Monday, December 18, 2006


NB: This post is about Borat. If you haven't seen it yet, please be forewarned: there are a couple of little spoilers I will indicate the offending paragraphs with the word Spoiler!

My wife and I went to see Borat a couple of days after it opened. It's not easy for us to get out to see movies these days, but we were familiar with Sascha Baron Cohen, and had been waiting for the film with bated breath. As soon as it came out, we foisted little George on my sister, Ella, and ran out the door.

We weren't disappointed. From the opening in Borat's village to the closing rendition of "Born to Be Wild" in a vaguely slavic-sounding language, we were laughing so hard it hurt. The movie combined grotesque slapstick with culturally-relevant satire in perfect proportion. Although it shows its subjects in a less-than-perfect light, it somehow managed to make us feel for its victims. Even while they expressed sentiments that made us cringe, we could feel their humanity, and understood that most of them were fundamentally decent.

Spoiler! For most of the film, the entire theater was laughing uproariously. However, there was one scene during which everyone got really quiet. Borat is in an RV with a bunch of young frat boys from the University of South Carolina. The group is discussing women, and the young men are expressing their belief that women are, to put it mildly, undeserving of respect. At one point, the boys ask Borat if it is legal to enslave women in "Russia" (they seem unable to understand that there is more than one country in Eastern Europe/Central Asia). Borat tells them that, yes, women are slaves in Khazakhstan.

When my wife and I watched this scene, we were the only ones laughing. The rest of the audience, which was largely composed of 18-25 year old white men and their dates, was dead silent. The boy sitting next to my wife kept repeating "Oh my god. Oh my fucking god." I think that half the humor of this scene was watching many members of the audience recognizing themselves on the screen.

Needless to say, we weren't surprised when they frat boys decided to sue Borat's production company. While they were merely repeating statements and beliefs that are common in their peer group, the open admission of such perspectives is, of course, a major no-no. After the film was released, the young men were kicked out of their fraternity.

Spoiler! Of course, the news media reacted with the thoughful consideration and well-reasoned analysis that we've come to expect from America's fourth estate. After wagging their fingers at the racist and sexist comments of Borat's victims, the media moved on to the movie, arguing that, because some members of the audience may not get the joke, the film could be dangerous. In other words, because there are slack-jawed troglodytes who take Borat seriously when he asks which gun is best for killing Jews, or how fast one must go in a Hummer if one wishes to kill a Gypsy.

In other words, because Borat could misunderstood by a certain small, demented portion of the populace, we should consider restricting its release. Of course, the author of this idiotic article, Amy Biancolli, of the Houston Chronicle, doesn't openly suggest censorship, intelligence tests for audiences, or any other such icky solutions. However, her article definitely questions the appropriateness of material that is so ripe for misinterpretation. The draconian solutions, of course, aren't her problem.

My question is this: when did we start tailoring American culture for the bottom fifth percentile? I remember when they changed the word "fire" in Beavis and Butthead to "liar," and when they took the lying-in-the-road hazing ritual out of the movie The Program. I also have noted the warnings that appear during South Park and Jackass!, as well as the sleazy little "Midi-Chloridian" wimp-out in the new Star Wars films. I know, of course, that we've put all these warnings in because some idiot in Squirrel Nuts, Iowa decided to set himself on fire, lie in the middle of the road, or fire tangerines at his nuts using a potato cannon. What I don't understand is why we care.

Let me put it this way: if little Billy is stupid enough to try lying in the middle of the road, and his parents aren't inclined to stop him, then perhaps his death is nature's way of thinning the herd. I'm with Darwin on this one--part of life is an informal IQ test, and if you're stupid enough to take yourself out of the game, well, maybe that's best for all concerned.

Let's let Billy do his thing. In the meantime, I don't need your protection, and I resent the implication that I'm not smart enough to learn from Borat. I, and the 95% of the country smart enough to recognize a joke when they see it, will be discussing the humorous and intellectual implications of the film. The rest of you can keep busy with your safety scissors and blunted intellects.

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  • too funny!!! I haven't seen it, but I've seen looks hysterical.

    By Blogger Claudia, At December 18, 2006 at 6:03 PM  

  • Borat's movie was indeed a gem, even if we as Americans didn't come out too well in it .. those idiot frat boys should be thrown out of court right away!

    By Blogger Reel Fanatic, At December 18, 2006 at 6:36 PM  

  • I am still scarred from the hotel scene. I'll comment in about ten years whent he images have faded like old polaroids.

    By Blogger Pickled Olives, At December 18, 2006 at 6:59 PM  

  • Where there are stupid people, there is money to be made. It's that simple. ;)


    By Blogger Steven Novak, At December 18, 2006 at 7:03 PM  

  • Claudia-
    It lands somewhere between Thank You for Smoking and Me, Myself, and Irene. Watch it if you can!

