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Author Topic: Cultural Learnings of Borat
Mig
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My wife and I took in Borat this afternoon. Funniest movie we've seen since last year's 40 Year Old Virgin. Some parts were so funny that it hurt, but some scenes were a little uncomfortable to watch because they seemed a bit mean spirited. That may be the point, but much of that mean spiritedness seems to be directed at Southerners and religious people (read devout Christians); the church and rodeo goers. Maybe that's just because these are the sort of people that were less likely to have ever heard of Baron Cohen and this character. But it still made me feel a little uncomfortable about how it seemed to portray parts of America and how this movie's view of the state's would be percieved in the rest of the world.

I need to give this more thought. That said, I recommend everyone see it, but leave the kids at home, this isn't for anyone easily offended.

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ElJay
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TIME magazine did a story on this a couple of weeks ago, and in the next week's letters section there was a letter from someone who had booked "Borat" on a local (not here, just saying not national) magazine type news show. He said he had been approached by a PR firm, and everything looked legit, and then they got there and started the live broadcast, and it was immediately apparent that it was not, in fact, legit. The booker's boss lost confidance in his judgement, and he lost his job over it.

I have no idea if that particular apperance made it into the movie or not, and I don't intend to see it. I just think it's pretty poor to do things that might affect people's livelihood in order to make a movie out of them.

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Pelegius
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Man's boss was a jerk. National media have often fallen for such tricks. B.B.C. and N.P.R. have often done so, and this does not seem to have damaged their reputation.
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Itsame
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It was the funniest movie I have seen in years, I was laughing nearly the entire time and at one point couldn't breathe because of it (the fighting scene). Aside from Borat, the hooker, and the guy with him noone was an actor (to be honest I am not sure whether or not the hooker was an actor).
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Lyrhawn
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I thought it was laugh out loud funny at several points, but on the whole, nothing special.

I expect Night at the Museum to be a lot more funny than this was. I've seen The Daily Show and Colbert report do this kind of stuff all the time. Sacha just took it one step further, and decided that any consideration for decency was unnecessar. I doubt I'll see it again.

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Pelegius
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Borat peaked at the rodeo. After that, there was just too much profanity and not enough wit.

Although the scene were he destroys the antique shop is hilarious (that man totaly deserved it, too, as does anyone with that much racist merchandise.)

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Little_Doctor
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I assumed that Pamela Anderson was also acting. I'm sure she would have had a body guard of some sort that would have put an end to that sooner.
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Libbie
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quote:
Originally posted by JonHecht:
It was the funniest movie I have seen in years, I was laughing nearly the entire time and at one point couldn't breathe because of it (the fighting scene). Aside from Borat, the hooker, and the guy with him noone was an actor (to be honest I am not sure whether or not the hooker was an actor).

She was listed in the credits as having played herself, so I'd say that she was complicit, but not an actor.
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lem
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I saw Borat and I haven't laughed that hard since...since...ever. I came close when I saw Rat Race.

Today I read this article. I feel really guilty now for laughing so hard.

quote:
But now the villagers of this tiny, close-knit community have angrily accused the comedian of exploiting them, after discovering his new blockbuster film portrays them as a backward group of rapists, abortionists and prostitutes, who happily engage in casual incest.

They claim film-makers lied to them about the true nature of the project, which they believed would be a documentary about their hardship...

quote:
Mr Tudorache, a deeply religious grandfather who lost his arm in an accident, was one of those who feels most humiliated. For one scene, a rubber sex toy in the shape of a fist was attached to the stump of his missing arm - but he had no idea what it was.

Only when The Mail on Sunday visited him did he find out. He said he was ashamed, confessing that he only agreed to be filmed because he hoped to top up his 70-a-month salary - although in the end he was paid just 3.

He invited us into his humble home and brought out the best food and drink his family had. Visibly disturbed, he said shakily: 'Someone from the council said these Americans need a man with no arm for some scenes. I said yes but I never imagined the whole country, or even the whole world, will see me in the cinemas ridiculed in this way. This is disgusting.

