Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Borat

Saw it yesterday. And yes, it is very funny.

Cohen's schtick is to take it -- and by "it," I mean every preconceived notion of decency -- further than you have ever seen it taken, and to do so with absolute conviction. There are times when it is hysterical, times when it makes me a bit uncomfortable, and times when it is hysterical because it makes me uncomfortable.

I am not usually a big fan of practical joke humor. I think what Cohen does works for me (when it works) because it is of the "can't cheat an honest man" school: the people he skewers are being tricked only into letting their guard down and revealing the racism, homophobia or other ugliness that they usually hide from polite company. (This bit, from Da Ali G. show, is still my favorite, and one of the all-time great moments in television.)

There is a scene filmed in a Pentacostal church that is perhaps the most disturbing in the movie. But it is not Borat who brings out the bizarre -- he and his crew are merely spectators most of the time.

The scene is disturbing on many levels. First, the whole white Pentacostal thing reminds me of Vanilla Ice, or Pat Boone singing "Tutti Frutti" (no, I am not making it up). But these folks looked so bizarre that I wondered if it was a bona fide Borat invasion, or if it was staged, so I did a bit of Googling. I found nothing indicating that the church scene was staged or that the folks in it were actors, but I did find this amazing review of the movie on a Catholic-affiliated website called LIFETEEN.com - "Leading Teens Closer to Christ":
Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish, and uses his heritage as a defense for Borat’s anti-Semitism. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t know what is particularly offensive to their community, but the jokes against Jews were way over the top. Just because you’re part of a group doesn’t mean you can make fun of them as much as you want. At the end of the film, Borat proudly proclaims that Kazakhstan is now Christian, and they no longer stone Jews. The film then cuts to several “Kazakh” people poking a Jewish man with a pitchfork as he is tied to a cross. That is just flat out offensive and unacceptable, whether Baron Cohen is Jewish or not.

Ummm, Dude? He isn't making "jokes against Jews." He's flushing out the anti-Semitics, which turns out to be remarkably easy. This movie is so powerful, it doesn't just expose the fools in the movie, it "Borats" fools who merely see the movie.

But here is the thing that really struck me about that scene in the church, which at this point I must assume is real and not a Hollywood fantasy of Evangelical churchery. As I watched the pastor and his hyperkinetic flock (love that word) -- shouting, shaking, speaking in tongues, etc. -- I thought, "These folks also evaluate the statements of George Bush. These folks also vote on science curriculum in schools. These folks vote."

And then I realized who the people still voting for Republicans and approving of George Bush really are. (I have written about it before in the abstract, but this was very concrete.) I realized who millions of my fellow Americans really are. I think Cohen included the scene because they, like Cohen himself, take it further than I had ever seen it taken. Which made "Borat" one of the creepiest movies I have ever seen.

12 Comments:

Anonymous mnuez said...

Chill dude. You don't have to be a speakin-in-tongues pentacostal to vote for George Bush. (Nor would I write off all pentacostals as wackos either - dancing to Jesus aint necessarilly any crazier than dancing to "FROM THE WINDOW TO THE WALL, TILL SWEAT DRIPS DOWN MY BALLS!!! TILL ALL THESE FEMALES CRAWL!!!" which you can move to in any secular club on any day of the week.)

For the record, I happen to have voted for GWB and I think he's an idiot. Furthermore, I think he's the poster-boy for what's wrong with the class-system in our country and I think that he fucked up in Iraq BIG time. All the same, you gotta realize that much of his opposition is even worse on the issues. Kerry would have done an even worse job on illegal immigration and he would have done a worse job on Iraq and he would have been Clintonesque with the peace-loviong Palestinians and he's almost as much in the pocket of BIG-business as George W.

And worst of all, Kerry projected no American strength, no American resolve and no interest in spreading democracy and making our planet a free-speech, free-thought, free-voting zone.

So given a choice between two bad choices I chose the slightly lesser bad one. And would do the same today if they squared off again.

If you think that all Bush voters are rapture people with no connection with reality, you're believing what you would like to believe. But you're wrong.

