Friday, November 03, 2006

borat and ali g

What is the difference between a white person in blackface and Sascha Baron Cohen, the English/Jewish comedian behind the characters of Borat and Ali G who presumably come from Muslim cultural backgrounds? (Borat is from Kazakhstan). I have a gut reaction but I'm really not trying to be rhetorical. That's an actual question. Does Sascha Cohen cross the line which seperates edgy and conscious cultural representation from a minstrel show?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm, interesting take on Ali G.
I like your style, keep putting it out there.

Peace!

DA said...

I have brought this issue up MANY times. Borat also plays up Muslim anti-semitism (Borat blames the Jews for 9/11, the people of his village are shown beating giant effigies of Jews, and in a really stupid twist, he throws money to get rid of cockraoches he believes are shapeshifted Jews). Cohen is a pig and a racist. I hope someone gives him the asswhupping he has coming to him. And frankly, the Ali G show just ISN'T FUNNY. I mean, forget my poltical problems with it, the guy just sucks as a comedian.

DA said...

A friend who saw the movie today says Borat is a Christian in the film. Any truth to this?

arafat said...

This is very interesting. Because the impression that I formed from watching the Ali G shows was that Sacha Baron Cohen is a rather smart guy who offers social criticism through comedy. Well, actually, maybe not deep enough to be labeled criticism, but certainly satire. And so for instance, re: the anti-semitic stuff, it's very interesting to see Cohen (through the characters of Borat, Ali G or Bruno) often have his interviewees say rather disturbing things. I'm recalling one episode in which Borat (or probably Bruno) interviews someone at some convention in the South where the guy remarks that "the Jews" control the world: and then Cohen tactfully makes the guy repeat the comment!

I do find any accusation of anti-semitism hard to understand, particularly since in his personal life Baron Cohen identifies quite strongly as Jewish. (Which would explain his interest in using the fictional characters to reveal hidden anti-Jewish sentiments in sections of the American public).

One of the main reasons that I enjoyed the Ali G shows was because the ridiculous interviews would always make me think about how far removed the old white males are from the popular culture of today's youth.

But, Abdul Halim, your question is also something that I would totally raise myself: and in fact, the possibilites of race/cultural criticism did often cross my mind as I watched the show. Unfortunately, I don't think I know/understand enough to find the answers, so I'm hoping to see more people thinking along these lines.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Da, to be honest I don't know if there is anything specific which would conclusively establish what religious background Borat is supposed to have. (other than him coming from kazakhstan)

Arafat, I don't think anyone is saying that Cohen is being anti-semitic but that his portrayals of individuals from certain ethnic groups is buffoonish.

DA said...

yeah, sorry, i was just running my mouth. 17 hour night shifts fueled ny energy drinks= unbalanced thinking.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

no need to apologize. actually more recently I've read online that in the movie Borat is actually asked if he is Muslim but he says no, that he follows the "hawk". And the suggestion was that Borat is supposed to be a follower of Crowley.

(apparently his picture appears in the film and the hawk is supposed to be a reference to the Egyptian god Horus who is significant for Crowley)

arafat said...

"his portrayals of individuals from certain ethnic groups is buffoonish"

Yes, that's precisely the case. And so the fact that Baron Cohen is in fact a white British man is probably something that can't be totally ignored. Your reference to minstrel shows is very interesting and worth thinking about.

But we should also note that part of the comedy in Borat's character is the behavior he induces in the people that he's interacting with. And so I ask myself whether I'm laughing at the ridiculousness of Borat, or at the situations that he deliberately forces upon his 'interviewees'. Furthermore, how am I affected by my knowledge that this is actually Baron Cohen playing a fictional, albeit very convincing, role.

But, one thing that I've often found myself thinking is whether I would be offended by watching the Borat show if I were a Kazakh myself. I probably would be. (I believe the Kazakh's were potentially considering a lawsuit, right?)

Muslim Apple said...

Cohen's stuff was never funny to me and I still refuse to watch it.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

It might be interesting to compare Cohen with Sarah Silverman who is also white and Jewish and did a comedy show called "Jesus is Magic". (actually, a lot of excerpts from the movie are available on YouTube.. search under her name or the name of the movie)

In a lot of ways the two comedians are similar. Saying offensive things in order to criticize racism in the wider society. And they are both "edgy" in a way which opens them up to possible accusations of racism as well.

I actually have fewer misgivings about Sarah Silverman and she seems less offensive...I feel she can get away with more because of her persona (see pretty white girl singing).

Also she is more of an equal opportunity offender. I mean, if she is willing to tell holocaust jokes and make fun of j.a.p.s. then it is harder for me to take offense when she drops the occasional non-gratuitous n-bomb.

I actually saw the film a while book and had thought about writing about "Jesus is Magic" on Grenada. Maybe I'll do that sooner rather than later...

luckyfatima said...

my thoughts on sacha baron cohen exactly.

he is playing on some "talent" at impersonations and his "exotic" Jewish looks to create these ethnic characters. Though if someone were to do such a thing, say, a non-Jew making such a character of a Jew, the guy would be boo-ed as a racist bigot because the blatant racism would be more overt. Cohen is capitalizing on the fact that forms of racism against certain ethno-religious groups do not set off alarm bells in the minds of the mainstream public. Like it is easier to make fun of S. or East Asians in main stream American movies (it doesn't even make viewers uncomfortable) cuz activist groups of these backgrounds are less visible and smaller in number than say groups that would make an outcry on behalf of Jews if something so public featured blatant anti-Semitism. (not to say Jews or never targeted with racism and stereotyping in the media, they are sometimes, but with an obviously different reaction from the mainstream public)

Cohen's characters are quite sinisterly built on reductive, extremely offensive racist stereotypes, but no one knows anything about Kazaakhstan and people are not made "uncomfortable" by watching Muslims, which Ali G and Kazakh Borat are clearly supposed to mirror-Hawk or no Hawk.