. That guy at the rodeo who says all gays should be hanged? It’s hard to think of a context in which that could have been an okay statement. That’s pretty damning footage.
But scene after scene depicts people who were manipulated into self-condemnation simply because they didn’t want to be impolite. They wanted to be nice to this strange but friendly foreigner, and they tried to just nod along and ignore some of the crazy things he was saying. And then their responses were quite obviously edited and their intents twisted.
Now, to be clear, I have no sympathy with the people who are suing Fox and Baron Cohen. Suck it up, Cupcake: you signed the release. Next time read more closely.
But I found Borat to be intentionally misleading. I don’t like that. And don’t come telling me it’s okay because it was just a comedy. If anything, that makes it worse.
Lie to someone with a straight face, and they might be able to see through it. But get them laughing, appeal to their sense of the ridiculous, and they’re at your mercy. You can feed them all kinds of half-truths, and they may never notice.
So while I cracked up (and so will you, if you see it), I wasn’t deceived. But that’s only because I keep my brain on at all times.
I guess that’s my moral, if this post has a moral. Keep your brain turned on. There’s no such thing as “pure entertainment.”