The law suite of the 2 college frat boys doesn't disturb me. But these people were very very wronged. I hope they get a lot of money.
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Javert
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quote:
Originally posted by JonHecht:
It was the funniest movie I have seen in years, I was laughing nearly the entire time and at one point couldn't breathe because of it (the fighting scene). Aside from Borat, the hooker, and the guy with him noone was an actor (to be honest I am not sure whether or not the hooker was an actor).

I think, by definition, a hooker is an actor.
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Juxtapose
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What about the rodeo and church bits seemed more mean-spirited to you, Mig? I didn't think they were any better or worse than, say, the meeting with the New York femenists, at least on Cohen's part. In fact, the church came out of it rather well, I thought; they seemed welcoming, if credulous. At the rodeo, the only one who came off looking bad was the bigoted cowboy he talked to before he sang. The rodeo crowd booed, but what did anyone expect?

EDIT - I forgot about the "May George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq" line. According to the Wikipedia article, the film was edited so that it seemed like there was scattered applause at this line. If true (and I can easily believe so), I'll admit that was very mean-spirited.

[ November 12, 2006, 04:32 PM: Message edited by: Juxtapose ]

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Pelegius
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Indeed Mr. Cohen didn't do anything outrageous at the Church. They act that way normaly, he just filmed them.
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Lyrhawn
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The more I read about this movie, the more it seems to be like malicious exploitation as opposed to comedic mockery.

I'm glad I didn't pay to see it. SCrewing with the frat boys, well goofy drunk guys from the south spouting off racist gibberish doesn't so much bother me (other than for the obvious reason it shoul). But taking advantage of the plight of poor people in Kazakhstan, to say nothing of worsening the image of America (even though Cohen is BRITISH) in a part of the world where we could use a lot more GOOD will, not bad.

Editing the reactions from people to produce a humiliating and meanspirted result isn't right either, so long as they are presenting it as truth. At least when MOST comedians do this for their shows, like Jay Leno or Jon Stewart, it is done knowing it's a joke. Cohen is presenting it as fact.

Pamela Andserson is a good friend of Cohen's in real life. She knew he was going to do SOMETHING, but wasn't sure what. Otherwise there's no way he could have gotten past her bodyguards, along with his cameraman, to get it done in the first place.

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DaisyMae
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Wow, thanks for posting so much on this.

I now know I won't be seeing it.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
But taking advantage of the plight of poor people in Kazakhstan...
Well, technically, he only took advantage of the plight of poor people in Romania.
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Lyrhawn
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Ah crap, you're right, I forgot that.

Though you could argue that by inference, he does damage to Kazakhstan as well. Good for him, he hit two, poor, impoverished birds with one film reel.

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Samprimary
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Pam was in on it, period.
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Strider
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she'd have to be. there's absolutely no way they could've done everything they did at that signing if she hadn't been in on it 100%.

I also think the stop off where he learns to be black was planned, and though i can't remember off the top of my head, I think i remember noticing a few more.

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Baron Samedi
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quote:
Originally posted by lem:
The law suite of the 2 college frat boys doesn't disturb me. But these people were very very wronged. I hope they get a lot of money.

I don't know enough about these situations to make any kind of ruling one way or the other based upon these reported accusations. These poor villagers could very well be telling the truth, and if they were wronged I feel sad for them.

But I've known a lot of people from a lot of parts of the world. In fact, I know more than my share of people from poor former Soviet nations. And people everywhere, for all the differences in their backgrounds, are essentially cut from the same cloth. And humans from vastly different cultures, times and places can often be found to do the same things, with the same motives.

It's common knowledge that similar accusations are being brought against the producers by a group of frat boys that appeared in the film. I haven't seen it discussed much on this forum. But where I have seen or heard it discussed, there seems to be a more skeptical reservation of judgment based on the understanding that, while these kids could have a legitimate grievance, it's possible that they may have seen how much money this film is bringing in, and they want a piece of this pie.

