Getting better at Borat

Borat_2 Ok, I think I’m starting to understand the notable Kazakhstani anthropologist, Borat. (See my first go, Friday.)

The stereotyping of Kazakhstan in the movie Borat is shameless and knuckleheaded, but it does help to establish Borat’s bona fides as a child of innocence (COI). 

And Borat has to be a creature from another, utterly other culture to make key scenes in the movie work…as when he asks politely (in a deleted scene from Borat) the best way to prepare his newly adopted puppie for eating. 

And it is essential that he make this work because it reveals that the pound owner who defends the puppie in question has no scruples about committing herself to the most outrageous anti-semitism.

The Borat character is good at anthropology, and his ethnographic excursion works as a kind of "edge finding" to use the language of trend watchers and futurists. 

On the Conan O’Brien show, he investigated the categories and rules that govern what people may say about desire, especially in the highly codified circumstances of the talk show. 

The interview is just settling down, when Borat comments on Queen Latifah, and says with great sincerity.

"I would like to make a romance inside of her."

O’Brian shakes his head in astonishment, and it is clear that he is thinking exactly what the rest of us are thinking.  This is a patent obscenity, except…well, perhaps, the charming and old fashioned "romance" saves it. 

Does it.  Or doesn’t it?  Where’s the edge?  What’s the rule?  Everyone is now desparately trying to "run the numbers" to find the reading that would make it OK and more or less COI.  Which of course we can’t.  Ok.

Finally, O’Brien asks, "you want to make a romance inside of her?"

Borat replies with great feeling and sincerity, and a resignation that says "I know I am asking for the stars, and that I do not deserve such a thing."

"I hope." 

This sells the joke and the COI notion to perfection.  This guy has no clue how far off acceptable behavior he has put himself.

But the boundary testing is not done.  Second laters, with pitch perfect wonder and good natured indignation, Borat asks Conan.

"You tell me, you would not like to make a liquid explosion in Queen Latifah?"

This is over the top.  Conan is horrified.  The audience recoils.  Ok, we can draw the line right here.  Not even good natured innocence will forgive this.  Not in our culture.  Not on a talk show. 

We suspect that this is where Borat likes to end up, well outside the boundaries of acceptable culture.  But we also suspect that he likes to get there by stages and not before he has confounded our distinctions. 

This guy reminds me of Peter Sellers, but the two comedians could not be more different. Sellers liked to get inside his comedic creations (see his perfectly distinct characters in Dr. Strangelove).  Cohen likes to set up shop between them. 


Cohen, Sasha Baron.  Pound (Deleted Scene from Borat). YouTube. here.

Cohen, Sasha Baron.  Borat on Conan O’Brien. YouTube. here.

Cohen, Sasha Baron.  Borat [opening four minutes] YouTube.  [featured on sidebar of YouTube homepage]. here

5 thoughts on “Getting better at Borat

  1. Tom Guarriello

    Like Neil Sedaka said, “Catching up is hard to do.” Reading your posts in chronological order, I called Borat “The Fool” in my previous comment which here you call him a Child of Innocence. An important distinction, to be sure. One acutely aware of his barbs, the other blithely unaware. If not Borat, then Baron Cohen, himself qualifies as a Fool. Don’t you think?

  2. jens

    an interesting thing about borat is that the character works much better doing his interviews in the states than in england.

    why is that?
    because borat is the usa. his cultural isolation is americas cultural isolation.
    the show has its comic potential in the existence of strict cultural borders. borders that have to be provided by the setting. borders that are made visible through his interaction.

    with every line borat speaks i can almost feel the presence of an american immigrations officer standing around somewhere.

    borat is the twisted reflection of america. almost like the exact negative print.

    next time i want my immigrations officer to greet me with ‘welcome to kazakhstan’ i think.

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  4. Michael NYCA

    Setting the Borat issue straight on Behalf of Kazakhstan
    Like millions of Americans I have seen the Borat movie but unlike many I have been to Kazakhstan — also spelled Kazakstan — and I want to set the record straight. Kazakhstan is a wonderful country with customs that are both foreign and familiar to ours. In fact, there are many things I would take back to America. Borat (Sasha Cohen) has made this country look like it is populated with nothing but slovenly, unwashed, immoral, uneducated people – this is almost completely false in my experience. No, they don’t have an Ivy League educational system but these people for the most part are good-hearted and, if not well-read by our American standards, they do love storytelling. They ritually gather at village centers – usually this is where bartering and exchanges are conducted for food and services – and they share their knowledge by applying the oral tradition (please let’s not lower ourselves to the Boratian ‘oral’ jokes here). Yes, their technology is not at the state where ours is yet so they compensate with conversation, face to face. I’d actually like to see more of this in our world versus the faceless interchange of the internet. We might be a happier people. This helps their families stay close – and, again to refute Borat’s incest insinuations, this is not a national sport and I saw very little there to give one pause to consider it is more than a rare occurrence which is indeed not looked well upon even in the most rural stretches. These are a happy people with great values. No, Borat, they do not make their 8 year old children work by force. And women can vote in all elections. Legal age to wed is up to the families themselves. They are not a race of anti-Semites – they have a small Jewish population of over 170 who are situated by their own free will to live in a ghetto. But this is common: America and the world are replete with communities where people of similar backgrounds and mindsets gather and create neighborhoods – we have all been to Chinatown, Little Italy, Germantown. The food in Kazakhstan is some of the best tasting I have ever had in all my travels; always fresh. You cannot believe what they do with their vegetables and their goats (although Borat only highlights the sexual engagements – another exaggeration at their expense. I never saw anything like what the comedian speaks of. But let us not be so self righteous to forget about our own iconic cowboys who have gotten lonely on the trail — and the stories about them and cattle – rumors as well, I’m sure.) The people of Kazakhstan are indeed passionate and excellent dancers – Borat showed us that and the men do generally dance with great fanfare with each other as he indicated but again this is not unlike many countries. Most of all, I would take home to America the laughter and kindness of these simple people – they tell jokes all day on all subjects especially special family events. If your daughter is married in Kazakhstan, she is not sold for a VCR with a remote control like Borat says – and, remember, in America many brides’ parents still offer dowries or at least pay for the wedding so we are not really so different. The bride, as is the custom of Kazakhstan, is always asked to work for both families – this brings everyone closer. During the days she might, for example, work at the dairy or farm and nights she might sew or cook or clean and it is not uncommon for the young bride to have a say in the family financials. One fact to consider is that women in Kazakhstan do not live as long as men. This is the opposite of the statistics in the United States. So I wouldn’t want to live there with my present wife and daughter. Other than that, Kazakhstan is a place we can learn from. In closing, please realize the difference between a false documentary or propaganda and pure fiction. While the Borat film is funny, it is not real in many ways – although the men, as he showed in his movie too graphically for many tastes, do not consider nudity offensive. They swim without bathing suits and walk after their swim back into town often with nothing but towels around their necks. Their innocence is something to be admired — and if not, one can simply shield one’s eyes. There are a great many people in Kazakhstan who are offended by the publicity and news stories about Borat’s film though they will not see it due to the fact there are not many movie theatres there.

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