Everyone is suing “Borat” – the drunken frat boys who give the eponymous hero a ride in their van, possibly the government of Kazakhstan, and certainly the people of Glod, Romania, apparently for portraying them as residents of Kazakhstan. If there’s a class action suit underway, I’d like to join in, because I laughed so hard at “Borat” that a mild cold turned into near-fatal paroxysms of coughing.
The overarching joke that drives “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is that America, despite its widespread prohibition on taking a dump in public, bears some remarkable resemblances to the grossly medieval fictional Kazahstan of the film. Take the rodeo scene, where Borat is invited to sing his national anthem, which turns out to echo American chauvinism, circa 2003: Kazakhstan is number one! Its potassium is the best in the world! As they realize that claims to being “number one” are not confined to the USA, the rodeo audience starts seething into lynch mob mode.
The other great point of contiguity between Kazakhstan and Borat’s candid camera America is anti-Semitism. Borat’s hometown celebrates an annual “Running of the Jew,” in which the village men attempt to flee two giant puppet-like “Jews.” Meanwhile in America, the frat boys who give Borat a ride helpfully explain to him that America is run by “the Jews” and minorities. Borat, played by the brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen –aka Ali G.—blinks in horror.
I don’t always find anti-Semitism hilarious, especially when it’s not being satirized by someone surnamed Cohen. When I was researching Bait and Switch, I got a taste of good-ole-boy anti-Jewish prejudice at a Christian businessmen’s [sic] lunch in the suburbs of Atlanta. I had gone to “network,” not realizing I would have to sit through a rambling 20-minute “testimony” on how the Lord had intervened to boost the profits of a local realtor. At some point in the story, the loquacious realtor receives an email from someone named Finkelstein. At the mere utterance of the name, the “Christians” around me cracked up.
Deciding I’d rather network with flesh-eating fiends, I fled from that place as fast as Borat did from the bed-and-breakfast where he discovered that his kind elderly hosts were in fact Jewish.
Or for another example of routine American anti-Semitism, consider the email I received in response to a column criticizing Wal-Mart. The writer liked my column, but faulted me for not pointing out that the Waltons are Jews, and that we will never achieve economic equity in this country until we exterminate that devious, all-powerful, subgroup. I responded that (1) the Waltons are Christians, and (2) that the writer was one sick expletive-deleted.
You don’t have to be Jewish to hate anti-Semitism (I’m not, though my surname, acquired through marriage, is.) Nor do you have to be gay to be made queasy by homophobia, Muslim to flinch at “towel-head”- type epithets, female to be sickened by sexism, or black to speak out against racism.
Sure, it might be convenient if people could be color-coded, bar-coded, or otherwise easily identified as suitable for either high-fiving or snubbing. But the only rule I’ve ever come up with is this one: Anyone who thinks there is such a rule-- defined by skin color, accent, religion, or whatever – is worth walking across the street to avoid.