Movies

These Are Not My Bigoted Views

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Two University of South Carolina fraternity members featured in Borat are suing 20th Century Fox, saying they were tricked into making asses of themselves. I'm sure Borat's producers were less than completely forthright in describing the movie, which is, after all, a fake documentary featuring a fictional Kazakh TV reporter. But the students' main complaint seems to be that they were plied with liquor and therefore "engaged in behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in."  If you see the movie and hear both what they say and the manner in which they say it (pining for the days of slavery, casually referring to sneaky Jews who always manage to get the upper hand, bragging of screwing and screwing over women), it's hard to be sympathetic. Contrary to what Mel Gibson claims, this sort of stuff is not spontaneously generated by alcohol.

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  1. I hope this goes to trial and Cohen shows up as Borat.

    It’ll probably get settled, unless the studio and its lawyers realize that its golden free publicity in for DVD sales.

  2. It is, however, spontaneously generated by Fraternities.

  3. That would be sooooo funny.

  4. It’s true that Borat exposes some nasty bigotry in others, but what about the bigotry in his portrayal of Kazakhs–and by extension all East Europeans (he throws in Polish phrases)–as backward savages? Acceptable bigotry?

  5. I hope it stays in the news long enough for people to notice the parallels between this lawsuit and the politics of date rape.

  6. Uri,

    That would be parody, not bigotry.

  7. What’s the difference between portraying Jews as sneaky and money-grubbing and portraying East Europeans as backward and racist? How is one bigtry and the other parody?

  8. Baylen — sometimes parody is generated from bigotry. I’m not claiming that’s the case here, but it’s not by definition impossible.

    As to the frats, anybody who’s been to the University of South Carolina knows that they are, in fact, representative of their community.

  9. Uri,

    As an Eastern European, consider your comment to be bigoted. Kazakhs are Asians, not Europeans. Associating us with them is insulting.

    Jozef

  10. “What’s the difference between portraying Jews as sneaky and money-grubbing and portraying East Europeans as backward and racist? How is one bigtry and the other parody?”

    Because only a complete moron would believe that Cohen’s portrayal of Eastern Europeans is anywhere near realistic.

    My guess is that his attempt to portray Eastern Europeans as ignorant bigots is part of the meta-humor of pulling one over on real ignorant bigots living here in the US.

  11. Jozef

    You know beans about Kazakhstan. Lots of Russians, Ukrainians and other East Europeans reside there. In any case, the average American Pole is likely to recognize the Polish that Borat uses. The Average American doesn’t have a clue where Kazakhsatn is but from Borat’s portrayal will cerainly associate it with “Polacks” and other primitive elements. Racism has to be opposed in principle, not selectively.

  12. Because only a complete moron would believe that Cohen’s portrayal of Eastern Europeans is anywhere near realistic.

    I dunno if thats true, Mediageek. In an article I read today (too lazy to find it, but got it off fark, one of about three Borat related posts there) it quotes the Jewish owner of B&B Borat visits in the movie. The owner, Mr Behar, says he’s not offended because the movie “Is basically making fun of Islam”. (paraphrasing).

  13. Uri,

    Kazakhstan is in Central Asia, not Europe. Despite the fact that other ethnicities live there doesn’t make it any less Asian. Being a Slovak citizen, I can relate: despite the fact that 10% of our population are of Hungarian ethnicity, we as still a Slavic nation.

    As for Borat using Polish phrases, even I recognized and understood them. There’s nothing offensive about them (most of them are greetings like “Hi” and “How are you?”). I find it disturbing that you find phrases like that offensive, just because they were spoken in Polish.

  14. Some say Baron Cohen may be the ultimate prankster. Though he may have duped people like Psenicska, Sell and Behar into humiliating themselves for a couple bucks, in some ways he has earned respect.

    When asked what he would like to say to Cohen, Behar replied, “He made an extremely good movie. He’s very polite. He’s very nice. He’s a genius.”

    Despite portraying a character who is wildly anti-Semitic, Baron Cohen himself is Jewish, a fact that was not lost on Behar.

