America, the Kazakhstani way

Like the title says, there are many lessons in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – but not the ones you might think. Sure, one learns firsthand how crazy America and Americans are – often direct from their own mouths. But the most obvious lesson from the film? Comedy takes commitment.

Let me explain. For those who aren’t in the know, Borat is a “Kazakhstani” TV journalist making a documentary of American life. Of course, “Borat” is really Sacha Baron Cohen, the comic/actor behind Ali G. Cohen is also the premier method actor of comedy, immersing himself in the role and never once (on film, or in public) breaking character. And in Borat, he takes it to extremes that would have the Jackass boys begging for mercy – trust me. I won’t spoil the moment(s), but De Niro, Pacino and Jimmy Dean got nothing on commitment compared to Cohen.

While the Ali G./Borat TV show on HBO seemed spontaneous and “real” (meaning un-staged), one doesn’t quite know what to “believe” in the Borat film – and this works to its advantage. All the Americans he encounters on his cross-country journey seem so bizarre they must be real… I think. Likewise, Borat’s “Kazakhstan” village and its population seem equally true, but one never really knows. And like a good magician, Cohen/Borat never reveals all his tricks – leaving one to guess as to what is real and what isn’t.

Of course, all that doesn’t matter if you want to see a hilarious, cringe-worthy portrayal of America via a bumbling European village idiot. While Borat himself is responsible for many laughs, the most unsettling/funny/scary bits are drawn from the Americans themselves. Cohen/Borat is smart enough to let these unsuspecting self-righteous southerners take themselves down bizarre, racialist paths, with us along for the ride.

And in a movie filled with over-the-top moments, each consecutively more ridiculous, it is the restraint shown that paints the most realistic (and damning) portrait of America and it’s (well-intentioned) ills. For all it’s fun-poking, Borat remains honest despite its deception, sweet despite the cruelty he creates. Thanks to Borat, comedy has now joined reality – and neither will be the same again.

Rick Kang

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