Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Borat

J. Hoberman is, to my mind, the first reviewer to link Borat to John Murray Cuddihy’s The Ordeal of Civility.

It’s a measure of Baron Cohen’s dexterity that he plants his alter ego on both sides of the Jewish Question. “Kazakhstan”— actually shot in Romania—is a nightmare Eastern Europe where peasants bunk with livestock, torment Gypsies, and stage a traditional “Running of the Jew,” chasing giant-fanged puppets through their muddy village. But as a native of this barbaric shtetl, Borat is also a non-Christian other who—by virtue of his primitive nature—ridicules the hypocrisy of the dominant social order.
The ADL identifies Baron Cohen as an “observant” Jew. (I’m not sure what that means, but it seems less revealing than the subject of his Cambridge dissertation, namely the role of Jews in the American civil rights movement.) In any case, this comic has a distinctively Jewish sensibility. As sociologist John Murray Cuddihy notes in The Ordeal of Civility, his classic account of newly enlightened Jewish thinkers assimilated into the modern world, Marx, Freud, and Claude Lévi-Strauss were all similarly obsessed with “the raw, the coarse, the vulgar, the naked” and exposing the way in which these things were sublimated by the civil “niceness” of Western culture. So too, Borat (who might add the superstitious, the stupid, the sexist, and the xenophobic to that list).

Ph.D. candidates will be poring over the Ali G and Borat phenomena for generations hence. I would add to Hoberman’s analysis that Borat is a uniquely Jewish form of revenge on societies – both Eastern European and rural American – that have long viewed Jews as strangers at best. Baron Cohen is a Jew subverting the majority culture by prancing around in anti-Semitic drag. It’s a mark of how far Jews have striven and succeeded that so many of us celebrate this satire. That’s one reason it’s Jewish humor, and it’s also a reason why it is so thrilling to watch him. Revenge is sweetest when it’s smart, subversive and drop-dead hilarious.
Full review.

6 thoughts on “Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Borat

  1. Borat’s best joke until now:
    “Shurik, where we shoot dog and then have a party”.
    The rest is commentary.

  2. I’m not sold yet. I’ll save my hosannahs until after I see it. At the present moment I’m kind of choking on the hype. Can the movie live up to all its press?? We’ll see.

  3. I saw it here in Germany. I had my concerns about what it would be like to be in a theater full of Germans laughing at Borat’s anti-Semitism. However, the first rule of comedy is that jokes have to be funny. And Borat is HILARIOUS. A great time was had by all.

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