Who needs Borat?

Who needs a British comic to make fun of America when The Telegraph can find plenty of material on its own. See these two frightening slideshows there about religious nuts and nutty stage mothers screwing up little kids’ lives.

: And while we’re on Borat, I agree with David Brooks when he says that Borat took the safe route by not ridiculing Volvo drivers:

Cohen understands that when you are telling socially insecure audiences they are superior to their fellow citizens there is no need to be subtle. He also understands that any hint of actually questioning the cultural suppositions of his ticket-buyers — say by ridiculing the pretensions of somebody at a Starbucks or a Whole Foods Market — would fatally mar the self-congratulatory aura of the enterprise.

But I disagree with his argument that snobbery and mockery are in any way new forms of entertainment. Game shows are built on making fun of our fellow man from the comfort and safety of our own couches.

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  • Well, let’s roll the clock back a little more. Ever gone to the Circus? Freakshows were a staple of entertainment for generations. And how ’bout them Christians being thrown to the lions.

    Making fun of people different from us has been a core element of comedy ever since, well, comedy. After all, the joke isn’t “Three people just like me walked into a bar” ….

  • First of all, it is good to see the camp featured in the documentary “Jesus Camp,” directed by Rachel Grady has now been closed by the owner. And I am sad but not surprised that there have not been any changes to the way these stage moms messing with their daughters’ lives.

    Without access to David Brooks’ article behind NYT’s paid-wall, I can only guess what he was trying to say.

    I think the beauty of Borat is that the ticket-buyers include those people Sacha laughs at (the racist, sexist, and those that are simply indifferent). And these people may learn a thing or two after watching.

    Let me put myself on the spot here. I am not totally sure that if I were in a group-think mode and under “group-pressure” will I be a racist-lite or as indifferent as some of those people in the film. And I think I learn an important lesson even as I laughed myself to half death.

    Quoting Sacha from his insightful Rolling Stone interview (a short excerpt of it is available online for free),
    “I remember, when I was in university I studied history, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And his quote was, ‘The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.’ I know it’s not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it’s an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic.”
    source: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/sacha_baron_cohen_the_real_borat_finally_speaks

    I think Sacha did a great job. For me, it put me on a self-reflective mood that I shouldn’t be too smug and just laugh at those “stupid people” after all. Because, I could be just as “stupid” as they were if I don’t hold my principles firm or just feel indifferent when I shouldn’t. It is much easier to think that we will “do the right thing” then actually “doing the right thing” when the time comes.

    Just my 2 cents and sorry for the long post.

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  • Estelle

    In reference to Rob Hyndman’s comment about freak shows above, The New York Times has an excellent short video on the impending death of the travelling Circus Freak Side Show here


  • Mocking of snobbery and pretension — i immediately think of Laurel & Hardy (peace be upon them) and the Marx Brothers (hail Fredonia!). New, Borat, ain’t . . . he’s just the cruder cousin of Chico and Groucho.

    Pax, Jeff

    ps – Go Bucks!

  • Rich Banner

    Brits are very proud of their humor, and rightly so, but they also have some “truths” that they repeat like mantras. As in “We make fun of ourselves, you (crass American) make fun of other people”. So ends the reading.

  • I totally disagree with the quoted article. Watching Sacha poke fun at those of us (myself included) who go to Starbucks, Barnes & Noble superstores, and Whole Foods as part of lifestyle definition would have been equally funny as watching him go after the people he did skewer. There’s only so much time in a Hollywood film, and obviously Sacha chose to make social commentary on bigotry & prejudice (both from point of view of observer and observed) rather than on pretension & arrogance. Either one is necessarily ripe to be skewered and would have been funny.

  • Only nit I could pick with Borat or Sacha is that he’s going around shooting fish in barrels, and thereby leaving himself open to reasoned criticism. But then, we’re all fish in barrels, come to think of it, and who the hell would want to go into a Starbucks, even if it meant you could put them on a little? Why bother?

  • It would be interesting to learn more about how he decided who to poke fun of. Was it what would get the most laughs? Or what he thought was a bigger statement on our society?

  • Rich Banner

    “Bigger statement on our society”? What are you talking about? He made the movie to make money. Make fun of mostly polite, welcoming people… next.. watch Americans happily pay tons of money to laugh at themselves…. next….deposit checks.

  • tom

    As Ali-G, Sacha B-C regularly poked fun at left wing/liberal causes.

    He once went to visit some environmental protesters in Crystal Palace, South London. They were defending some trees against a development.

    Ali asked what they were protesting about. When they expliained in sneery voices that there was a plan to cut down the trees and build a multiplex cinema, Ali-G was of course delighted. After assurances that the cinema would have a car park and popcorn, he was keen to support their campaign.

  • steve

    if you want to see the leftie poli-correct crowd tweaked, check out Penn & Teller’s Showtime series/DVD “Bullshit”

    Of particular fun – the episodes on animal rights and environmentalism

  • John F.

    What’s all the fuss about? It’s not like they’re handling poisonous snakes or anything. Seriously, though…I’ve not yet seen Borat (although I saw alot of the early segments and all of Ali G years ago in London), and the NYT can kiss my black ass if they think I’m going to pay to read Krugman, Dowd, et al.

    Granted, there’s nothing new about laughing at the expense of others (or Others, as a Humanities department might put it), and there are limits as to how much you can mock a paying audience. [$3 for an apple should be cause for either laughter or tears.] Sadly, I think social class has become a much more pervasive theme in America; it’s the new race. Snobbery is about creating distance between yourself and your “inferiors.” But how much distance is there really? That Christ Kindergarten stuff seems pretty weird, but so was a lot of the Quaker shit I’m familiar with. Making up a 5-year old girl to look like a pageant queen is creepy (for that matter, so is making up an 18-year old, to me at least), but in the affluent suburbs these days, parents are robbing young children of their play time and indiscriminately shoving Mandarin lessons, tennis camp, and other success boosters up their asses.

    Sometimes foreigners can explain us to ourselves better than we can. Start with Tocqueville and work forward. But globalization enables poor imitations and cheap laughs (nothing wrong with that). It also let’s some of us think that knowing the difference between a baguette and a ficelle makes makes us more European than Bible Belt. Maybe we laugh because we think we’re more different from them than we really are.

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