As I said, I know a lot of people from this post-Communist part of the world, and there are some amazingly decent and generous people living there. But capitolism is a part of human nature, and there is just as much greed at work in those places as in the godless American fraternities. And, based upon the information I've seen, I don't know why the claims from the villagers should be treated any differently than the claims of the college dudes.

Again, don't misread my post. I'm not trying to canonize Mr. Cohen, Mr. Charles, or any of the other people involved. If it turns out that they are the a-holes in this situation, I hope they get whatever is coming to them. But I'm not leaping to any conclusions yet based upon the evidence presented.

In fact, based upon what I know, there is only one thing I'm ready to go on record saying about this film, and that is that it was very, very funny. I saw it over a week ago, and I'm still breaking out in spontaneous fits of laughter whenever I remember Borat singing about his country's potassium exports at a rodeo, or inviting a prostitute to his dinner party.

I view this movie, at worst, like Bowling for Columbine. Michael Moore used some tactics in making this movie that I find very questionable. He reached some conclusions that I don't agree with. But I've seen the movie, and however opposed I may be to the way it was made, I can't deny that it was a good flick. The man knows how to make a compelling piece of entertainment, regardless of how disgusted I am with the methods of its production.

If it turns out that Cohen is just a bastard child of Michael Moore and Johnny Knoxville, I won't shed a single tear at any amount of money he loses to lawsuits in real life. But it was still a fantastically entertaining film. I may eventually regret having supported it with my money, but I don't see myself feeling guilty at having laughed in the theater.

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Juxtapose
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I'd like to say that, in the case of the who booked "Borat" for the news show and lost her job, I can't dredge up a whole lot of sympathy. Wasn't it (at least part of) her job to weed out this type of thing? It kind of sounds like she didn't do any cursory checking at all. I can't be sure now, since the film would skew the results, but I'd still be willing to bet a simple google search before booking Borat would have given the game away.
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Mig
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From the article linked above:
quote:
Indeed, when local vice-mayor Petre Buzea was asked whether the people felt offended by Baron Cohen's film, he replied: 'They got paid so I am sure they are happy. These gipsies will even kill their own father for money.'
Maybe Cohen should have made Borat a Romanian.
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katharina
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I don't think humiliating people is funny, just like I don't think pantsing junior high boys while they climb the rope is funny. I think Borat's a bully.
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Pelegius
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Some of those people needed to be humiliated. The people at the rodeo stands out in this regard. How can you sympathize with a man who tells a visitor from Central Asia that he should shave his mustache so he doesn't look like a Muslim, but like an "Eye-talian" instead, and then goes on to say that he thinks homosexuals should be hanged?
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Zeugma
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I also hate cruel humor, katharina, but my overall impression of Cohen's antics was positive. The frat boys and the Romanian villagers get a lot of press, but not much is said about the excellent sequence where Borat innocently approaches a group of scary-looking black guys in Atlanta and is immediately accepted and treated with kindness. Several of the things he does during the high-society dinner party are shocking and crude, but the people at the table were free to respond however they saw fit, and I thought that the hostess in particular ended up looking pretty awesome. Even when Borat was off camera, she did her best to find positive explanations for his bizarre behavior. His visit to an evangelical megachurch passed entirely without incident, even though he's brought up on stage and handed a microphone... the worst he does is say that Jesus can't possibly like his neighbor Nursultan, because nobody likes Nursultan, which makes the entire congregation laugh appreciatively. [Smile]

There's plenty to be offended by in this movie, but honestly, I didn't feel like anyone was being bullied or humiliated unjustly in the sequences I saw in the film. Yes people were shocked, and yeah Borat does a lot of really offensive stuff, but on the whole the good people responded the way you'd expect good people to, with understanding or bewilderment or with a determination to remain respectful no matter how rude their guest is being. And the people who ended up saying that homosexuals should be executed, that anyone who looks like a Muslim probably has a bomb strapped to their chest, that it's a shame we don't have slavery anymore... well, I think it'd be great if more of those folks were shown spouting their crap in hit feature films. [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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Apparently Cohen got punched several times in the face when, after doing SNL the other night, he went to a bat afterwards with some castmates, and slipped away to do a bit, with in character, where he liked some guy's shirt, wanted to buy it and then 'make sexy time' with it. They guy didn't get it, felt threatened and punched him.