    Reel Fanatic-
    I just kept reminding myself that they cut out a lot of footage because it didn't feature Americans acting like total assholes.

    By the way, thanks for dropping in!

    Halfway through the hotel fight scene, I was laughing really hard and I felt something snap. I think I'll be okay...

    Sad truth. And a good argument for subsidized cigarettes.

    By Blogger Crankster, At December 18, 2006 at 7:36 PM  

  • I haven't seen it yet, but intend to. What surprised me about your post was that you seem surprised that, as you put it, American culture is tailored for the bottom fifth percentile.

    This has been so for as long as I can remember. Nearly all movies and TV shows are beamed to 12-year olds of whatever age. It is merely more apparent now with such an active mass media disseminating the material so effectively.

    The schools, too, seem intent on a leveling process whereby the brighter kids get little attention, and the lowest common denominator rules.

    But I'm hijacking your blog. So sorry. Guess you hit a raw nerve there.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At December 19, 2006 at 12:39 AM  

  • The bottom fifth percentile. You mean we've upgraded? Let Hearts hijack your blog, don't let me have it. You still teach, I won't.

    By Blogger The CEO, At December 19, 2006 at 2:10 AM  

  • I don't see how Hearts was disagreeing w/ you. Maybe I haven't had enough coffee yet.

    The language Borat was speaking in the movie was Yiddish, I heard.... I'm so glad I wasn't interviewed about my views on border security or anything. How embarassing.

    and I do hate those people who want to let other audience members know how THEY feel about something. "Oh my god, oh my god."

    "Oh NO he DIDN'T!"


    By Blogger Matt, At December 19, 2006 at 10:35 AM  

  • I seen his earlier stuff years ago on Channel 4 in Da ali G show where borat was born I used to watch him with one eye it was so embaressingly funny. He made a joke about a monkey and I had only started to live together with my Chap I cackled like a crone for hours after, I thought he would pack his bags because there was no sign of me coming up for air with the laughter! I havent seen the movie yet- Im not sure I could handle it!!
    BTW I tagged you back!

    By Blogger Judith, At December 19, 2006 at 10:44 AM  

  • Senior Crankypants -
    I'm not reading this post because I haven't seen it yet and can't stand spoilers. BUT, I just had to tell you this:

    This morning, I reached for a q-tip (yes, even the beautiful people have to swab their ears) and realized that my entire freshly filled q-tip jar was filled with water. Thanks of course to my darling, helpful, able to climb up on a stool and get to the bathroom sink, water obsessed munchkin.

    I thought of you. And what is to come...


    By Blogger Clover, At December 20, 2006 at 1:41 AM  

  • Hello Crankster, I stumbled across your blog, and find myself quite amused. I've yet to see Borat (it's on the ever-expanding list of movies to see), but this certainly pushes it up a few notches. And I couldn't agree more with you or Darwin. I think we all know at least one person that would greatly improve the sea of humanity by laying down in a middle of a freeway.

    By Blogger rhapsody, At December 20, 2006 at 12:03 PM  

  • Borat's on my Netflix list for sure. I only go to the theatre for very good looking men like Daniel Craig. God forbid I have to see Borat in that swimsuit in theatre screen size. I'd never get over it. And I totally agree about the censorship thing. Why can't people choose to limit themselves and their own children if they think something's inappropriate?

    By Blogger Lee, At December 20, 2006 at 12:28 PM  

  • You know what? It's not the really stupid people it's just the sort-of-stupid people that piss me off. You know, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    We had this retarded guy in high school who seemed to be very aware of the fact that he was retarded and he was actually a lot cooler than some others....

    He also had a girlfriend... and I didn't so... I kind of looked up to him.

    By Blogger Matt, At December 20, 2006 at 1:51 PM  

  • Hearts-
    I see where you're going, and I agree. What bothers me is when , on the rare occasion that a work of art rises above the muck, some half-wit social critic decides that the rest of us aren't mature enough to handle it.

    Hijacking doesn't bother me. It's all a conversation

    Yiddish and Polish, oddly enough. Gotta disagree with you, though--I actually get a kick out of the occasional (note the emphasis) comment from one of my fellow theatergoers.

    There are only a few times that I've envied TV watchers in Britain and Ireland. This is one of them.

    Thanks. I think you're jinxing me. She recently decided to tear a roll of toilet paper up into tiny, tiny bits. My god, it's like watching the signs of the apocalypse come true, one by one.

    Thanks for dropping in. I can't decide if people are naturally stupid, or if they just drop down to the lowest available expectations.

    Right there with you. If something offends you, change the channel, turn off the TV, or (god help us), take your friggin' kid outside and play catch or something!

    I think there's a self-knowledge component there. Sounds like your retarded friend is like this girl who works in a McDonalds near my office. She knows she's retarded, is comfortable with it, and just works beyond it. She blows me away.

    By Blogger Crankster, At December 20, 2006 at 9:55 PM  

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