13 November 2006 | evanston_dad
A Hilarious (and Much Needed) Assault on Decency
Sacha Baron Cohen comes to America in the guise of Borat Sagdiyev and wreaks his own brand of Kazakhi havoc in this very very funny film.
In our age of uber-political correctness, "Borat" comes sweeping through like a brisk and refreshing wind, completely bounding over every cultural taboo we've erected around ourselves. Thus, no one is safe: Borat takes on Jews, blacks, gays, feminists, middle-Americans, religious fanatics, frat boys. The only weapon against the bumbling Borat is a sense of humour, which this movie shows most Americans painfully lack. Indeed, if there is any message to be had from "Borat" (and I'm not sure there is much of one, beyond its fascinating cultural experiments), it's that everyone needs to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously.
The image of Americans projected in this film varies from the heartwarming to the downright frightening. New Yorkers threaten Borat with physical violence when he approaches them on a subway. Feminists walk out on him when they find his views on women too much to tolerate. Folks out in the heartland commiserate with him over his hatred of gays and Jews; a gun shop owner even helps him pick out the best weapon for shooting Jewish people. A sweet Jewish couple give him a place to sleep, and bring him a homey meal (that is, before they turn into invading cockroaches). A group of manic Pentecosts help him find Jesus. An RV full of frat boys make complete asses of themselves by espousing their hopelessly ill-informed views on minorities in our country and the need to revert to slavery. The majority of people treat Borat in the condescending way of those who want to think of themselves as being culturally aware without really knowing anything at all about other cultures. These people become rude the second Borat offends their sense of propriety. On the other hand, the disenfranchised of America greet Borat with open arms, and we see a group of gays and a group of blacks interacting with him as if no cultural boundaries existed at all. The film's sweetest (and most unexpectedly so) moments come from Borat's befriending of a black prostitute.
Of course, this is a carefully crafted work of fiction, and Cohen only lets his audience see what he wants them to see. I would probably react much the same as many of the people in this film if this crazy-looking and sounding man appeared out of nowhere and began to antagonize me. But the movie does make Americans look like a bunch of awfully self-important, uptight stiffs, and I've been to enough places in this country and met enough people to realize that the way events play out in this film (even if they are manipulated or staged) probably come very close to the real thing.
Thank God for movies like "Borat." If nothing else, they remind us that our cultural boundaries only matter as much as we let them, and that all of the fears that govern political correctness are mostly ungrounded. After all, virtually every person in this film was offended at one point or another, and as far as I can tell, all of them lived to tell about it.