Cheers bro,

mnuez

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

"Borat" [is] one of the creepiest movies I have ever seen…. makes me fear that your education regarding the meaning of cynicism was incomplete. A cynic is not simply a person who fears the worst. A true cynic, worthy of the name, projects current circumstances to their logical extremes, no matter how absurd. Absurd does not simply equate with bad. People like these have always been there and even if you hadn't run across them you can determine their existence by the proper application of cynicism. Once the projections are made, the more likely of the extreme possibilities can be examined to see if any other projection into the future is likely to overtake it. Life doesn't stand still, so ideas that things can be left alone and work out all right ignores the fact that humans like to meddle. Since they do, change toward one extreme or another is always in play. This is true even if the players don't realize that they are pushing toward an extreme. Doesn't matter at all.

"Absurdism" is a completely viable cynical view. The only chance we won't wind up on the dung pile of history is if I (and others like me) can convince smart people, like yourself, of the true nature of cynicism. Without understanding, it is impossible to see danger coming at us until it is too late. Weird people, of the stripe you cite, are dangerous if only because they distract from reality and endorse the unfounded actions of people who are already too near the edge, when what we all need to do is get on with the basics of life before we start deciding how to spend our "free time." Who has real free time? With the U.S. record of impoverished children, needlessly sick people, 30% functional illiteracy, and on and on and on, arguments about angels on the head of a pin are downright dangerous to people who aren't quite getting by.

None of this is to say that Borat shouldn't have been made or watched. It's just that smart people, as I said just like you (and I am not in any way trying to put you down), have a problem with accepting how dangerous the world really is and the agonizing need for clarity about that. That's why I fear it is already too late for ANY effective corrective action; why violence in the face of probable destruction of a large percentage of the human population is not a betrayal of some precious philosophical precept. Rather violence can, with one's eyes fully open, function like a surgeon's knife. If philosophy can triumph over life, what good is it?

I leave it to the individual to come to conclusions and make decisions about how to move themselves and the rest of us forward. But let's please not ask each other for permission to lean on a religious principle in order to be "good". If it's good, it's worth doing. Why does anyone need anything else? Don't need religion, politics or aroma therapy. Just need to look without flinching. That has got to be THE message of Borat. Cynicism is simply a tool for sorting out what might happen and what might work to promote basic good. Everything else is just somebody trying to get the upper hand.

TA

5:37 AM  
Blogger Dr. Bloor said...

So given a choice between two bad choices I chose the slightly lesser bad one. And would do the same today if they squared off again.

If you think that all Bush voters are rapture people with no connection with reality, you're believing what you would like to believe. But you're wrong.

Cheers bro,

mnuez


Well, OK maybe all Bush voters aren't rapture fans. But you haven't given us a shred of evidence arguing against that "no connection to reality" thing.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Regard to Borat church scene and comments made about it . . .
I saw the movie and it made me uncomfortable because the church scene was real, and it bothered me that it was mocked.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
So many people in america have not experienced the power of God.
I have.
It looks wierd because it does not happen in everyday life.

I thought parts of Borat where hilarious, not the church scene or the mock crucifix at then end.

Mocking God is never a joke.

Don't be surprised if the real Borat becomes a Christian.

I am a rapture loving, Jew who voted for GWB, who speaks in tongues and who became such right in the middle of partying like the frat boys in the RV from when I was 15 till I was 21. When I experienced the power of God I walked away from it all and never looked back.

If you want to find out if God is real, humble yourself and honestly ask God to make himself real to you, wait on Him and he will.

Sincerely,
Your brother in Christ
email:keith@churchonthesound.org

5:15 AM  
Anonymous booyakasha said...

keith you are a member of a cult that is dragging down america.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous pet3md said...

hey booyakasha or whatever,
How exactly is the apostolic church running down America? If you don't know what you're talking about it is better to be thought of as a fool and not open up your mouth and let the truth be known. Be very careful, blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is the only unforgiven sin.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Esocidae said...

I don't know why everyone keeps referencing the scene in the Church as out of the ordinary. I don't understand why people feel that these 'rapture' lovers are not in reality. Today is a Sunday during the NFL season. I challenge all who read this to turn on a Football Game today for 5 minutes and watch the fans. After that, you tell me whose behavior is more bizarre - the people at Church who are worshipping God - or the people at the football game who are worshipping idols. Don't forget the commercials as they tell you exactly who is watching the game on television.

I know first hand how confusing the ‘speaking in tongues’ issue is because I lived through it from the age of 12 through 21. Most of those people whole-heartedly want to serve God. They are all good people. My personal belief is they just get a little confused on gifts of the spirit and a little too caught up in the euphoria that comes from conviction & grace. They should not be mocked. The Holy Spirit must not be mocked and Cohen is in great need of prayer.

