Making sense of Borat
Due to the misguiding reviews I read (essentially that the film is offensive and low-brow), I wasn't the first in line to see Borat. Well, I finally rented the DVD.
I found the opening scene a bit silly, though many of the Slavic references were accurate. However, when I finally realized that the character's experience in the USA was filmed in documentary style, I understood the appeal of the film.
Between my uncontrollable and sometimes uncomfortable laughter, I found the film profound. Borat brilliantly illustrates the America that I see. Frankly, the Americans in the film are proud, profoundly idiotic, and completely out-of-touch with reality. So, how was it that a comedian playing a seemingly semi-retarded foreigner could illustrate this point? His formula was to make them feel superior and then he tapped into their conformist thinking.
The US is an enormous country of self-declared individualists. Yet, in reality, Americans aren't individualistic at all. They are obsessed with conforming to the pre-existing variety of off-the-shelf social movements...the New Yorker, Southerner, God-fearing Christian, good Liberal, frat-boy, cowboy, gangsta, whatever. The reason every American featured on the film appeared foolish, loathsome, or idiotic was that they were incapable of perceiving the character Borat without bias...without stereotype. Rather than relating to him as one individual to another, they attempted to relate to him as they might think a (New Yorker, Southerner, Liberal...fill in the blank) might relate to a foreigner. The humor and discomfort is found in the repeated attempts to put Borat into a neat box when, in fact, everything he did was absurdly outside of any box. The Americans refused to drop their programatic thinking, their political-correctness, and their identity with a social movement, long enough to to perceive the situation as any independent, critically-thinking person might.
The film Borat highlights how ridiculous we look when we fail to conceive of our lives as something unique and authentic...and when we, instead, follow the herd. It highlights how unthinking and ignorant the herd mentality of conformity is (in every case, not only for those associated with "the wrong movement").
This topic is personal to me. When I lived in Seattle, I defined myself as "a good progressive" or "green activist" who shared all the "proper beliefs" about what "ought to be". In conversation, I was eager to "make a difference in the world" by turning others on to "my way of thinking" which was "correct". However, it wasn't really my way of thinking at all...it was predefined and I was acting as a salesman selling a cause. How did this conception of myself fit with the fact that I made good money as a business person? It didn't. How did my socially liberal beliefs coexist with my status as a faithful husband? They didn't. How were my trips to the gas station justified within the context of my beliefs in sustainability? They weren't. But I had my mind in a twist with many, many arguments and justifications for it all. Oh, how I would define my identity by my favorite politicians, my tastes in music, my shoes, the books I would read. Yet none of that was ME!
Today I see myself as more-or-less just a human being trying to be the unique genetic mutation that I am...trying to perceive people and things as they actually are and trying to let my voice speak for itself rather than on behalf of some movement. There is an emmense difference.