Thursday, November 16, 2006

Exposing Anti-Semitism... Nice. I Like

I have not yet seen the Borat movie, and still don't know if I will (I feel like I've seen half of it in clips, anyway), but a note on Sasha Baron Cohen, the brainchild behind "Borat" and "Ali G". People complain that some of his stuff is anti-Semitic (say, "Throw the Jew Down the Well!"), that it incites people against Jews, etc.

I (and I'm sure I'm not alone) have always thought these people completely miss the point, and not only because he's so obviously Jewish, or because his Khazakstanian is really Hebrew with a bad accent. His point, as a surprise comedian, is to get people to express their hidden feelings and biases when they think that the person they're talking to agrees with them fully. The problem is not that "Borat" is singing that we should kill all the Jews to free "his country", the problem is that a bar full of people join in gustily and sing right on along with him. The problem isn't that he says he wants to go "Jew-hunting", the problem is that the guy he asks about it says he wouldn't mind, but the government would.

Sick of some of the stupid criticisms he's received, Cohen spoke out today and said basically the same thing. It's a good piece, check it out. Meanwhile, here's an excerpt: (He keeps kosher! Who knew?!)
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the 35-year-old British writer-actor defends his controversial film, saying, "I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it's hatred of African-Americans or of Jews."

"Borat essentially works as a tool," says Baron Cohen. "By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism."

In fact, Baron Cohen, a devout Jew who keeps kosher, says his parents "love" the Jewish humor in Borat. And his 91-year-old maternal grandmother even went to a midnight screening in Israel, then called him at 4 a.m. to compliment her grandson and to discuss the movie.

So what led the Cambridge-educated funnyman to mine this particular brand of humor? Baron Cohen says studying a major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw, whose quote, "The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference" got him thinking.

"I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic."


  1. Good point. Never thought of it that way.

  2. Steve Sailor made an interesting point -- that while it's true Borat's antisemitism, homophobia, and misogyny are played as satire and to get people to agree with him, his whole character is a traditional (Jewish, he says) slur on Eastern European villagers. (He points out that the village is really in Romania, as are the old stereotypes he uses.)

    I'm not sure if he's right or not, but it's an interesting point.

  3. Haven't seen the movie yet either, but I've read several review that support what you've written here. I'm surprised, though, that I haven't seen more comparisons to "All In The Family", which seems like an obvious analogy. A generation ago, the exact same controversy raged about that groundbreaking show. Both creator Normal Lear and star Carroll O'Connor were died-in-the wool liberals (in the old-fashioned, positive sense :-)) who did the show in order to mock bigotry. Yet many critics complained that the bigots in the audience were laughing with Archie, not at him. Seems like the the same issue again.

  4. Disagree. Period.

    Any exposure of anti-semitism is bad.

    The End

  5. Elie - True. OTOH, that show did a lot to helping quash bigotry, which is why...

    Moshe - I completely disagree. Trying to pretend it doesn't exist, (and I know that's not what you said) or trying to keep exposure to a minimum do not help get rid of it. It should *always* be exposed, and it should then be completely ridiculed - from the people who say it to those who hesitate to condemn it.

  6. Interesting anecdote...we saw the movie last week, and before it started, a lady sitting behind us noticed mu husband's kippah and said to her daughter, "Jews shouldn't be seeing this because they'll be insulted. I hope they realize it's just comedy." That's the thing,it's not "just comedy." This woman pretty much made Sascha Baron Cohen's point...the fact that people laugh at Borat's anti-semitic antics and view it as "comedy" shows that anti-semitism is rampant in America, as people laugh at negative portrayals of Jews. As far as what the woman said, we were knew exactly what to expect, and it came as no shock to us when the crowd burst into laughter during the "Running of the Jew." We laughed too, obviously not at his portrayal of Jews, but with SBC as we saw the point of his mockery. The movie itself was quite funny and kinda vulgar, and there's no need to spend your money if you've seen most of the clips on YouTube.