Friday, December 08, 2006

Borat - a review (of sorts)

I finally did it - I went and saw Borat. Against my better judgement, I might add. What possessed me to fight my instincts and go watch it? Well, peer pressure (from friends back home who fear they won't get to see it themselves) and curiosity (because of the rave reviews it got in practically every reliable newspaper/magazine here).

I went off, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Was Sacha Baron Cohen going to come up with anything more inventive than his staple "lets pull a fast one on this presumed religious bigot"? In all honesty, I can't say he really did manage to come up with anything surprising. Sure, there were some funny bits - but I found myself laughing mostly because I had paid money to laugh - I expected to have a good time.

The only surprising thing I took away from the experience, was the reactions of the audience around me. After all, 'Borat' is as much a spoof on Kazakhstan (or Romania, depending on how you look at it), as it is a critique of contemporary America and its people. So, why was everyone laughing?

A few weeks ago, while watching the Bill Maher show, Maher and his guests were discussing the implications of the Senate elections. Did the Democratic victory imply that the US was not as conservative as everyone thought it was? Or did it point to a liberalism inherent in the country, that was finally making its presence felt? It seems like a terribly fine point to debate over, but the point was made (even if there was no consensus on what the election ultimately meant).

As I heard the chuckles and guffaws around me that evening, I asked myself the same question. Of course, anyone who willingly went for the movie was open to being scandalized and laughed at. I couldn't help but feel, however, that maybe these popcorn munching, coke-sipping Californians around me were, somehow... not quite in on the joke.

Indeed, what is comic or funny? How does comedy work? I was asked these questions years ago, by my decidedly humourless Belgian French teacher, who was trying to deconstruct 'La Cage Aux Folles' (the Bird-Cage). She made the observation that comedy strives to push its audience's buttons, prodding us to laugh at ourselves, while ostensibly, laughing at something outside of ourselves.

Could this explain the hype generated in the US about 'Borat'? Was watching the movie some kind of cathartic experience for liberal, open-minded Americans, many of whom habitually claim to feel embarrassed (and even ashamed) of their citizenship? Or does 'Borat' operate on a sense of camaraderie, its audience distancing itself from identification with Borat's 'victims' just long enough to laugh and jeer at 'their' foolishness?

Perhaps the answer is a combination of all of these factors. Perhaps Americans are more liberal than we give them credit for. Perhaps we are all, American or not, implicated in some larger scheme of Cohen's.

5 comments:

Hillary For President said...

what I saw borat was a title should have been "how to spot a NEOCON". I don't know you notice this ore not, but what borat did was expose neocons for they're neocon way's. Did he find hilly clinton and make fun? No he did not. why?> because repectable is what hillary clinton is and what is why she will be are next president instead of a neocon from borat.

The Diplomat's Daughter said...

Hmm...well, Borat kind of acts like a neocon himself, don't you think? Anyway, thanks for being the most faithful reader my little blog has ever had. Cheers!

vsirnate said...

Hey.. when I watched Borat I was pretty spooked, which led my hubby to comment that i didn't have a sense of humor.. anyhoo.. it seems we have a very similar profile. I went to JNU as well and never got some transcripts I requested in time. DU did earnestly mail my transcripts out but mixed up the envelopes. SO the trasncript meant for Sussex found its way to Oxford and vice versa. Probably cost me those two schools.
When you have time check out my blog.. vulcaneer.blogspot.com. It would be great getting views from like-minded women.. :)

Priya said...

Hey Vasundra,
Sorry about not writing sooner - I was away (back in JNU, no less) and hadn't bothered checking my blog, since no one seems to read it anyway! I'm glad you were 'spooked' - a lot of my friends thought I was over-analyzing things, so its nice to feel vindicated!
P.S. JNU has now erected concrete, painted benches in the lawns and dhabas. Signs of an imminent corporate take-over, or the dawn of civilization?

prpriya said...

By the way - I finally got my transcripts from JNU! There is order in the chaos!