Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will Borat's War on Stupidity Get Him Killed?

Of all the movies coming out this Fall, the one I'm most excited about is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Judging by its raucous reception at the Toronto Film Festival, I'm betting that this movie will be absolutely hilarious. How can it not be? It's Borat.

This excitement notwithstanding, I'm also nervous about the role the film will play in fanning the flames of the PR conflict between the West and Fundamentalist Islam. Sasha Baren Cohen, the actor who plays Borat, argues that his character is designed to show that Western ignorance and silent appeasement drives racism as much or more than outspoken bigots. However, to make his point, Cohen creates a farcial, uber-stereotyped character that makes the Arab Borat look just as bad as anyone else. It's sometimes hard to distinguish who is more of a victim in the satire: the seemingly backward Arab or the Western ignoramuses that don't know what to make of him.

Now, Borat does not explicitly mock Islam. Instead, he stereotypes certain aspects of Arab culture. To many folks, however, this distinction is minute enough not to matter. If that's the case, and Borat comes across as a Muslim basher, then watch out. The results could be harsh. Consider the following:

* Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh made a film criticizing domestic brutality and treatment of women within the Muslim community. A young Muslim fanatic murdered Van Gogh after the film was released.

* The government of Kazakhstan, the home-country of the fictional Borat, has lobbied hard to prevent the film from being released.

* Muslims across Europe and the Middle East rioted violently after a Dutch paper published cartoons that satirized aspects of Islamic prophets and followers.

* The pope provoked violent responses across the Middle East after he quoted an obscure Christian text that disparaged Islam. According to the Washington Post, in response to the pope, "Muslims threw firebombs and sprayed bullets at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza. [Some] torched a 170-year-old church in the West Bank town of Tul Karem and partly burned a smaller church in the village of Tubas. In Somalia, an Italian nun and her bodyguard were fatally shot, but it was not immediately clear whether that attack was related to the pope's speech."

* Indonesian film-makers and musicians constantly push and frequently lose the battle to liberalize the sharia-dominated, fundamentalist-controlled media in their country.


Blogger themexicantoothbrush said...

First off, Kazakh's are not Arabs. More Persian if anything, only things in common is Muslim majority in the country and shared (near universal) anti-Semitism. Also, there is a good reason the government is so pissed regarding the stereotypes being created by this movie. Look at what their country has done since breaking from the Soviet Union and it is quite remarkable. From a former nuclear waste disposal site to a vibrant, growing, democratic society in the neighborhood of Iran and Afghanistan. They are a role model for how to responsibly use oil wealth to benefit society for years to come. See the alternative in Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, ect...... pretty much every other country with oil besides Canada, but who wants to follow Canada's lead on anything. Biggest vagina country in the world, but I digress.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Bob Wiley said...

I was feeling kinda bad about my misread of Kazakhstan until I read your synopsis of Canada.

1:45 PM  

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