Ram Manikkalingam offers us an interesting take on the funny yet controversial Borat. I don't necessarily agree with Manikkalingam's suggestion that the film is anti-Muslim but rather that it parodies the White middle-class American conception of foreigners. Still, it's an interesting read.
Borat was disappointing – long, tedious, and repetitive. Maybe I had already seen too many clips on TV. So there was nothing new, except a faux plot to link together a series of previous episodes. There were some scenes that made me laugh, some scenes that made me gag, and some scenes that made me cringe. What is remarkable is not how bad the movie is, but how popular it became. Other bad movies have also become box office hits. But they have not been as badly filmed, as repetitive, or as crass as this. There is no doubt that Borat was a “phenomenon”.
This has nothing to do with the quality of the film, and everything to do with its politics. Borat manages to parody Muslims and “expose” Americans at the same time. He caters to both those who are anti-Islamic and anti-American. He allows them the guilty pleasure of indulging in that which is forbidden - portraying Muslims as ignorant, sexist, and anti-semitic – by portraying middle-class White Americans as ignorant, sexist, and anti-semitic. This is a potent combination, capable of drawing together a large audience in the US and Western Europe, resentful of Muslims in their midst and the global pre-ponderance of American power.
Borat takes on ordinary Americans, some who are bigoted, but most of who are not. Unlike Ali G, who takes on the powerful ones – from Newt Gingrich to Noam Chomsky - irrespective of their politics. Borat allows those who are anti-Muslim and anti-American to interpret him in ways that enable them to entertain, and thus indulge, themselves. He even permits, those who are simply anti-American to excuse his anti-Islamic parodies, as just that, and enjoy themselves. And sometimes he even permits those who are simply anti-Muslim to enjoy themselves – by hinting that this is where a multiculturalism gone awry will take the world...