MOVIE REVIEW: BORAT
Satirical Learnings of Borat to Make Benefit of Skeptic US and A Reviewer
by Alison Ross
I avoided seeing “Borat” when it first came out because the previews too much resembled those uni-dimensional testosterone-fueled “comedies” of the vulgar variety that National Lampoon spits out on a regular basis. But when I read a review that suggested the movie was more subversive satire than sophomoric silliness, I decided to give it a whirl.
Don’t get me wrong - the film is loaded with sophomoric silliness, but it is in the service of smart satire, not cheap laughs. “Borat” gleans plenty of cheap laughs, true, but the positive underside to all of this shameless guffawing is that the film is also instructive, in the way that great satires are. “Borat” ruthlessly reveals human hypocrisy, gullibility, and bigotry in brazen and gut-bustingly hilarious vignettes. The film luxuriates in cultural caricatures, but rather than reinforce steretoypes, the reveling exposes their utter ugliness and folly.
“Borat” is one of those exhilaratingly liberating films, but only if you’re open-minded enough to embrace it for what it is - scathing satire that leaves no race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or religion untouched. You have to be cooly comfortable with yourself as a woman, gay, Jew, black, white frat boy, or fundamentalist nut, as well as possess a clever and unfettered comic sense to perceive that “Borat” simultaneously mocks stereotypes while skewering the prejudicial treatment of such sterotypes. He’s holding up a funhouse mirror to certain types of people as well as to the types that would demean those other types. In Borat’s world, no one evades the label of absurd, as we are all ridiculously myopic to some degree.
The downside to such a film is that it exploits hapless unsuspecting people (people signed disclaimers, confident that this was a real documentary), although most of them - the hoity toity dinner hosts and the boorish frat boys in particular - are so mired in ignorance that it’s difficult to lay out too much empathy for them. Still, it’s hard not to harbor a twinge of empathy, given that you are having a laugh at their expense and not the other way around.
Another flaw in the film is the attempted kidnapping of Pamela Anderson. First of all, it seems rehearsed, and therefore rather disingenuous, since most of the movie’s vignettes rise above such staged shenanigans. And if the kidnapping is not staged, then it’s unnecessarily aggressive.
Furthermore, “Borat” reduces Khazikstan and America to creepy cultural backwaters. But again, that’s the point - lampoonery is really only effective when it’s focused on the irredeemable elements of society. The more redeeming elements take a backseat to the pointed purpose of satire, which is to mine the humor in the dark realms of humanity, and in the process enlighten us about ourselves.
“Borat” could conceivably be misconstrued as an eager embracing of anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and so on, but that’s not the fault of the filmakers; rather, it’s a commentary on the muddled mindset of the people who would construe the movie that way.
Our politically correct culture has all but silenced such Swiftian satire, and that’s a shame, because satire has the power to subvert mores, while PC simply reinforces the same regressive ideology that it seeks to quell. In other words, PC suffocates, while satire allows us all to breathe.
High five Borat!
MUSIC REVIEW: Black Lips - Let it Bloom (2005)
When I first bought this CD a few months ago, I treated it as a novelty. I played it on my small CD player before bedtime, reveling in the ragged tunes but not really fully captivated by the disc. But when the CD migrated to my actual stereo, I began to take more notice, and now this album has evolved into one of my top ten favorites.
The Black Lips' signature sound is a searing blend of 60s blues and jangle-pop, screeching 80s punk, and modern hipster garage rock, with nuanced dips into Motown and R&B. The tunes are a trashy mishmash of musical styles, and exude a sort of slimy charisma, the way they wrap catchy hooks and singable melodies in a sort of chain mail of dissonance. Each song exists as its own freaky entity, evoking just about every rock and roll era and genre without being in any way cheaply imitative or derivative. And the surrealistically profane lyrics only add to the sleazy charm of the songs.
I predict that the Black Lips will be the next Stooges. The Stooges were the punkish counterparts to more mainstream 60s bands, and indeed, the Black Lips carve a rougher, rawer soundscape than that of some of the sleeker, more packaged garage bands like The Strokes.
Of course, it doesn't matter if The Black Lips become more overtly popular, because they are so damn good you almost wish you could harbor the secret for yourself.