Now 24 hours past seeing Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on opening day, I'm sure that I'm going to write a glowing review of this movie. It is an outstanding and fascinating piece of art which is very funny, and works really well on several levels. Oh, it's gonna be a heck of a review.
But this isn't going to be it. Here, I want to zero in on just one specific aspect: How the unwitting Americans came out. What I saw on the screen doesn't seem to quite jibe with what I'm reading in many stories about it. I keep reading that Cohen made fools of the Americans, setting them up to expose their dark sides, their racism and homophobia, etc. For example, Entertainment Weekly says "the people Borat talks to become the symbolic heart of America - a place where intolerance is worn, increasingly, with pride." But that's mostly not what actually showed up on the screen, by my best instant analysis.
That does seem to be what the Jewish Sacha Baron Cohen cleverly intended when he went undercover as Borat. The whole design of the Cohen approach is to throw extreme social curveballs engineered to offer his dupes every opportunity to make bigoted Neanderthal level comments, encouraging such things with his own cheerful expressions of extreme bigotry. It would appear that Cohen intended to slice and dice cheap American patriotism and deep-seated bigotry, or some such.
But in the actual practice, the Americans he tricked into being in his film mostly acquitted themselves very well. None of these Americans seemed malicious or vicious, or even hateful. They were all pretty nice, and very open hearted.
Probably the Americans I would judge the worst in this film were the feminists. They had agreed to an interview, and didn't react very well when Borat insisted that Kazakhi scientists had proved that women have little brains like squirrels. The girls got a little indignant and huffed off mid-interview. This would be a misdemeanor offense at worst, but besides being humorless they were perhaps unnecessarily rude to a guest. That's about the worst treatment he got from anyone in the film.
The only overt hostility was mostly from the opening street scenes in New York, but was still measured and reasonable. Borat went down the street aggressively trying to give friendly kisses to random men. Look, if a fully adult man who you've never seen before shows up with a cameraman and tries to lay his lips on you, then he's asking to get bitch slapped. But in fact, about the worst Borat got was a suggestion or two that he should consider having sex with himself. That seems totally proportionate to the calculated and uninvited touching.