Borat is often hailed, by conservatives and liberals alike, as a muckraker. In his new movie he comes to America, posing as a Kazakh journalist and making misogynist and anti-Semitic comments in front of unsuspecting bystanders. Sometimes, they simply agree with him.
There’s the gun store clerk who answers the question of how to “defend against a Jew” with a few caliber suggestions. And the rodeo official who says America should take a Third World approach to homosexuality.
Then there’s Borat’s most notorious skit, not in his new movie but in a skit for Da Ali G Show, where some bar-dwelling Arizonians sing along to a “Kazakh” country song. The chorus: “Throw the Jew down the well / So my country can be free / You must grab him by his horns / Then we have a big party.”
There are rumors that editors took out several verses — verses that made it clear the song was a comedy routine. Listen closely, and the clapping (which starts at the very point the song turns racist) seems to fade in, not start spontaneously. But even if this is true the folks did sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” and one even acted out “grab him by his horns.”
So all this is well and good. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out any culture’s problems. But Borat is unwilling to seek out anti-Semitism wherever it lies, instead keeping his backwardness, and especially his thoughts on Jews, to rural areas.
Borat’s latest legal struggles underscore this point. Some residents of the Romanian village Glod, used in the film to represent Borat’s Kazakhstan hometown, are reportedly trying to sue him for portraying them in a negative light. According to the Daily Mail, they say “they believed [the movie] would be a documentary about their hardship, rather than a comedy mocking their poverty and isolation.” Instead, they come across as a “group of rapists, abortionists and prostitutes, who happily engage in casual incest.”
This disdain for rural areas pervades the comic’s work, and it’s complemented with a refusal to unearth urban issues. Take a look at the few scenes from Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan where Borat is in New York. He does bring to life the well known stereotype that working-class New Yorkers aren’t exactly cheery people — he kisses a few on both cheeks and watches them rupture blood vessels.
But for some reason the “Kazakh journalist’s” anti-Semitism seems restrained in these scenes. He evidently doesn’t want to know what these people think of Jews.
Then Borat heads to a black neighborhood in Atlanta to chat with a group of guys playing dice. They share a few fashion tips, but again Borat doesn’t bring up the whole Jewish thing.
This is more egregious, as one can at least make the case that rural whites are in fact more anti-Semitic than working class New Yorkers. The data is hard enough to come by. But one cannot argue that city blacks aren’t worth the effort of a reaction-seeking “I hate Jews” tirade; the Anti-Defamation League has for years documented how blacks (and Hispanics) hold worse opinions of Jews than whites do.
By the ADL’s metrics, 35 percent of blacks hold “strongly anti-Semitic” beliefs, compared to 17 percent of all Americans. And the anecdotal evidence abounds, from Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” slip-up to Al Sharpton’s comment about “diamond merchants.”
But rather than exposing inner city black anti-Semitism — a valid and constructive task — Borat is content to sag his pants below his underwear line and show up to a polite dinner with a black prostitute.
There are plenty of good things to say about Borat. Not unimportantly, he’s hilarious. He’s also politically incorrect, and his work does have a limited value as sociological study. But there’s no mistaking it: The comic’s schtick is a targeted attack on rural people across the world, and he’s willing to whitewash urban problems to that end.