The problem with Borat

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Author: Ghada Chehade
Date: Spring-Summer 2007
From: Taboo(Vol. 11, Issue 1)
Publisher: Caddo Gap Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,264 words

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There is just something about Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen's barbaric alter-ego who The Observer's Oliver Marre (2006) aptly describes as "... homophobic, racist, and misogynist as well as anti-Semitic." While on the surface, Cohen's Borat may seem to offend all races equally--the one group he offends the most is the very group he portrays as homophobic, racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic. Or in other words, the real parties vilified by Cohen are not Borat's victims but Borat himself. The humour is ultimately directed at this uncivilized buffoon-Borat. He is the butt of every joke. He is the one we laugh at, and are intended to laugh at, the most inasmuch as he is more vulgar, savage, ignorant, barbaric, and racist than any of the bigoted Americans "exposed" in the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This would not be quite as problematic if the fictional Borat did not come from a very real place and did not so obviously (mis)represent Muslims.

While the 2006 film has received coverage and praise for revealing the racism of Americans, very few people are asking whether Cohen's caricature of a savage, homophobic, misogynist, racist, and hard core Jew-hating Muslim is not actually a form of anti-Muslim racism. To be characterized as any of the above is a form of discrimination, and watching this film it is hard not to walk away wondering why funny man Cohen feels the need to depict a Muslim character in such a vulgar and deplorable light.

A lot of lnternet discussion is focused on whether or not Cohen's character Borat is racist in general, and anti-Semitic in particular. When people realize that Cohen is himself Jewish many conclude that he is not racist but rather holding a mirror up to American culture in order to demonstrate, through comedy, how racist Americans are. But rarely is the question raised about whether Cohen's portrayal of Borat represents anti-Muslim racism. And when the question is raised, it is usually dismissed as being a bit absurd. The justifications for this are that first of all Kazakhstan is not a Muslim country; second, Borat never claims to be Muslim; third, no one has even heard of the country; and last, it is just comedy. The third defense is quite peculiar, as if the geographical ignorance of the west somehow excuses racism against an "obscure" country.

Let us examine some of the reasons many people claim Borat is not an example of racism against Muslims. First, it seems to be widely held on the Internet that Kazakhstan is not a Muslim country. Indeed, many forums I visited described it as being half-Muslim and half-Christian. Like so many others, I knew almost nothing of the country before the Borat controversy, so I did a little demographic digging. To get some clarification, I consulted the websites of UNESCO and the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). While many on-line blogs and opinions claim that Kazakhstan's population is divided almost equally...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Chehade, Ghada. "The problem with Borat." Taboo, vol. 11, no. 1, spring-summer 2007, pp. 63+. Accessed 22 May 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A358193697