Thursday, October 19, 2006

pushing the envelope

Sacha Baron Cohen, the guy who does Ali G and Borat, is selling out.

First, he has started to appear on talk shows to promote his show, when earlier he would refuse to be seen in public out of character. When this first started to happen, I thought, well, enough people are in on the joke now that it's okay. But I still feel he could have kept his integrity by staying out of the public eye.

Second, he is taking this whole Borat thing a bit too far. Basically his Borat act involves saying horrible things, racist and otherwise, while pretending to be a Kazakhi television reporter. When it started, it was a nuanced and deftly constructed act, in which he would use people's ignorance against them by pretending to be completely out of sync with civil society, and in doing so bring out their own lack of civility. Kazakhstan at the time was just a symbol, representing a place about which most Westerners are completely ignorant, to the point where they could expect anything from someone who was from such a place.

This involved him making fun of many races, but also of Kazakhstan itself. Needless to say, everyone got offended, but none moreso than the Kazakhs themselves, who started having to defend their own traditions and decrying what was being said about them. At this point, Cohen had two options: 1. to ignore the Kazakh response, and 2. to retatliate. Unfortunately, he chose the second. So instead of being a nuanced attack on people's ignorance, it became an all out schoolyard brawl with the Kazakh authorities.

The latest episode in the saga involves him parading outside the Kazakh embassy maintaing that despite what the Kazakh embassy might try to tell you, rape and ping pong ARE in fact the two favorite pastimes of Kazakhstan.

It is childish and mean. It is irresponsible, and it is unnecessary. Media is powerful, and he should know how badly his words can hurt the image of a country. If his idea is to manufacture high-brow comedy then he shouldn't assume everyone will get it. And if they don't he shouldn' lash out at them.

Needless to say, I still think he is a genius, and the new Borat movie will definitely be worth a watch. But the joke is starting to go sour now. Let's hope it doesn't start to stink anytime soon.

2 comments:

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