Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Borat and my belated birthday

Last evening, as a belated birthday celebration with one of my closest friends, I went to supper at the Mandarin restaurant in my new town of Bountiful, Utah. I highly recommend it! I patronize locally owned establishments and this resturant, owned by the Skedros family, who offer true Mediterranean-style hospitality, as the Chinese chefs cook delicious Chinese food, is locally owned. However, there is no lack of Mediterranean meals on the menu. Since I cannot pass on lamb, that is what I had last night. Anyway, there are many restaurants called Mandarin, but that is all that is common about this place.

After eating we went to see Borat's Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Bottom line up front: I liked the film a great deal. Appreciation of Sacha Baron Cohen's movie, however, requires no small amount of cultural awareness, as well as a tremendous sense of irony. The film, as might be expected, and probably not totally unintended, is uneven. There is a lot to please adolescents, but there is also enough social satire and cultural commentary to make Cohen's outrageousness have a point. My main concern about Cohen's edgy film is articulated well by the Jewish Anti-Defamation league: "that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry." I can imagine Cohen's response, "But that is the joke!!!" If my assessment is even close to being accurate, I have to side with what I imagine Cohen's response to be.

For those of you who don't know, in this film, British comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be a reporter from the former Soviet Republic of Kazkhstan, named Borat Sagdiyev, who is sent to the United States by his country's ministry of information to make a documentary. Most, if not all, of the people in film with whom Borat interacts (i.e., interviews, with whom he lodges, conducts business, hitches a ride, etc.) really believe Cohen is Borat a Kazkhi reporter making a documentary. Therefore, what you see and hear people say and do, thinking it is real, would be horrifying were it so not funny. Examples of the horrifyingly funny include a jingoistic, homophobic rodeo promoter, the Southern couple who hosts a dinner party to which they invite Borat and their pastor, the drunken frat boys in the RV, the gun seller who suggests a gold-plated .45 as a good weapon with which to kill Jews. Then, of course, early in the film, prior to Borat's leaving Kazkhstan, there is the uproariously funny, yet deeply disturbing, "Running of the Jew".

As an exposé of life in "U.S. and A" Borat is stinging. I have to admit, in a very gulity way, that I very much liked the episode in the Pentacostal storefront Church, in which Borat gets saved. This vignette speaks volumes about what all too often passes for religion in our country. I probably like this episode so much because it reinforces my belief that much religion in he U.S. is bad, vacuous, and shallow religion. This film is not for the squeamish. It is funny, but not laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knees funny. Rather, it is a way of using humor to expose some of the dark underside of life in the U.S. and A, along the lines of "I'm laughing, but should I be?"

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