All I can say is: Karma.

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Zeugma
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Have you actually seen the movie, Lyrhawn?
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Frisco
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His first post in the thread seems to indicate that he has. The scroll button is your friend. [Razz]
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Zeugma
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Ahh true. I should have scrolled up further than "I'm glad I didn't pay to see it.", which I took to mean he hadn't seen it at all. [Smile]
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Pelegius
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I agree with Zeugma. I found the film to be strangely inspiring actualy. Being able to laugh at the dark side helps defeat it, I think that Jewish culture understands that much better than most.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Zeugma:
Ahh true. I should have scrolled up further than "I'm glad I didn't pay to see it.", which I took to mean he hadn't seen it at all. [Smile]

My best friend works at a movie theater. I pay a lot less often to see movies than I used to.

Though I usually end up paying a lot more for Christmas and birthday presents.

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katharina
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I think what bothers me about "he only makes the fools look foolish" is that we ONLY know them through his lens. We only think it's okay to make fun of them because Borat has edited and manipulated things to make them look like the kind of people it is okay to make fun of.

I don't accept Borat's story that these people are such fools that tricking them is okay.

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Tresopax
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quote:
Some of those people needed to be humiliated. The people at the rodeo stands out in this regard. How can you sympathize with a man who tells a visitor from Central Asia that he should shave his mustache so he doesn't look like a Muslim, but like an "Eye-talian" instead, and then goes on to say that he thinks homosexuals should be hanged?
What benefit do you think humiliating him served? Do you think he will change his ways now?
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imogen
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
I think what bothers me about "he only makes the fools look foolish" is that we ONLY know them through his lens. We only think it's okay to make fun of them because Borat has edited and manipulated things to make them look like the kind of people it is okay to make fun of.

I don't know enough about privacy laws and film laws, but I would assume that these people gave permission for their views to be videoed and shown (and, implicitly, edited).

So if people give permission, why can't they be made fun of? (I'm thinking particularly of the frat boys (but he said they wouldn't show it in the US!) here, not the allegedly* tricked Romanians).

I read a really interesting quote from Baron Cohen** about this film in a local magazine, but I can't find it online. In essence, he said the interesting thing about playing characters like Borat is that when you say something outrageously sexist/racist/bigoted, it is amazing how many times a room full of people will, after their initial shock reaction, agree with what you are saying or take it further.

I agree, it's not nice to make fun of people. I also think anything that makes people think about their tendency to accept bigoted speech without question is a good thing.

I haven't seen the film (not out in Australia, not sure I'll go, but not for ideological reasons, just because I find Baron Cohen as Borat teeth grindingly irritating) so I'm not sure if it does either of these things.


* That linked article read very... news of the world to me. I'm not sure whether it was just the writing, but it seemed to be a beat up.

** Kat, out of interest, why do you refer to him as the fictional Borat and not the actual person Baron Cohen?

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katharina
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quote:
Kat, out of interest, why do you refer to him as the fictional Borat and not the actual person Baron Cohen?
Oh, because I'm lazy and Borat is shorter.
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imogen
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Oh, ok. I thought there might have been some deeper meaning/issue that I was missing. [Smile]

[Edit - I should add, I do think the distinction is important. Borat is a character that is used for a satirical purpose. Baron Cohen is the person who edits the clips etc, and the views of Borat are not the view of Baron Cohen (and, indeed, are often antithetical to them)]

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katharina
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I could make something up. I could say that since the actor insists on playing a conniving baffoon, then he will be discussed and treated as one. You can be the story, tell the story, or comment on the story, but all three are rarely done well and his antics in being and telling the story diminish his credibility and ability to comment on the story.