    “He doesn’t know exactly what he’s produced, and I don’t think the company knows what they’ve produced,” Behar said, “because what they’ve produced is a comedy that makes fun of Islam ? and he’s Jewish, you know.

    http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=2647648&page=3

  15. I don’t know how much legal merit this lawsuit holds, but it does pose an interesting question about the fairness of “ambush” style filmmaking.

    While I’ve heard that the frat boys signed a release, I think they could argue that the release they signed did not accurately depict the type of work being made. It sounds like they were under the impression that the footage would never be shown in wide release in America.

  16. Jozef,

    I will not generalize your dimwittedness to all Slovaks. My point is that Borat’s Kazakh is everyman’s ignorant, anti-Semitic Slav. I find the protrayal as distateful as I find the snti-Semitism of some Slavs and others. The movie is very funny, but we Jews aren’t the only ones might be offended.

  17. Jozef,
    You referred to “polacks and other primitive elements” .. this statemeent is racist by equating poles with primitive elements. It’s hypocritcal for you to call everyone else racist when you’re guilty of the same thing yourself.

  18. I dunno if thats true, Mediageek. In an article I read today (too lazy to find it, but got it off fark, one of about three Borat related posts there) it quotes the Jewish owner of B&B Borat visits in the movie. The owner, Mr Behar, says he’s not offended because the movie “Is basically making fun of Islam”. (paraphrasing).

    How do the B&B owner’s views suggest Borat is a realistic portrayal of Eastern Europeans (and really – should we be talking “asian” here, since he’s claiming to be Kazakh and not Romanian or Polish)?

    Frankly I thought the whole movie was a huge joke on bigotry – the bigotry evinced from conversation with Borat, the bigotry of people who threatened or ran from Borat when he’d ask them something stupid, and the bigotry of Borat’s own views. It’s funny precisely because it’s NOT an accurate portrayal of anybody in particular – Borat is Kazakh simply because it’s a country your average westerner barely even knows about.

  19. CM

    You misattribute my comments to Jozef and misinterpret “Poles and other primitive elements” as an endorsement of the view. I’ll bet you laugh three times at every joke.

  20. “My point is that Borat’s Kazakh is everyman’s ignorant, anti-Semitic Slav.”

    So, are you arguing that most people will, let’s say, believe that Kazakhstan really does have a “Running of the Jew”?

    C’mon.

  21. How does Cohen’s behavior fit into the “consenting adults” mantra? Even if the frat boys are bigots, don’t they have the right to decide who they’ll share their bigotry with? And what of the innumerable other dupes “Borat” fooled?

    Whether it’s anti-Kazakh bigotry, I don’t know, but I’d be interested to see how people would react if a Kazakh comedian went around the country posing as a Jewish journalist, leading people in rousing choruses of songs like “let’s screw the goyim.” Would Mr. Behar take this in good humor?

  22. Some shit is just not worth being all worked up about, ok? I don’t think most people even know where the fuck Borat is supposed to be from or what ethnicity he is.

  23. Mediageek,

    To repeat Mad Max’s point, how would you feel if a comic routine involved an annual Feecing of the Goyim in Israel? Would you maybe think it was playing into a nasty sterotype?

  24. “He doesn’t know exactly what he’s produced, and I don’t think the company knows what they’ve produced,” Behar said, “because what they’ve produced is a comedy that makes fun of Islam ? and he’s Jewish, you know.

    What a moron this guy is. Borat isn’t a Muslim – he follows the hawk!

  25. Actually, I think they may win this one. The views aren’t brought on by the alcohol but I think it’s over simplistic to claim that how the views are expressed is simply brought out. Friends of mine were engaged and had a spat on new year’s eve a few years ago. She kept telling him to that she hated him and wanted him to leave. They’re still happily married. According to this logic, she hates him and doesn’t want to be with him only she supresses it 99.7% of the time. Supposedly only her own true feelings come out when she’s drinking. Now come on, that’s crap. She loves the guy. She was drunk and upset so it came out in a way much worse than it would’ve if she was sober. But it doesn’t mean she hates him and simply supresses this hate 99.7% of the time.

