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Borat could teach global lesson

November 10, 2006

Two things happened on Tuesday, and I thought they wouldn't have any connection to each other: I voted and I saw the movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Aside from the prideful, patriotic feeling I got from affixing the “I Voted” sticker to my chest, voting wasn’t very entertaining or amusing.

But “Borat” was hilarious. Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor who plays Borat, takes on his character masterfully and without any reservations, and the various acts and stunts he performs so shameful that they rival those of Johnny Knoxville. The movie was definitely worth the $7 admission fee and the drive to Oakdale.

Less hilarious, though, were the Americans who Borat encountered during his trek across the United States. At one point, Borat asked a car salesman which vehicle would be most likely to attract a girl with a shorn pubic area, to which the salesman replied, “That would be a Corvette. Or a Hummer.”

Borat then showed up to a rodeo in the South where an American man encouraged Borat to shave off his moustache because it made him look too much like a Muslim. Later in the movie, Borat asked a gun dealer which weapon would be the most effective in defending himself against a Jew. (Keep in mind, Baron Cohen is Jewish in real life.) To this, the dealer recommended a 9-millimeter hand gun. On another occasion, one college-aged guy asked Borat, "Are women your slaves in Russia?"

These examples are embarrassing and humbling, and they should be for every American. Is our naivety of foreign customs so great that we don’t understand when a witty actor is making Americans the butt of the joke? When Borat was off camera at one point in the movie, a woman commented about Borat and his fictitious cultural practices saying, “I think the cultural differences are vast. I don’t think it would take him long to become Americanized.” So, to answer my own question, apparently we are. These candid, unscripted lines from the American public are proof.

As I was researching Baron Cohen and his Borat character, I came across a column by Howard Fineman of Newsweek. He asked if Americans still see George W. Bush as the savior for inferior nations in need of political reform, support and guidance, “or have Americans come to view him the way comedian Sacha Baron Cohen-slyly, through his Borat character- does: as a rootin’-tootin,’ boor-
ish fool?”

The way the elections went, the American public has answered, “Yep, the boorish fool.” Perhaps we’re looking to change the perception -- the George W. Bush perception -- we have of the rest of the world and, in turn, the perception the rest of the world has of us. This midterm election was labeled a referendum against Bush, and in some sense, the referendum has passed. The U.S. House of Representatives sent many long-time Republican incumbents home with their tails between their legs, and now the House has shifted dramatically to the Democrats’ advantage. Although it may take days -- even weeks -- to completely discover the makeup of the new Senate, Democrats have clearly gained seats in that department as well.

With the uncertain times we’re having in Iraq, failing foreign diplomacy and a general disregard toward America, this congressional shift is just what our country needs. We’ve proved that plowing through the opposition’s suggestions just to “stay the course” is no longer the answer. The course isn’t working, and it’s making our country look like a bunch of careless conquerors with no regard for the rest of the world’s population. Former President Bill Clinton put it nicely: “It’s time to stop and think. Then we can decide and act.”

On Tuesday, voters agreed. We have a new, better direction to go, and the rest of the world will understand that Americans are as eager and excited for change as anyone.

Or as Borat would say, “I like! High-five!”

Ben Jipson is a student at UW-River Falls.

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