Postmodernism has changed the parody. In a multi-connected world where the media profile of an institution, person or country is their only currency, satire has become a weapon of mass destruction in our paranoid world.
In few areas of the media is this more apparent than entertainment. What was once a fun distraction for the masses has been given unprecedented legitimacy on the world stage. Just look at the scramble to defend various reputations that accompanied a harmless little mystery thriller you might have heard of called The Da Vinci Code.
Director Gregor Jordan’s 2001 flop Buffalo Soldiers paid the price for daring to depict US soldiers as amoral layabouts. Edited mercilessly down to appease a jittery studio, it wound up toothless and unfunny even though it was essentially the same story as Bill Murray comedy Stripes almost 20 years earlier.
So Borat, the brainchild of Sacha Baron (Ali G) Cohen, shouldn’t be as funny as it is. Twenty years ago it might have just been a lanky twit doing a bad accent. But in not only making jokes at the expense of Jews, blacks, women and the mentally disabled but holding a mirror up to the worst aspects of America’s own society, Cohen wields a very dangerous weapon in the media conflagration.
So while special interest groups including the Kazakh government argue over terms like ‘offensive’ and ‘realistic depiction’, those of us with common sense and a sense of humour can just go and enjoy Borat as the satire and the comedy it’s intended.
That’s if you call laughing until your ribs hurt and finding it hard to breathe enjoyment. Not all of Borat’s laughs are of the subversive kind. The most memorable sequence (for some of the wrong reasons) involves a professional dispute between Borat and his producer that will make you howl with both laughter and revulsion. Suffice it to say actor Ken Davitian as Borat’s producer Azamat is both very brave and will never be a heart throb.
But while much of Borat’s journey across America is slapstick-funny, much of it is cutting, designed to upset those many believe to be Cohen’s real target — Americans.
As you may have heard, the movie sends up an enigmatic nation where some institutions and beliefs are shockingly backward and some people betray a unique cultural ugliness …and Cohen’s also making fun of Kazakhstan.
Despite making jokes about the Kazakh tradition to lock the mentally ill in cages, the laws against more than five women congregating unless they work in a brothel and the wife Borat married at 12, the former Soviet republic gets off lightly (scenes in Borat’s home village were actually filmed in Romania).
What will really make your jaw drop is the college frat boys on a drunken rampage, the rodeo organiser telling Borat to shave lest he be mistaken for ‘one of those Muslims’ and the gun store owner who doesn’t bat an eyelid when Borat asks him for the best gun to kill Jews with.
If you really don’t know by know, the plot of Borat depicts the Kazakh TV reporter who’s sent with his crew to US and A to learn what he can to improve Kazakhstani political and cultural life. Complete with unenlightened prejudices and extremely alien social graces, he’s unleashed on everyone from a high society southern mansion dinner party to a group of streetside gangstas. The results range from predictable to shocking, but they’re seldom less than hilarious.
Filmed as a documentary, Borat is watching his hotel room TV when Baywatch comes on. He falls immediately in love with Pamela Anderson, making it his mission to reach California to marry her so he can ‘make romance explosion on her stomach’.
The humour comes from all stripes. Some of it’s overt and disgusting, some is incendiary. Much of it is the equivalent of that email you get every six months about signs written in incompetent English as Borat tries to communicate both polite and filthy conversation with no regard for social context.
Some scenes seem to be set loosely up if not partly staged, but Cohen’s strength as a comic is to unleash something on the world nobody knows how to take. Now Borat’s secret is out we’ll all be wise to him, so it’s time to look forward to Cohen’s next character. If he’s half as funny as the clueless Kazakh reporter, we’re in for a lot more fun.