Borat – Parody or Prejudice?

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Gay campaigner Peter Tatchell asks if controversial film Borat Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, is parodying prejudice or pandering to it?

The comedy revolves around the US adventures of Kazakh documentary-maker, Borat. It has been accused of being racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and misogynist.

This is a seriously funny film – one of the best and most original comedies for a long time – providing you understand parody and satire,” said Mr Tatchell.

I laughed a lot, but sometimes nervously. Many of the gags sailed very close to extremely bad taste. Borat treads a fine line between ridiculing prejudice and reinforcing it.

Borat is often doing a parody of prejudice which, because it is so over-the-top, arguably ridicules, undermines and discredits bigotry. However, I worry that certain underclass types might take Borat seriously. They could see him as reinforcing and validating their

lumpen mentality.

Taken at face value, the film seems very offensive to women and minorities. But the sub-text is quite complex, ambiguous and often subversive.

Many of the victims of his scurrilous send-ups are small-town Middle Americans. Borat gives them the rope to hang themselves. He’s baiting them. They express real ignorance and prejudice, whereas Borat is only acting.

The scenes at the evangelical church show the mass hysteria of the Christian right; revealing a protestant fundamentalism that is truly scary.

He elicits from the frat boys in the camper van a wicked banter of bare-faced racism that they would not normally dare express. Borat has done a public service by showing that there are sections of US society who have not truly accepted their black brothers and sisters.

The scenes at the rodeo are a sensational poke-in-the-eye for gung-ho US patriotism and a hilarious satire of the war on terror.

In the past, it is true that some of Sacha’s Ali G sketches had more than a whiff of homophobia, but I don’t find Borat anti-gay. If anything, his attempts to greet American men with a French-style kiss on the cheek often provoke negative reactions that expose homophobia.

The Running of the Jews sketch made me feel uncomfortable. I know it was parody but it pandered to anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Sacha’s satire obviously has its limits. He self-censors. Although he regards Christians and Jews as fair game, he never gives Muslims the same doing over. I am not suggesting that Muslims should be lampooned; only that Sacha is rather selective in his comedic targets.

I appreciate that some Kazakh people are worried about the impression the movie gives of Kazakhstan to the outside world. They are understandably anxious about being stereotyped. However, given that everyone knows this film is a comedy, not a documentary, I don’t think it is likely to lead viewers to think that Kazakhstan is really the way Borat portrays it.

This is not a film to get outraged about. Even if some people find it

offensive, it is not offensive big-time.

Borat Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is out now.