Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So I saw "Borat" on Friday. (Quick review: funny, but could have been funnier.) The basic plot, in case you've been under a rock, is that a television reporter from Kazakhstan wanders the U.S., interviewing Americans from all walks of life. Along the way, there are a few uncomfortable moments of honesty, which led some people to argue that "Borat" exposes just how backwards/crass America really is.

Enter Christopher Hitchens. Writing for Slate, Hitchens actually points to Borat's interviews as evidence of how nice Americans truly are:

Among the "cultural learnings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan" is the discovery that Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse. At a formal dinner in Birmingham, Ala., the guests discuss Borat while he's out of the room—filling a bag with ordure in order to bring it back to the table, as it happens—and agree what a nice young American he might make. And this is after he has called one guest a retard and grossly insulted the wife of another (and remember, it's "Americana" that is "crass"). The tony hostess even takes him and his bag of shit upstairs and demonstrates the uses not just of the water closet but also of the toilet paper. The arrival of a mountainous black hooker does admittedly put an end to the evening, but if a swarthy stranger had pulled any of the foregoing at a liberal dinner party in England, I wouldn't give much for his chances.

Hitchens has other examples too:

I have to say, I didn't like the look of the elderly couple running the Confederate-memorabilia store, but considering that Borat smashes hundreds of dollars worth of their stock, they bear up pretty well—icily correct even when declining to be paid with locks of pubic hair. The only people who are flat-out rude and patronizing to our curious foreigner are the stone-faced liberal Amazons of the Veteran Feminists of America . . . .

What I find is curious is that Hitchens leaves out the two most disturbing (and non-funny) moments in the film. The first takes place behind the scenes at a rodeo, with "Borat" interviewing a 60-year old grandpa in a cowboy hat. For reasons I won't explain, Borat states that in Kazakhstan, gay people are hanged, which prompts right-wing grandpa to reply, "Well, we're working on that here too." And then laugh.

(In San Francisco, no one laughed.)

Later in the movie, Borat finds three drunk frat boys heading down the highway in a trailer. They proceed to tell Borat how black people have all the power and rights in America, and that slavery should be reinstated. Not segregation, slavery. Of course, the frat boys are now suing the producers of Borat, claiming they were duped into drinking so much. Call it the Mel Gibson defense.

So yes Hitchens, some Americans are polite. But some are racist, homophobic assholes. I'd say Borat gives both equal time.


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