Thursday, November 23, 2006

All That Buzz Over A 'Jackass' In The U.S.

Why are people going ga-ga over a British actor who cons Americans into believing that he is a Kazakhstan journalist trying to learn about their country? A Special Report from Bloomington, Indiana, USA...
The Jackass In The US
Every once in a while, a refreshingly unconventional movie comes along and surprises the world with its ‘originality’ and audacity. Years ago, we had “The Blair Witch Project” and then “Fahrenheit 9/11” which caused upheavals at the U.S. box-office. This time around, a movie by a British-born actor is even giving Mr Double-O-Seven a run for the money at the box-office!

Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” was still strong at No 3 of the US weekend (Nov 17) chart on its second week, despite competition from newcomers “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale”. In just two weeks, it has grossed about US$90 million (RM680 million) and is still packing ‘em in at the cinemas. Its success has prompted law suits from unsuspecting ‘players’ in its cast, plus a Turkish journalist claiming that the producers had stolen his idea from the Internet.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (its full title) is a mock documentary about a Kazakhstan TV journalist going to New York to film a documentary about the great nation of America. The protag, Borat Sagdiyeh (Cohen), gets sidetracked when he sees the buxom Pamela Anderson on TV in his hotel room and, together with his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian), sets out for Los Angeles so that Borat can ‘bag’ his newfound love, Pamela, as his bride. On the way, Borat meets and interviews unsuspecting Americans for their views subjects like Jews, gypsies, guns and homosexuals.

Yes, many of his ‘victims’ are conned into saying ‘politically incorrect’ stuff, and along the way, they reveal how ignorant Americans are about foreigners in the underdeveloped world. A car salesman, for example, is asked what car is best used to run down gypsies, and a gun store clerk is asked which gun is appropriate for hunting Jews. Cohen portrays Borat as a sort of cultural jackass, defecating in front of the Trump Tower and masturbating outside a Victoria’s Secret store. In a sequence where he learns high society manners, Borat presents his hostess with a bag of his poop after a visit to the rest-room!

Indeed, these sequences can be hilarious if you can accept that a TV personality from ‘Kazakhstan’ can be so dumb as to think that Pamela is a virgin, washes his face in the toilet bowl and carries a squawking chicken in his luggage bag. Or so brazen as to brawl and wrestle with his producer stark naked in a convention hall of a posh hotel.

Still the fact remains that “Borat” is a big sensation at the U.S. box-office (and is so ‘notoriously insensitive’ that it is banned in Malaysia). Now, why are Americans going ga-ga over “Borat”? Can’t they see that the movie is poking fun at their own ignorance and vulnerability, seemingly buying the line that gays in Kazakhstan wear blue hats and its women live in cages?

I believe that Americans find “Borat” funny because it offers them relief from life in a Politically Correct nation where they are supposed to show sensitivity and compassion for ‘The Others’. Indeed, there are still a lot of pent-up racist feelings in the U.S. of A and “Borat” offers them a chance to laugh at the ‘idiosyncrasies’ they have had to put up with. Other proofs of such a claim is the Oscar-winning “Crash” which dealt with racialism in the US, and the popularity of cable TV shows like “Mind Of Mencia” and the Dave Chapelle show. Cohen has been stirring up such emotions with his hip Ali-G talk-show alter ego over the years and here, he is pulling out all the stops. Hollywood comedies have been known to ‘glorify’ stupidity and with “Borat” Cohen even goes where none has dared to tread before.

But why ‘Kazakhstan’? Cohen is reported to have said: “The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe (where people drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old) can exist…” Whatever, but it comes as no surprise that the Kazakhstan authorities are trying to sue, as do a group of villagers in Romania who 'stood in' as Borat's neighbours in Kazakhstan.

Whether Cohen can get away with it is anybody’s guess, and in case you are wondering, Pamela Anderson will not be filing charges. She is in on the joke.


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