I have often used this little corner of the internet to warn others of movies that are little more than a waste of two hours. However, every once in a while I see a movie that I, not only like, but would encourage other people to see. Borat was one of those movies.
If you've been living in a hole, Borat is one of Sasha Baron Cohen's characters from Da Ali G Show. Cohen, who is Jewish, plays a vehemently anti-Semitic reporter from the former Soviet province of Kazakhstan who comes to the United States to film a documentary about the differences between the countries. In reality, Cohen uses Borat to, not only display his comic brilliance, but our own ignorance of other cultures and the thinly veiled xenophobia that continues to curse our culture. The movie is comic satire at its best.
A warning is necessary. I watched a number of parts of this movie through my fingers, so embarrassed for Cohen's victims that I almost didn't watch their responses, but I couldn't bear not to. I had the feeling that I get when I watch Steve Carrell in The Office, multiplied exponentially. This movie is not for the faint of heart. Unless you entirely lack sensibilities, you'll be offended and shocked on a number of occasions. The only way I can describe the feeling is that it must have been what the audience felt when they watched "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers.
Of course, Borat takes one aspect of Jewish humor to an extreme. Making fun of Antisemitism is nothing new for Jews. It's a cottage industry of Jewish humor that has been indulged in by Mel Brooks for years, subtly used to incredible success by Jerry Seinfeld, and more obviously used by Larry David. But what made Borat different was that, while I was laughing hilariously at Cohen's actions in the Southern city I live in, I was wondering what was going through the heads of the obviously gentile audience I was watching it with. Sure, Cohen is extreme, but does this kind of virulent Antisemitism resonate with some of these people? In other words, is everyone here in on the joke?
I got my answer the next night. I went out with a friend visiting from another city and, when he designated himself as the driver, I got absolutely hammered. And I had a blast doing it. We went to a local bar/dance club for 80's night and, frankly, I had more fun than I've had out in quite some time.
At 2 a.m., the club closed and we, along with a large group of other people, were asked to leave. I've never understood the logic of kicking a bunch of drunk people out on the street at the same time, but that's neither here nor there. As I was walking out of the bar, my friend was advertising that he and I went to the rival school (probably not brilliant, but he's a little crazy and I was drunk). After hearing we went to a rival school, a girl then said to me, "Yeah, well, you're probably Jewish too."
I instantly started to press her.
"Oh? And what if I was? What would that mean? Why would that matter?"
She didn't respond.
I kept pressing. "You said it. Why would that matter? What do you mean by that?"
When she refused to respond to me again, I started yelling at her (and yes, this clearly was the alcohol), "Zeig Heil, you Antisemitic bitch!"
While I was too sloshed to notice, at some point, she or one of her friends put gum in my friend's hair, which he took out and put in her friend's hair.
Yeah, I don't know enough about that to really write about the details, but I think you get the idea.
Today, while I was nursing my hangover, I couldn't help but think back to what I thought when I saw Borat. How would this girl respond to that movie? Would she realize that it was a Jewish comedian satirizing the absurdity of her own deep-seeded illogical hatred? Or would she see it as a more extreme view of the right perspective?
Honestly, I'm disappointed to admit that I think it would be the later.
What disappoints me most is that I don't think she's alone.
And there's nothing funny about that.