I have not seen Borat: Cultural Learnings of America etc. etc. but I know Sacha Cohen’s Borat shtick from Da Ali G. Show. I ‘ve always found Cohen’s comedic setups, whether as Borat, Ali G., or Bruno, to be quite funny and very discomforting, relying as they do on the audience knowing what those interacting with Cohen’s characters do not: they are being spoofed. The appeal of inside jokes is that they draw a line between Us (funny!) and Them (incredibly clueless!). The problem with inside jokes is that when you move outside the comfort of your safe social circle you become someone else’s incredibly-clueless Them. So I agree, sort of, with an Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times:
The genius of Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance is his sycophantic reverence for his audience, his refusal to challenge the sacred cows of the educated bourgeoisie. During the movie, Borat ridicules Pentecostals, gun owners, car dealers, hicks, humorless feminists, the Southern gentry, Southern frat boys, and rodeo cowboys. A safer list it is impossible to imagine.
Cohen understands that when you are telling socially insecure audiences they are superior to their fellow citizens there is no need to be subtle. He also understands that any hint of actually questioning the cultural suppositions of his ticket-buyers — say by ridiculing the pretensions of somebody at a Starbucks or a Whole Foods Market — would fatally mar the self-congratulatory aura of the enterprise.(1)
As educated bourgeoisie who regularly patronizes Starbucks and Whole Foods, I have four things to say:
- I agree that skewering Cohen’s targets is like shooting fish in a barrel,
- My friends would pay full fare to watch Borat interact with customers and “sales associates” in our local Starbucks and Whole Foods Market; and
- Borat didn’t earn $67.1 million in ten days from the mocha half-caf skim latte and lo-fat raspberry granola crowd alone.
(1) David Brooks, The Heyday of Snobbery, The New York Times, 16-Nov-06