I am wrestling with definitions of humor. Specifically Borat and his use of anti-semitism. We saw the movie this past weekend, along with a about three million other Americans. I am struggling here. According to the AP Wire, the movie opened in only 800 theaters and did best in the "liberal" markets. So the movie was not seen by all and was targeted to certain audiences. Which adds to my confusion. My initial feelings were echoed by the New York Times. That his use of irony is lost on the masses and his goal to point out the humor in anti-semitism has the opposite effect, it helps promote it. He is blatantly anti-semitic; in the opening seasons they physically abuse Jews. There is a ridiculous scene with cockroaches (I don't want to spoil the movie) and references to the September 11th conspiracy theory that Jews were involved in the terrorist plot. Finally, a trip to a gun store to purchase the best weapon to kill Jews. Not kidding.
Well, he is a satirist and a Jew. Plus the whole movie is done in a character, while making fun of all minorities and himself. And it is a comedy. But does that make it acceptable? Especially when he is in a character who is not Jewish? When most people don't know that he (Sacha Cohen) is Jewish? With those factors, you have to wonder what the audience is laughing at when he enters the gun store. Is it that the joke is funny because it is so absurd and here is a Jewish guy asking for a weapon to kill Jews? Or is it funny because the gun salesman doesn't blink and that is a sad comment on anti-semitism in small town America? Or is it funny because people feel the same way and finally there is someone on the TV echoing their views? The September 11th crap, is a real conspiracy theory, floated on the internet and of the ilk that the Holocaust is fabricated. Therefore, people believe it, at least some do. Once they see someone on the big screen propounding their views, there is legitimacy given. These crazy notions are given credence and those fools have one more thing to point to as being the "truth". What I wonder, is that why people laugh?
Upon further searches, I found an orthodox rabbi who had no issue with the movie. He pointed out that Borat, as a character, is just ridiculous. His clothes, his accent and what he says. Anything that comes out of his mouth is ridiculous, we all know this and that is why it is funny. Therefore, the anti-semitism is also funny and ridiculous, like Borat's mesh underwear.
I wish I could buy into that. But it presumes the audience is already alert and educated. They can make that jump from Borat being so silly that he is a caricature, to all of his opinions falling into that category. If the viewer can make that logical presumption, then they already know that this is supposed to be a satire on what people crazily believe. That person already knows that Sacha Cohen is making fun of himself and that he is pointing out how absurd the anti-semitic comments are on their own. Those people can pick up on the irony. They are not susceptible to believing in anti-semitism in the first place.
Instead, I think the movie validates these beliefs. The guy is ridiculous. No doubt. His awful brown suit, his almost mullet and porn-star mustache. He will do anything, including masturbating in front of the Victoria Secret in Manhattan, and say anything including misogynist comments to a feminist group. That is where the humor lies. We laugh when he does these things. He will take it where we don't, because society won't let us. You cannot show your guests pictures of your son's penis. In the same way you cannot make anti-semitic statements. Yet he does all of it. He is allowed to, because he knows no limit and that is what makes him funny. So is he allowed to make anti-semitic comments as well because he is exempt from societal filters? He gets to put it all out there, even those that are hateful. Is it all supposed to be the same humor? My issue is that people are finally given validation of their warped views, in the same way they would love to urinate outside. Because it is easy and comfortable?
To me what is different from the fun he pokes at other minorities is that he seems to take extra strides here. The Pentecostals who speak in tongue, are simply shown practicing their religion. No scenes were concocted. It was them in their element. It was funny if you already thought Pentecostals were a little bit odd, their tongues flying and the hallelujahs. All he did was show us what happens when they worship. There was no need or effort to make fun. But with the Jews there was effort. He created scenes, lines and people to make fun and toted out anti-semitic comments. Why was that necessary? To show how ridiculous it is to be anti-semitic? Again, I think that is too sophisticated, especially for someone who already harbors some inkling of anti-semitism. It is disparate to the treatment given to other minority groups and seems to add to the confusion over the anti-semitic role that Cohen plays in Borat. Is that funny? Like I said I am torn.
I'm not the biggest Cophen fan, he gets on my nerves a lot (I never really liked Da Ali G Show), but I think one of the greatest victories of Borat is that it's impossible to ignore and bringing up a lot of great discourse - like your blog here.
I agree, it has made me really think about humor, irony, anti-semitism. I have read a dozen articles analyzing and re-analyzing, some of which I included. I like the dialogue it is creating. Maybe that was his ultimate goal.....