Borat Offensive

British Comedian Sascha Baron-Cohen Challenges Political Correctness - at Last!

Opinion | Paul Krauskopf | November 2006

Ali G, Brüno and Borat are the three main characters of the England-bred comedy show that has catapulted the host and impersonator, Sacha Baron-Cohen, into Hollywood heaven. Although he would surely not define it as such.

The Ali G Show began on Channel 4 in the UK, devised as a comedic satire that used the persona Ali G, "self proclaimed voice of the da youth," as host and interviewer of prestigious characters in British society, whilst homosexual Austrian fashion reporter "Brüno" and Kazakhstan political Correspondent "Borat" filled the remaining show with outside interviews and other taped contributions.

The show’s popularity skyrocketed due to the blunt and impudent manner with delicate political issues, human rights, sexuality and cultural differences. In short, The Ali G Show excelled in being politically incorrect and in polarising the public.

On its release, the first movie, Ali G in Da House shot to the top of the UK box office rankings. Although based in England, continental Europeans identified with the mix of British comedy and the critical eye on immigration united by the outstanding performances of character actor and comedian that Cohen is.

"Borat" a doltish Kazak reporter who repeatedly confuses and irritates his interview partners – first by inflicting (fictional) Kazak rituals or making sexually or politically inappropriate remarks about their person or culture. He likes to kiss men on their cheeks or even lips and shares anecdotes with women guests on how horses have the right to vote in his country, but women don’t.

Devised originally as a side kick for the show, the character "Borat" has grown in popularity and mass appeal from the controversy he created and the attention he has gained from officials in both the U.S. and Kazakhstan.

Among other things, Borat is bluntly anti-Semitic and doesn’t shrink from publicly suggesting killing Jews or conducting acts of incest with his (again fictional) 11-year-old, mentally-retarded brother, who, by-the way, has two children of his own.

The Kazak government is furious:

"We view Mr. Cohen’s behavior… as utterly unacceptable," they said in a statement, "being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners, which is completely incompatible with the ethics and civilized behavior of Kazakhstan’s people." The government says it reserves "the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind."

But Cohen has the ingredients for going Hollywood. His first effort,  Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan premiered Nov. 3 and promises to be ground-breaking.

This type of unfiltered Eurasian stereotyping is simply a novelty to movie genres, an alienated Kazak who not only stereotypes, but downgrades the cultural heritage of an entire nation. The reason he gets away with it is because he has picked on a nation that neither Hollywood nor the western movie-going public care or know anything about.

Unfortunately for Kazakhstan, it’s a no win situation: A reputation is a fragile thing, lost if one doesn’t speak up in defense, and lost too if one does. For then it will always come across as the country that protests too much. Borat, however, can only win.

Other articles from this issue

  • Reuters Gets a ‘Second Life’

    A Virtual “Do Everything” Community is Becoming More and More Attractive to Businesses
    Paul Krauskopf
  • Climbing the Kahlenberg

    It’s Easy to Imagine all Those Men and Horses Charging, Banners Flying, Swords Against Scimitars in the Thunder of Battle… All Right Here
    On The Town | Jessica Spiegel
  • America? Never!

    Young Liberals From the Middle East May Be a Generation Lost to the U.S.
    Opinion | Laura Atkins
  • Border Patrols

    Stricter EU Visa Procedures Fall Especially Hard on Eastern European Immigrants
    Opinion | Lavdim Ismaili, Izvor Moralic
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review November 2006