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January 20, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov

BEHIND SEWAGE AESTHETICS

Borat's crude humor as means of political pressure

Borat, a US movie based on sketches of British comic Sasha Baron Cohen, recently deserved its first award, the Golden Globe, in the nomination of "best comic role in a musical".

The movie nearly caused a diplomatic scandal yet before being broadcasted, as its full name is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan". Despite the insulting character of Mr. Cohen's mockery over the nation in the title, the actor does not fear of defamation suits or public denunciation, preparing to garner new prizes and applause.

The content of the movie is as follows: a journalist from some former socialist country (though named Kazakhstan, the film was shot actually in Romania, the "Kazakh" nation being represented with Moldavians, Jews and Armenians), is leaving to America exactly in order to shoot a film of his own, supposed to portray his comprehensively backward nation as a sample of perfection. Traveling across the US, Borat and his producer come across honorable minorities like gays and Afro-Americans, as well as the popularly condemned minorities like racists, and categories seemingly despised by Cohen himself – namely, women and charismatic believers. In each case, the "Kazakh" displays misbehavior and misconception not only in Western but generally, in human good manners, resembling a gorilla in a suit.

I was a bit dumbfounded as I was trying to get the message of The Guardian's refined assembly of experts, busy assuring the audience that only a poorly educated and narrow-minded individual could interpret Borat-Cohen's mockery as insulting towards both "minorities" and Kazakhs. They are not just assuring but even threatening. "I am concerned with the fact that some people are taking Borat seriously", declares human rights advocate Peter Thatchel. "For such persons, the movie may become a justification of their own lumpen-proletarian mentality". Thus, a spectator is faced with an alternative: either he is obliged to laugh, or recognize himself a boor.

Why, let's look and see what is supposed to be regarded as funny. Do the experts really believe that any spectator is obliged to laugh madly from the beginning to the end? See Borat, kissing every male person he meets and confusing naturals with gays, quite simple-heartedly. We are supposed to laugh: gee, the guy does not understand who gays are, and how they treat one another!

In another episode, Borat communicates with Western ladies, sincerely being surprised to know that the size of a lady's brain is not smaller than a man's. His suggestion of this difference makes the ladies furious at first, but recognizing him as a "backward national", they restrain themselves, while Borat delivers new portions of wild superstitions. This is also supposed to be funny: what else would you expect from a savage visitor from Asia?

The Golden Globe from the jury's members who have never visited and are hardly going ti visit the real Kazakhstan is an expected and therefore a grievous fact. Cohen's bathroom humor sometimes causes a sad smile for a political rather than dramaturgic reason: not because it is funny but because it is supposed to be.

It is noteworthy that Borat is also nominated for the prize of the American Guild of Scriptwriters in the category of a "best adapted scenario". Best wishes for Cohen; luckily, he is not endorsed for an Oscar, as this cinema illusion would be ruined as well.

The fact that the movie's high recognition implies a political purpose is obvious from the presence of really gifted contenders for a Golden Globe. Take for instance Johny Deppa, who created a really outstanding image of Jack the Sparrow in "The Pirates of the Caribbean".

Romania and Kazakhstan, though very distant from one another, are selected as subjects of mockery not by accident. Though being hardly familiar to an average US filmgoer, the two nations have made economic experts furious. In particular, Romania was the first country in Eastern Europe to get rid of the indebtedness before the International Monetary Fund. Lately, it underwent systematical blackmail both from the IMF and the EU, as this country continues to generate jobs for its citizens, instead of using them only as cheap labor force for well-to-do European neighbors.

With a real – not Cohen's – Kazakhstan, things are similar. During the last 10-15 years, living standards have spectacularly raised not only in its cities but also in its rural districts. The construction of Astana, a new capital of a most modern style, is something really unusual for most of the old Europe. Anyone who visited Astana, Almaty or Chimkent at least once, would correctly experience nothing but disgust from Cohen's concoction. By the way, Nursultan Nazarbayev's response to slander against his country was the most adequate: he just invited Borat's authors and spectators to his country.

 

The real drawback of today's Kazakhstan in the eyes of the West is the freedom from the West's control. An independent state, the main guarantor of stability in a strategic region like Central Asia, would hardly acquire positive coverage in the Western media. Kazakhstan, unlike Turkmenistan, can't be blamed for "violation of democratic standards", and not Kyrgyzstan, still trying to get out of criminal chaos, unleashed by the "tulip revolution" of 2005. At a certain point, the military political and economic institutions of Europe and the United States eventually lost its grip of Kazakhstan, which started construction of a self-sufficient Euroasiatic alliance of countries with Russia and China. Having no arguments at hand, the enemies of Eurasia choose multiplication of lampoons like Cohen's Borat.

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