As far as a ‘cult’ who is running the country into the ground? That’s just juvenile grade school insults. What are you – 12?

Mathew 12:31, 32

7:49 AM  
Anonymous controversial_christian said...

After that, you tell me whose behavior is more bizarre - the people at Church who are worshipping God - or the people at the football game who are worshipping idols.

Dear esocidae,

Answer me one thing - If these people are so intent to serving GOD - why are they continuing their activities in Church rather than going OUT of the Church building and living their lives and PRACTISING WHAT JESUS HAS ASKED THEM TO DO - for a change? This 'Practice of Christianity' includes making the immigrant amoung us feel accepted, showing Christ's Love to the orphans or the homeless or the immigrant who has nothing, the widows who have no one, showing a kind gesture or a kind word to a person who you know is living in sin WITHOUT SAYING EVEN ONE WORD OF JUDGEMENT ! ! ! Saying one kind word or action to a person of another faith without taking out Romans chapter 1 and 'Beating the living daylights' out of them !

An emotional 'high' CANNOT be called or even equated with 'service to GOD'

I urge the Christians who love this 'SHOW' (falling down, speaking in tongues, prophecying etc...) to "actually DO SOMETHING" that Christ has commanded them to do - then probably the world will not associate the word 'CREEPY' with 'Pentecostal Christians' or with 'Christians' for that matter.

Food for Thought : A noted scholar and President of an Asian nation once said "Christians are ordinary people with very extraordinary claims"

9:41 AM  
Anonymous controversial_christian said...

I stand corrected - I forgot to add the word BIZARRE to the following sentence in my earlier post - the corrected sentence reads as follows:- then probably the world will not associate the words 'BIZARRE' or 'CREEPY' with 'Pentecostal Christians' or with 'Christians' for that matter.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is Christ? Why do people make a big thing about him? Did he do any good? Did he help mankind? Why do people mock him - if he didn't do anything bad?

1:37 AM  
Anonymous controversial_christian said...

Dear Anonymous,

Christ IS THE SON OF GOD - SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD.

Christians are the ones who make a big deal about him - on the contrary their life doesnt match the any of Christ's teachings - so I suppose that is why the non-Christians make a big deal about him in a derogatory way.

Yes! Jesus Christ definitely did something very good for humanity !

I suppose the best imaginable help that could be done for mankind was done by GOD through his son Jesus Christ !

I have no idea why people mock him - I know that I dont ! But I guess the real reason that people mock him is because those people who are supposed to be his followers have strange ideas - talk to some of them and you wonder how come they are Christ's followers. The two basic commands Love your GOD and Love your Neighbor are the most difficult things for them to follow. They equate Church membership/attendance to a confirmed and reserved place in heaven. Most of them are supporters of war - One of the meaning of Jesus Christ name is "Prince of Peace" but you will be surprised how many Christians will support a War ! ! ! And they do this not realizing that it brings bad publicity (testimony as they call it) to he name of GOD and his son JESUS CHRIST !

In response to your questions in this blog - since Borat the movie is actually the topic that started it all. I dont think that Borat was mocking GOD or JESUS CHRIST. The "Joke" is on the behaviour of the Pentecostal Christians and their services ! I have been in a few services and trust me as a Christian it was quite unnerving to me as well.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was raised in a penetcostal church from age 0-18 as a PGK(pastor's grandkid). At the time it was everything I knew. Given a lot of my experiences and the lack of any proof of the existence of God I am now an atheist. My personal opinion is that these people as well as all Christians want to believe in something so much that their mind actually convinces itself subconciously they are feeling this power. I don't feel it is wrong, only that some people have a great need to believe in order to give their life meaning and/or direction.

With all that being said this part in the movie made me very unconfortable. Mocking people in such a manner for what they believe really isn't funny. All that being said my church did a ton of stuff for the community. We helped people that needed it whether it be financial or physical help. These were people in the church as well as groups outside the church regularly. The fellowship among these groups of people is unmatched anywhere else in society. So for the people who say they are dragging down America, I would bet you do less in your lifetime to help you fellow countryman than 1 pentecostal does in a month.

I'm definately not saying the system doesn't have its flaws( I left for a reason), but the people acting like this is some form of the KKK needs to get a reality check.

1:29 PM  

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