But in reality, I'm just lazy. [Smile]

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imogen
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Aah - slow editing! (I did my edit before I saw your post [Smile] )
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katharina
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That does raise some questions, though. He's done all publicity and all interview so far in character (although an out-of-character one with Rolling Stone is coming up). It's very funny and all, but I think being able to take the criticism while in character should follow.
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imogen
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I agree with that actually.

But I also think being able to see *beyond* the character is also important (the purpose behind the film other than Borat is funny and insulting).

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katharina
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In the class I was auditing last night, the professor assigned the class to watch Borat and come up with some criticisms of the movie based on Terry Eagleton's presentation of text theories. I have to admit that now I'm torn - I deeply, deeply do not want to see this movie. I don't like scatological humor, I don't think rape is funny, and I don't like humiliation humor. On the other hand, now I want to read Eagleton's book and watch the movie with that in mind.
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Strider
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quote:
What benefit do you think humiliating him served? Do you think he will change his ways now?
I think the point is that the guy probably still has no idea he was humiliated. And even if he does know it was a joke, no, he probably won't change his views or ways at all. Which is what makes Borat incredibely funny and makes me sad for this country at the same time.
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katharina
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Oh, I don't think practical jokes and their unwitting objects are confined to this country alone.
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Strider
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point taken. I'm now sad for all of humanity as well... [Smile]
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Pelegius
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Mr. Cohen, through Borat, showed us a side of humanity which we are uncomfortable with. In recognizing this, the intolerance evident in both New York Feminists and Southern Racists, we can combat it within ourselves.

Comedy is debasing to humans, but uplifting to humanity. All comedy, not just Borat. The only difference here is that the people are real, we cannot dismiss them by saying "there is nobody like that." There are people like that, even if Mr. Cohen edited the film to show a certain side of them.

Legally, the Frat boys have no case the "I was too drunk to read the paperwork" defense is generally considered a poor one.

I sympathize with the Romanians, whom I believe were wronged. However, in wronging them, I feel that Mr. Cohen committed a greater good, by satirizing the ineffectual and/or corrupt nature of governments which leads to third world poverty, even in Romania, a country which is soon to join the E.U. It must be far worse in Belarus or Kazakhstan itself.

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SoaPiNuReYe
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I think that Jewish people got bashed pretty hard in this movie. Especially at the cockroach part.
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Pelegius
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I think anti-Semites got bashed pretty hard (Mr. Cohen is a practicing Jew; Borat is the anti-Semite.)
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GaalDornick
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I really like what Pelegius has had to say in this thread and I think he made alot of very good points. (Edit: this sounds alot more patronizing then I meant it to. I just meant to say that I agree with most of what he said.)

I agree that Anti-Semites were definitely the ones being bashed, not Jews. I was laughing so hard when they thought that the old Jewish people shapeshifted into the cockroaches and started throwing monehy at them. And at the Running of the Jew scene at the beginning of the movie. And I'm Jewish. This movie has been quoted non-stop all over my school since its release. This is a classic, IMO.

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SoaPiNuReYe
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I cried at the hotel part, it was so funny.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Legally, the Frat boys have no case the "I was too drunk to read the paperwork" defense is generally considered a poor one
If Dag wanders into this thread, I'm curious about that. IS the fact that they were drunk any sort of defense, and that they apparently claim the producer took them all out for drinks beforehand and then had them sign away some of their rights in what was obviously a harmful way to themselves?

I mean, what if they had gotten drunk and then signed away the deed to their houses or something similar? Is there a way to nullify the contracts, or claim fraud?

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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by Pelegius:
Although the scene were he destroys the antique shop is hilarious (that man totaly deserved it, too, as does anyone with that much racist merchandise.)

This has been bugging me for a couple of days. Do you really think it's alright to destroy someone's property just because you think they are racist or make money off of racists? That strikes me as pretty illiberal.
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