(Postmodern) Borat - Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of KazakhstanDecember 2, 2006
This film is the latest project from Sacha Baron Cohen and follows one of the trio of fake identities featured in Da Ali G Show. Part mockumentary, part undercover gonzo journalism, part spectacle, Borat is a pastiche of common stereotypes designed to co-opt his unsuspecting victims into revealing their own prejudices. While critics have been split over the 'humor' involved, the low-budget film has been a big success. This article looks at the various themes in the film and how they relate to the topic of postmodernism.
Depending on your perspective, this movie contains the best (or worst) aspects of shock journalism and reality tv. Think of pranksters with a purpose, sort of a Punk'd, Jackass, or Candid Camera of bigotry. It is a lowbrow trainwreck that is painful to watch, but hard to ignore.
Borat is a new spin on the mockumentary genre that includes such hits as This is Spinal Tap and The Office. Filmed in a classic documentary style, the twist is that the hapless participants aren't in on the gag.
Part of the pastiche involves the over-exaggerated stereotype portrayed by Borat. The character himself can be thought of a postmodern simulacra (a copy for which there is no original). As in Baudrillard's progression of simulacra, the iconic Borat bears no basis in reality, but many take him as an authentic.
Just as Betty Boop replaced the series of flappers she was based on, Borat is the new comic face of bigotry.
Kitsch is a term for 'low' art (often commercially mass-produced) that is done in bad taste or tries to be overly campy. The movie, its phony foreigner, and outlandish situations are all of the above.
Flattening of Affect
Some of the greatest laughs from the film derive from Cohen's ability to deadpan ridiculously rude and politically incorrect statements. This helps him portray a character that is so indifferent and inured to racism that he and his victims treat it as a matter of fact. Even better, the fact that he never ever breaks character or gives a knowing smile (as Steven Cobert is known to do) maintains the authenticity of his 'art'.
This movie provides Cohen with a subversive platform for deconstructing American attitudes and culture. It exposes the biases, stereotypes, and class struggles in a way that is both informative and painful to watch.
This Orwellian term for a prison that allows inmates to be observed at all times without their knowledge is a perfect metaphor for the movie. Borat provides an almost sinister view into the minds of its victims, which it then lays open for all of the world to see. In essence, Cohen has co-opted the viewers to be the warden in a game of postmodern big brother.