    Likewise, these students could be very frustrated and have some issues with Jews, etc. But to say that how they expressed them while drinking is exactly how they feel is no more true than claiming my friend truely hates her husband. Maybe they are biggots and deserve to be outted. But it’s overly simplistic to claim this based on what they said while drinking. Come on people, I’m sure we’ve all said and done some pretty dumb things while we’re tanked. But just because we had a one-night stand doesn’t mean that our true self is a slut. Or just becuase we got drunk and told some girl we just met at the bar that we love her doesn’t mean that we do. I’m not saying this rules out these 2 as being biggots. But it’s far from being proof that they are.

    I heard an interview with the guy who did Old School (?). He was talking about a documentary he did for HBO where basically in the end the only way he got these fraternity college kids to consent to doing it was getting them to sign the forms while they were drunk and/or high. In the end HBO wouldn’t go ahead with showing the movie cuz they didn’t feel the consent would hold up in court. Given that, I wouldn’t be suprised if these 2 win in court.

  26. I’d be interested to see how people would react if a Kazakh comedian went around the country posing as a Jewish journalist, leading people in rousing choruses of songs like “let’s screw the goyim.”

    if it weren’t derivative, it would be funny.

  27. What edna said.

    By having the character, Borat, be ravingly anti-semitic, sexist, and homophobic only hilarity can result.

    If anything, I’d be far more worried about the evidently real anti-semitism he seems to get people to espouse.

  28. Alcohol made them do it.

    Right.

    Alcohol and drugs do not change a person’s behavior. They reduce inhibitions and bring out the real self. SuperEgo is temporarily stunned so that Id can come out and play.

    Drugs don’t make people assholes, people are assholes to begin with – and hide or supress it, but drugs and alcohol bring out that true self. From 1st-hand experience in the areas.

    Borat also brings out the truth in the drunkest Fartboys and the soberest Evangelicals. He didn’t have to get them drunk to find out that Jews are all going straight to Hell (http://www.libertypost.org/cgi-bin/readart.cgi?ArtNum=165108)

    That’s what he does, his comedy can read like a BS detector.

  29. How does

    “Alcohol and drugs do not change a person’s behavior”

    jive with

    “They reduce inhibitions and bring out the real self”.

  30. Dan T.:

    I think what Lizard meant to say is, alcohol does not alter what a person thinks or who they really are—it simply unmasks their real feelings. Surely, we can all acknowledge that alcohol and drugs alter someone’s “behavior”. What it doesn’t do is alter someone’s true feelings and beliefs. Someone doesn’t just “become” racist after a few shots.

  31. I think what Lizard meant to say is, alcohol does not alter what a person thinks or who they really are—it simply unmasks their real feelings. Surely, we can all acknowledge that alcohol and drugs alter someone’s “behavior”. What it doesn’t do is alter someone’s true feelings and beliefs. Someone doesn’t just “become” racist after a few shots.

    That seems to be more or less true, but it’s also true that alcohol will cause people to say things that they don’t really mean (perhaps for laughs or shock value).

    One of my infamous college drinking episodes had me going around telling people that Pervis Ellison (basketball player) was my dad.

    I don’t really think that, though.


  32. That seems to be more or less true, but it’s also true that alcohol will cause people to say things that they don’t really mean (perhaps for laughs or shock value).

    I was thinking this same thing. It’s entirely possible someone, perhaps even Sacha Baron Cohen himself, doing a Borat bit while in a drunken stupor would be mistaken for a compete asshole.

  33. To me the question here is not so much whether or not the frat guys are racists, but rather they were tricked into signing a release that they didn’t understand.

  34. “It’s entirely possible someone, perhaps even Sacha Baron Cohen himself, doing a Borat bit while in a drunken stupor would be mistaken for a compete asshole.”

    One cannot “mistake” Sacha Baron Cohen for a complete asshole because he is, in fact, a complete asshole.

  35. Contrary to what Mel Gibson claims, this sort of stuff is not spontaneously generated by alcohol.

    Only amateurs blame alcohol. I blame sleeping meds and pedophile priests.

  36. I know I should be worried about legitimacy of the contracts, blah, blah, blah. But the irony of frat boys filing a lawsuit and claiming “humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and mental distress,” scores so high on the schadenfreude scale, I think we can all unite to celebrate this lawsuit and the continued profits it promises to deliver to Borat.

