Monday, October 30, 2006

Borat's Cultural Learnings

I've started to think that getting ready for the Borat movie is like training for a marathon. At first, you can only do a little bit at a time because it hurts, it motherfucking sears every cell in your body, but you're hoping you're going to have built up enough endurance to go the distance on the big day.

It took LK and me, oh, I think about five months to get through the two first-season DVDs of Da Ali G Show, just because, unlike other HBO shows we've loved devouring on DVD, even at only 20-30 minutes to an episode, we can't handle much more than that in one sitting. We're terrified that the movie, at 80+ minutes, is going to wreck us emotionally, that we're not going to be able to do anything else for the rest of the day. However, much like a nice, relaxing colonic irrigation, I think it'll ultimately be worth it.

After we finished the "Belief" episode of Ali G last night and then tried to continue watching regular television, everything looked so disgusting and decadent. Under his various guises and with his various alter egos, Sacha Baron Cohen is utterly masterful at not only exposing odious interpersonal behavior and social blind spots but also at formulating incisive metacritical commentary on the most noxious aspects of televisual media by reflecting them back to us all engorged and pus-filled with their own vapidity. (And, not only televisual media--just look at the way he's exploding/exploiting the low-rent tendencies of the internet with his chintzy official home page and our Amurr'can perception of the garishness of non-Putumayo-ized "world music" with the straight-out-of-the-flea-market graphic design on the soundtrack CD.)

I only know the most basic talking point soundbites about Cohen's career pre-Ali G, but it seems that, with his gift for physical comedy (OMG, I'm still laughing at the bit [NSFW], beginning around 3:30, where he's learning how to throw a lasso and, while he's swinging the loop above his head with one hand, ends up tossing the straight end of the rope that's in his other hand) and inspired gibberish ("wahwah wee-wah!"), he surely could have settled for being a handsome, slightly daffy Britcom star with some quality supporting roles in Hollywood in the Jack Davenport or even Hugh Laurie mode. But no, in a prime example of the most noble aspects of the court jester tradition, he's making us laugh at stuff that would be untellable in any other idiom. He's pushing (stretching? perforating?) every imaginable limit--sexual, racial, cross-cultural--forcing us into a headspace that fundamentally alters the way we consume pop culture artifacts after we've peered at the world through his bullshit filter for a while.

And, what's perhaps most shocking is how unexpectedly jarring it is to be reminded of what we usually fancy we already know, of the high level of toxicity in so much of the crap that we more or less voluntarily subject ourselves to, visually. The cooking shows looked foul and vaguely sexualized with their close-ups of glistening dough being manhandled by mild-looking public access chefs; all the people on sitcoms looked ugly and stupid and mean. In a particularly perverse turn of events, the only thing I could bear for any length of time after we took the DVD out of the machine was the last fifteen minutes or so of The Shining dubbed into Spanish, which, of course, was no less misanthropic, but, compared to the subconscious sleaze permeating the best of a random Sunday night's rabbit-ear offerings, at least Kubrick's worldview is artfully hateful. (Plus, there was something indescribably delightful about hearing the Spanish-language actor voicing Jack Torrance bellowing "Danny! ¿Donde estas?" as they chased each other around the labyrinth.)

So, all hail Sacha Baron Cohen for giving us a perspective that's painfully necessary as a stiff corrective to the vast quantity of shit we're being inundated with on a daily basis that's necessarily painful. If he can keep the social satire up at such a deliciously, deliriously high level, maybe he'll be unironically invited to host the White House Correspondents' Dinner next year. A girl can dream.


Michael O'D said...

Ah! The Borat video is not safe for work! There's some nudity in the rodeo section.

allison said...

Oh, damn, sorry about that. I'll mark it as such immediately.