If you were at all up for a movie this past weekend, you may have been very tempted to go see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, now in its second weekend and still at No. 1.
During the weeks before the movie opened in theaters, I felt like Madame Bovary running away from the mundane aspects of life: the further I wanted to get away from it, the faster it was coming after me.
And I apparently wasn’t the only one wanting to avoid it. The film now faces a ban in Russia, along with a string of potential lawsuits that extend from fraternity boys who claim they were wrongly portrayed in the film, to the government of Kazakhstan, which claims that the film gives a negative and incorrect image of the Kazakh culture and people. Setting off for what Borat calls “the U.S. and A”, the film dives into a plethora of political incorrectness and racial slurs, all the while pushing all the biggest cultural and political buttons of our time.
With all this baggage, you’d expect the film to be labeled a drama, or even a horror movie. But it’s not, it’s a comedy. And like all comedies, someone or something somewhere is being made fun of.
But in the case of Borat, it’s hard to know who is making fun of whom. At first glance, it appears that Borat himself (and according to the Kazakh government, the country he represents) is the object of humiliation. He is presented as backwards and oh-so-awkward when coming in contact with American culture. But is that the only dimension present?
The film reminded me of shows like South Park and The Daily Show, and the one thing you can always rely on when watching them is that they are indiscriminate in their mockery of everything and everyone presented to the audience. In part, such is the reason why you should watch them, since you’re guaranteed to be laughing at one point or another. While you might get offended, the hope is that you’ll leave more amused than disgruntled.
Ultimately, however, entertainment such as South Park or Borat does more than just leave people smiling. It convinces viewers that even when dealing with issues of cultural and political sensitivity, it’s alright to laugh, and that perhaps this is the best way to get over certain stigmas and melodrama. That there doesn’t always have to be ‘special treatment’ regarding certain issues, such as the anti-Semitism prevalent in certain parts of the world. Interestingly enough, the actor is himself Jewish, which maybe is what led him to go in that direction in the first place. Funny how no one cares when you make fun of yourself.
Will some viewers still find the film offensive and tasteless? Most definitely. But I say, better to discover what our own limits are and get our opinions on these issues out in the open than let them simmer under the surface.
So, don’t be afraid of the controversy if you are at all considering watching the film. Then perhaps Borat will not be executed.