    Great pix at The Smoking Gun, of course.

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1113061borat1.html

  37. I’m going to perform an experiment; tonight, I’m going to get shit-faced drunk and post all my TRUE feelings about race, religion and politics.

  38. On the topic of the Eastern European take on the movie, I’m surprised you guys haven’t happened upon This article .
    Read it till the end. The funniest bit is near the bottom.

  39. I think the data concerning the relationship of what people say when they’re drunk and what they really think is severely lacking.

  40. Well, I am skeptical about the merit of their lawsuit and the frat guys could be bigots for all I know. However, I am hesitant to come to a conclusion about their dispositional beliefs as there may be factors of which I am not aware.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_Attribution_Error

  41. Wow. The trolls really fed on each other in this thread.

  42. Thanks MK, that was a very enlightening read. I’m sure Cohen doesn’t think of himself as racist, but then I’ll bet neither do the Sandlapper frats.

  43. “engaged in behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in.”

    Mark Foley, where are you?

  44. I don’t cut anybody any slack when they excuse behavior with the I was drunk card.

    Truth serum is what the Old Man used to call it.

  45. As a longtime heavy drinker, I can settle this dispute once and for all. Sometimes when you are drunk, the things you say are things you really mean but are normally wouldn’t say out loud. But other times, when you are drunk, the things you say are things you don’t really mean and wouldn’t normally say out loud. As to the merits of the lawsuit, if the facts are as they say they are, it seems like a slam dunk win for the frats. Contract law doesn’t have a “but Borat is a satirical genius” clause that allows you to misrepresent a release form.

  46. I find the link in mk’s 5:51 pm post more troubling. It makes Cohen look really bad; he’s only missing horns. I wonder how it will turn out, how he can resolve such bad press while staying in character, or save face in any way. I guess he underestimated how successful he’d be.

  47. >>>
    As to the frats, anybody who’s been to the University of South Carolina knows that they are, in fact, representative of their community.

    I graduated from the school and currently live in Columbia, SC. While fortunately they’re not representative of the larger community here, the notion that they were somehow “victimized” or inaccurately portrayed is laughable. I hear similar types of comments all the time from clueless undergrads without the benefit of cameras, Khazak journalists or even booze. Don’t know where they got the bad advice to pursue legal action as they managed to find the only way possible to make themselves, the university and our community look like bigger jackasses than they did in the first place. I have a hunch that the “victims” are the type that threaten to have their daddies sue over the most minor slight, but haven’t learned the lesson that you don’t sue people who have bigger attorneys than you do!

  48. “engaged in behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in.”

    This could mean many things, not necessarily that they were egalitarians who were magically converted into racists. It could mean that, but for Cohen’s actions, they wouldn’t have behaved the way they did in front of the camera.

    The article about the villagers puts Cohen in a very unpleasant light. If the journalist was being accurate, it shows him as an asshole and them as comparatively restrained. Notice that none of the quotes has the villagers blaming Jews for Cohen’s behavior — maybe those charming rustics aren’t as bigoted as Cohen wants to suggest!

  49. Maybe the alcohol producers ought to sue.

    Or at least add a sarcastic “warning label”:

    “WARNING: This product does not create stupidity. It reduces inhibitions, allowing stupid thoughts to come to the surface. The producers of this product are not responsible for what users of this product say.”

    or there’s a new advertising slogan:

    “Booze! The ultimate truth serum.”

  50. I believe Cohen’s attorneys are preparing a, “Fuck you if you can’t take a joke,” defense.

  51. This is like saying “I wouldn’t have consented to a sobriety test if I wasn’t drunk.” For that reason alone, I kinda hope the case holds up.

  52. That’s what you get for going to USC. Maybe if he went to a real University like Clemson then that wouldn’t have worked.

    Sorry, I had to take the free jab when I could.

    Having lived in South Carolina for a good portion of my life I know well that there are a good number of people who will make racist remarks when they think they are in sympathetic company. But then when I lived in Spain there were a pretty good number of racist people there too.

    Personally if I lived in Columbia I would go with the heat and humidity caused it defense. Like the joke goes the only thing seperating Columbia from hell is a screen door.

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