Last night, my wife and I watched for the second time Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006). I didn’t want to watch it the first time around because I was fed up with Da Ali G Show; I had mixed reaction when I finally watched it; but now I think I am ready to identify what exactly this movie means to me. I’ve just realized how uncompromisingly anti-American the movie is. Maybe it became obvious to others right away, but I’ve been confused by the ostensibly humorous genre of the movie. Tantalizing and disconcerting, it kept me distracted from the main theme: the American jingoism of the rodeo arena, the bulletproof arrogance of the mortgage brokers, the racism and sexism of the drunken frat boys, the morbid elitism of the “dinner ethics” couples, the religious fakery of Pentecostal preachers, porn magazines and DVDs, shallow and self-absorbed celebrities all constitute the picture of the U.S. possessed by every Muslim fundamentalist in the Middle East. Sacha Baron Cohen portaryed the U.S. as an evil country. He is a suicide comedian: imbued with the noble hatred for the U.S., he travels across the country wrapped up in scenarios intended to explode every bulwark of American sinfulness. Cohen comes from an observant Jewish family, he is a partisan of the Israeli cause, and he apparently hates America with a passion of a suicide bomber. His weapon is humor. He risks to be beaten up, apprehended or killed every time he irreverently breaks social conventions. His movie is a blockbuster in the U.S. No underground Muslim fundamentalist group has the resources to deliver its anti-American statement through such an all-American media as cinematography and earn an Oscar nomination. It feels illogical that a British comedian with an explicit Zionist agenda ventriloquizes a radical Muslim critique of the country that has unswervingly supported Israel in its quest for sovereignty amidst a sea of Arabs. Or maybe we should keep Zionism and radical Judaism distinct: pro-Americanism is a secular political crutch aimed at preserving Israel’s security in the region, while radical Judaism, drawing on the same Semitic source as radical Islam, is inherently oppositional to the American way of life? The separation of secular and religious power in Israel (in contrast to the subordination of the secular sphere to the religious authority in most Arabic countries) allows it to relate to the U.S. in two different ways – through political solidarity and through spiritual dismissal.
In this case, what’s Borat‘s genre? Mockumentary? An imitation of a documentary for the sake of achieving a comic effect? More likely, it’s a “maskumentary,” namely a documentary conveying, releasing and perpetuating a deep ethnic, cultural, religious tension packaged as a humorous flick. This duplicity may explain the tremendous sucesss of Borat: the market favors products that contain a contradiction within themselves.