Sunday, November 05, 2006

America: Almost as Funny as Kazakhstan

Who's America's next cultural icon? Here's a hint: he's from Kazakhstan and pretends to be a journalist. That's right, he's Borat Sagdiyev, the title character in Sacha Baron Cohen's latest movie, which opened this weekend. This week, Borat dropped his water panties(err..swimming trunks) for a fashion spread in the NYT magazine.

The thing that makes Borat funny is that, while he makes fun of his home country, Kazakhstan, the movie makes fun of America and its hypocrisy. Borat goes to a dinner party at the home of a wealthy southern family. They are very nice to him, and and tolerant of his disgusting bathroom habits. But, when his guest, a black hooker, arrives, the hostess announces that, "It's time for this dinner part to end." When he asks if his friend can stay for dessert, the lady of the house replies, "Absolutely not," and her husband calls the cops. While the southern family congratulates themselves for showing hospitality to Borat, they won't sit down to eat with someone of a different race.

Other scenes show Borat back home in Kazakhstan, riding in a car pulled by a mule, and participating in a festival called "The Running of the Jew." The movie shows him introducing his sister as "The number four prostitute in Kazakhstan. Nice," and visiting with his "retarded" brother, who is kept in a cage. While your first reaction is to laugh at how backwards Kazakhstan is, the joke is really on us. After all, when Borat asks the owner of an American gun store what type of gun was best to kill a Jew, the man replies "A Glock or a .45," without a trace of irony in his voice. Kazakhstan might be lagging in technology, but Americans are just as bigoted, if not more so. And, as Joel Stein noted in this review, "For the trick to work, we have to believe that other countries are so inferior, it's plausible that their citizens would wash their faces in the toilet," as Borat does in one scene. So not only do Americans have unresolved prejudice towards blacks and Jews, but they are either so steeped in cultural relativism or so arrogant that they will believe anything about another country. Except that part about the car pulled by the donkey.

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