Since I saw Sacha Baron Cohen's one-man picaresque last night, I cannot stop saying, "My name a Borat," with that intonation the comedian has. If you haven't seen the movie but are interested in language, I almost recommend the flick just to absorb Mr. Cohen's voice modulations.
Yet there are other reasons to pay (New York's) $11 and watch the film now. You don't go to the theater because this show *demands* a big screen. No. You go because you want to be talking about this when everyone else is. And Borat is worth talking about.
For those who have been under a rock, the nominal plot is this: Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen's character, is a Kazakh journalist who travels to America to learn from the country; but, when he sees Pamela Anderson on TV, he ditches his assignment and travels by ice cream truck to Malibu to woo her. Along the way, Cohen exposes feminists, southerners, racists, anti-Semites, rodeo cowboys, and Pentecostals to their own follies.
Did I say "expose"? I meant, "ripped from their hearts until the blood gushed out." Cohen is relentless. True, his targets are soft--who doesn't think southern frat boys are a menace--but the results are no less excruciating. Borat meets the frat boys when he is hitch-hiking and they pick him up in their Winnebago. Already in a miasmic state of drunkenness, one of the boys immediately asks the foreigner how the "bitches" are in Kazakhstan, and if Borat has his way with them (he uses grosser language) and then never calls them. The frat boy is horrible, but Borat's response is, "And why you not call--because the women don't have telephones, right?" To which the frat guy insists, "Nah! Because you don't respect them." Cohen is miraculous at not only getting suckers to dig themselves into a hole, but then, at his suggestion they haven't dug deep enough, to get them to dig in the mud for ten more feet.
One of the other boys in this scene complains how "minorities" in the U.S. have "all the power, especially the Jews." It chills me to hear this, because it's essentially what all Jews secretly fear; that when we're not around (or when we are, or when people don't *think* we're around), our fellow Americans excoriate us.
Cohen portrays Borat as a vicious anti-Semite who thinks Jews have horns, shape-shift, and, when he ends up at a Bed and Breakfast run by an old Jewish couple, that Jews are out to poison him. Cohen makes Borat adopt this role so that he may expose the vicious anti-Semitism apparently lurking beneath every genteel American face. Cohen occupies himself with this task presumably because he his Jewish, and in fact grew up Orthodox in an England where, I'm sure, especially in the upper echelons--Cambridge, and the like--of which Mr. Cohen was a part, long-standing anti-Semitism was quite out in the open.
Cohen is angry. He is hostile. He is a terrible bully. Terrible. The kind I would not want to run into in a schoolyard. And yet, his aggressiveness is precisely what makes him so remarkable. In American culture, there are certain stereotypes about Jews: we are bookish, we are effeminate, we read, we ingratiate ourselves in order to assimilate as well as possible. If members of another minority group do something reprehensible--certain Columbia professors' inhibiting of pro-Israeli opinions from entering their classroom, for example--Jews are sometimes the last to respond, as the fear is this: next time it will be us. At least among my immigrant ancestors, there was a sense, "don't rock the boat."
Sacha Baron Cohen sinks the Titanic. He is in-your-face, he is mean and cruel and sadistic. He is loud and obtrusive. Even physically he has attributes we don't associate with Jews: he is incredibly tall and imposing. Bookish--NOT! Just as Borat exposes the folly of stereotypes, the very person of Sacha Cohen is a subversion.
I did not stop laughing for the first 45 minutes of the movie. As the story got more serious, I stopped holding my side, and in the climax when Borat tries to kidnap Pam Anderson at a book-signing she gives in a California Virgin megastore, I felt incredibly badly for the Baywatch star, who seemed tragically shocked. Despite this and a few other gaffes, I laud Mr. Cohen's pranks.