Man, I really need a bear and an ice cream truck

I first heard about the Borat movie during the Midnight Madness Snake-o-Rama showing of Snakes on a Plane. I was pretty excited; I'd seen Da Ali G Show on DVD, thanks to Benners, and Mr. Baron Cohen's work had come up in many a conversation about contemporary comedy, especially in its potential to reveal problems in society. Needless to say I walked into this movie with really high hopes, and I hate to admit it, but I was disappointed.

Parts were positively brilliant. As Sacha said in Rolling Stone, "Borat essentially works as a tool, by himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism.... I remember, when I was in university I studied history, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And his quote was, 'The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.'" My jaw definitely hit the floor at some of the things people confided to Borat (The rodeo? Holy Crapmonkies),and as a sheltered California girl, it's terrifying to see what people say when they think they're safe. That's when Borat was most successful for me: when he acts as a foil for seemingly ordinary people and shows how awful they truly are (see "Throw the Jew Down the Well")

The movie was less successful for me when Borat merely foiled himself. Part of the brilliance of the character is taking advantage of our cultural relativism, but as his behavior got more outrageous I started feeling more sympathy for his victims. I kept thinking, "What would I do if a guest handed me a plastic bag of feces?" and I wasn't sure I quite how I would have reacted. It felt to me like a lot of the movie got bogged down in sophomoric scatological humor (which I'm usually all for, believe you me), and the movie lacked the focus and sharpness I thought it was capable of.

A lot of contemporary comedy follows the Borat formula of assuming a character in order to get away with ridiculous things. I cite as my prime example the jackassery of Stephen Colbert, whose take on political punditry is one of my favorite things to watch. One thing that continually impresses me is how he manages to make his guests look good. I remember he was interviewing a scientist about global warming, kind of, and despite him asking the most asinine questions as loudly as he could, the scientist made some excellent points and very gracefully handled Colbert's jackassery. I'm not sure whether it's the writers or Stephen or that he just has really smart guests, but it's awesome. If you're one of the three or four people left who missed his performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, go here now. Before I saw that, I was fairly lukewarm on his show, but not only does this prove that Stephen Colbert has the biggest balls of anyone ever, but I started watching his program more carefully, instead of just not switching the channel after the Daily Show. Now I'm proud to be a member of the Colbert Nation. If I see Stephen Junior flying proudly in the big blue American sky, I'll gladly point him towards the nest waiting for him in the studio with the book of eagle porn underneath it.

I actually used some similar techniques in a documentary I made for my non-fiction film class my freshman year. I'll get it up on my account soon. [EDIT: It's up now!] It explores the nature of truth in documentary through various interview techniques, cinema verite, and zombie Michael Moore. Hooray for assuming characters that allow you to do things you could never do as yourself!


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