Monday, November 20, 2006

Borat, more than meets the eye: Generally I enjoyed the film Borat. I was glad it was not longer than it was. Once one dramatizes humor about cultural differences one, I think, can take it only so far. At the end I kept saying alright already I get it! Having said that, however, I think the film has something poignant to say which belies the prevailing humor of its content.

Some in the Jewish community, I have read, have refused to see the film because of its explicit and continuous anti-Semitism. Admittedly, some was hard to take. I am Jewish. I am extraordinarily sensitive to the history of anti-Semitism and the Jewish historical plight. It is because of that, I think, those who were offended by that element of the film miss the point of what the film was about. I think Sasha Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, was making a serious contention about cultural relativism. It doesn’t matter where one comes from, hatred and ignorance is what it is no matter how you dress it up … or down.

In part, I believe he was taking aim, too, at those in America who pride themselves as being an advanced western culture. Some in America have things in common with those in a seemingly backward country such as Kazakhstan. However stupid you may think those people are, there are those from an advanced society who will have many of the same attributes.

Eastern Europe, Russia and the west have had virulently anti-Semitic histories. Anti-Semitism, has existed, too, in countries which have not had a long history of it. Anti-Semitism and racism, in general, know no cultural boundaries. It merely takes on a different face. The Jew as “the other” has faced demonization nearly everywhere. Ancient canards about the Jew as the devil still incredibly prevail where people have not even met a Jew and where no Jews or few exist. A documentary film called “The Longest Hatred” about the long history of anti-Semitism once said “you do not need Jews to have anti-Semitism.”

Three positive characters exist in the film. Two were orthodox Jews and one was a black prostitute. This was not accidental. Sasha Cohen tried, I think, to say something to defend those whom the majority still often think – for the most irrational reasons –are the indefensible. People are still just people after all and one can find humanity in people and in places where you think none would exist.

If others who are not Jewish take away from that movie the idea that Borat and the characters he meets are right about their world view, then there is little hope for those of us in this world who would like to extricate ourselves from the sewer of its stupidity and ignorance.

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