Sacha Baron Cohen & Mark Twain

I knew very little about Sacha Baron Cohen before going to see “Borat” on Friday. (The full movie title being, of course, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”).

I came out raving about the movie, essentially echoing the chorus of critics who call Cohen a brilliant social satirist. I think that New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis puts it very well when she says that Cohen, in giving racists, homophobes and misogynists just enough media rope to hang themselves unwittingly, more than realizes the goal that Jerry Lewis identified for comedians: “if the comic can berate and finally blow the bully out of the water, he has hitched himself to an identifiable human purpose.”

The scene that most stood out for me was a scene at a very large rodeo, in which Cohen, as Borat, gets the crowd to applaud wildly as he expresses violent, bloody sentiments toward Iraqis. It made me think back to a wonderful short story by Mark Twain that I’d read years ago called The War Prayer. I highly recommend reading the Twain story, and, of course, going to see Borat … (As for the parallel between the Twain story and the Iraq invasion itself – the parallel is less to that which we purport to be doing in Iraq, since we purport (sort of, when we’re not reciting other justifications) to be “liberating” Iraqis, and more to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths deemed to have occurred as a result of the invasion, and the relative media and public indifference to those deaths).

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1 Response

  1. Frank says:

    I initially thought that the Kazakh government would sue for group defamation! (see, e.g.,

    But I guess that’s a disfavored cause of action. And as you point out, the real humor in the movie is to point out how willing the West is to either a) assume such a relativist concept of multiculturalism that even someone like Borat is accepted as “just being different” or b) go along with his intolerance….the real humor lies in how easily these two poles go together!