Monday, November 06, 2006

Borat: the modern cloak of prejudice

Some people are expressing reservations about Borat, a problem that has also been troubling me.  Let’s see, rich British Jewish comic makes fun of poor Muslims, based on the old racial stereotypes concerning cleanliness, dietary habits, sexual promiscuity, etc.  Is this still acceptable?  Would Americans find Borat so funny if he wore blackface and came out on a southern stage in front of a white audience eating watermelon and making jokes at the expense of the dispossessed residents of New Orleans?  He escapes the usual criticisms because:

  1. anti-Muslim bigotry is so much part of the fabric of the U. S. and Britain that it is simply not noticed as being offensive, any more than anti-black bigotry would have been noticed by an American audience in the 1920’s; and
  2. he uses the post-modern distancing technique of claiming that his humor is directed at the reaction of his redneck audience.  We thus simultaneously enjoy the anti-Muslim humor while feeling morally superior to the poor rednecks.

While giving Sascha Baron Cohen full marks for talent as a comedian (his ability to stay in character, without even the slightest self-referential smirk, is amazing), I don’t think we can let him get away with this.