Sun, 27 Nov 2005


One of my favorite comedians is Sacha Baron Cohen (whom I'd have to point out is actually a very white Jew), whose HBO series is sheer brilliance.

Sacha lampoons the cynicism, ignorance and demogoguery of socialites, the political elite and various conservative elements. The vehicles he uses to expose these intolerant and painfully oblivious buffoons are three characters: Ali G., Bruno, and Borat, my favorite.

Ali G. is a foul-mouthed gansta-rappa in a Wu-Tang yellow sweatsuit, replete with gold chains, jewelry and skull cap. As Ali G., he illustrates the cynical assumptions of the "establishment" on today's youth, by pretending to be himself ignorant and oblivious to the world of politics and culture outside the inner city which is presented to his interview subjects as being full of drugs, sex and gansta rap culture. As Ali G., he's misogynistic, homophobic, and painfully ignorant.

A taste of Ali G (pointing to a seat marked JORDAN to a UN media handler): "Ain't it stupid to let one sportsman have his own seat? No matter how powerful he is?" U.N. official: "That is not Michael Jordan, it is the state of Jordan." Ali G: "Innit ridiculous to let one person have the same power as a whole country?" U.N.: "It isn't. It's a state." Ali G: Is it named after Michael Jordan? Is it a real country?"

Similarly, Bruno is an effete Austrian fashion reporter who Sacha uses to lampoon the fashion industry, and homophobes. In one segment, Bruno is interviewing a couple fashion moguls. He instructs them (as if they were off camera) that the show is "edgy" and needs them to be catty about the fashions the celebrities wear. The fashionistas are too happy to comply. Bruno chastises them, pointing out their show needs more profanity, but Sacha is just setting them up for when the next slide is Paris Hilton whom the critics happily lambast. But Bruno quietly points out "Hilton is a corporate sponsor, we need to be nice to Paris", then gives the cameras the order to "keep shooting" (as if they had stopped!) and asks again, "What do you think of Paris", and the two talking heads wax poetic about how amazing Paris looks, how great she is, how they love her, etc.

A taste of Bruno: "What do you say to the people who see that you are so powerful in your physique, with your powerful thighs and pectoral muscles and wonder what your schwanzenstook is like?"

But the character I like the most is Borat, the unkempt unsophisticated village idiot from Kazakhstan TV. You may have heard some of the buzz about this character-- due to the stereotypes he is using to lampoon the people he interviews, Kazakhstan is considering suing him! He cajoles people into having him feel their testicles, or to convincing them that Kazakh wine is made from horse urine, and that women recently got to ride on the inside of the bus...

Why my fascination with Borat? Well, primarily because I get a similar kind of ignorance from people when I tell them I grew up in Turkey. To see people from the less-educated walks of life I generally associate with as they simply tolerate and embrace his "cultural idiosyncracies" is nothing if not a condemnation of how utterly ignorant many people are about the people and cultures around the world. For example, in one segment, Borat goes on assignment to write a country song, which he promptly gets the audience at a country western bar to sing along. It turns out the song is antisemetic (Throw the Jew down the well) but that doesn't stop the crowd from enthusiastically singing along... It helps that Borat's opening line, "Yakshemesh", is phonetically similar to the Turkish phrase "Iyi Akshamlar", which means good evening, although I suspect that's totally coincidental.

A taste of Borat: "In U.S. and A. they treat horses like we in Kazakhstan treat our women. They feed them two times a day. They have them sleep on straw in a small box. And for entertainment, they make them jump over fences while being whipped."

Which brings me to the point-- that if Kazakhstan is considering suing Borat, they're missing the whole point of the character... which isn't to lampoon Kazakhstan, but to lampoon the perceptions of what people are far too easy to assume what Kazakhstan must be like. But just as Buzz Aldrin is happy to assume that young people don't know that a sun landing isn't possible (even in the winter, as Ali suggests to the man Ali introduces as Buzz Lightyear), and just as C. Everett Koop is happy to presume the idiocy of youth, Borat's interviews are proof that people from all walks of life are all too happy to presume that the Kazakhstan that Sacha presents must exist as they had somehow expected.

I find it's ironic that the people who are least likely to subscribe to the world view that Borat represents about Kazakhstan are also equally likely to know about the lawsuit and have a much better perception of what real Kazakh life must be like... unlike the people who are Sachas unsuspecting victims, who not only don't know who Ali G is, not to mention the fact that the actor who portrays him is being sued by a mid-Asian country whose national drink is not, in fact, fermented horse urine.

More of Borat:

Name/Blog: El Holmo
Title: Right on!
Comment/Excerpt: Couldn't have said it better myself... I couldn't even had said it half as good. Thumbs up, man.. And YAKSHEMESH!

Name/Blog: Dmetro
URL: naturalsunz at_sign
Title: Yak She mesh
Comment/Excerpt: yak she mayesh is common in many Slavic languages for saying "How are you (doing)?"

Name/Blog: Rakesh
Comment/Excerpt: Correct. Its "Jak se mas" in czech, but the pronounciation is "Yak se mash", which is close enough.

Khan Klatt

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