“Borat” – Somebody Else Finally Gets It


As I pointed out during the insane “Borat” frenzy of a year ago, Sacha Baron-Cohen`s character is basically one giant old-fashioned Polish Joke, with a few updatings for the age of political correctness. For example, to make Eastern Europeans look primitive and backward, they filmed Borat`s home village in a dilapidated, feckless Romanian Gypsy village. But, the movie then makes the point that one of the many faults of Eastern European gentiles is that they are prejudiced against … Gypsies! Yet, almost nobody noticed that “Borat” was based on old Yiddish anti-Polish jokes.

So, I was glad to find a review on IMDB by a scholar who did her Ph.D. dissertation on Polish-Jewish relations (probably not a prudent choice, considering that the world`s most famous living author can`t get his two-volume history of Russian-Jewish relations published in New York) who noticed the same thing. Danusha V. Goska writes:

There`s more going on here, and I know I`m risking a lot by pointing this out.

Borat speaks Polish. Only speakers of Polish will get that. He says “Dzien Dobry,” “jak sie masz,” “dziekuje” and other Polish phrases. The film`s opening and closing scenes were shot in a real Eastern European village. Real Eastern European folk music is played on the soundtrack.

With “Ali G,” Baron Cohen exploited vicious stereotypes of Blacks. With “Borat” Baron Cohen is not targeting Kazaks. He`s exploiting a centuries-old, contemptuous and hateful stereotype of Eastern European peasants that can be found in various Western cultures – witness the American “Polak joke” – – and is common in one thread of Jewish culture. In this stereotype, Poles, and, by extension, Eastern European Christian peasants, are, like Borat, ignorant, bestial, and disgusting. A good pr?©cis of the stereotype can be found in a famous passage in Isaac Bashevis Singer`s The Slave. It can be found in the “Golem” article on my website.

In fact, “Borat” has a lot in common with Marian Marzynski`s controversial film “Shtetl.” In both, cameras invade an impoverished Eastern European peasant village. Villagers who are not sophisticated or worldly are conned into appearing on camera to perform for us as if they were trained monkeys. We laugh at them, or feel disgust at them, because they are dirty, because they are poor, and because they keep pigs. In any case, gazing at these lesser peasants, we know that we are superior. Perhaps Baron Cohen will try this technique next in a Darfur refugee camp or a homeless shelter. Poor, unsophisticated people can be so amusing.

Baron Cohen speaks of women as if they were less than dirt. Don`t misunderstand him. He`s not mocking misogyny. He`s milking misogyny. The things Baron Cohen says about women in this movie are grotesque; they are brutal. He makes fun of mentally retarded people. He makes fun of white, Christian Southerners, a group everyone feels safe mocking.

Reviews, and no doubt many viewers, are telling you that “Borat” is a fearless laugh riot that punctures political correctness and makes you laugh till you cry. It`s that very description that made me want to see it. I thought I`d be getting something like the Colbert Report.

I`ve gotta think I`m not the only one, though, who found looking at Baron Cohen`s hatred for an hour and a half to be an icky, profoundly unfunny experience.