“Bush-Era Culture” (Shudder)

by Scott McLemee on December 17, 2008

At the blog newcritics, Chuck Tryon points out something I would have missed otherwise, given the need to avoid national news magazines in the interest of anger management:

Newsweek, of all places, has a fascinating intellectual exercise in which they ask several of their film and media writers to name one popular culture text that “exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W. Bush.” Obviously, the idea of capturing the zeitgeist of eight often turbulent years with a divided electorate and a fractured media landscape is an impossibility. No single text can encompass the tragedy of September 11, the war in Iraq, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the housing bubble and collapse, and our news media’s often vacuous response to all of these events. But the Newsweek writers offer some interesting choices, ones that collectively seem to move toward capturing some sense of Bush-era culture.

I tend to think Battlestar Galactica wins, hand’s down. (Per earlier item.) See the rest of Chuck T’s entry here.



Zach B 12.17.08 at 6:25 pm

Not that I don’t have some affection for Battlestar Galactica, but it’s The Wire and it’s not close.


nashe 12.17.08 at 6:46 pm

I liked the inclusion and discussion of Franzen’s “The Corrections,” but would probably have gone with Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” instead. Franzen spurned Oprah; McCarthy (to great surprise given his shunning of the spotlight) happily sits with her on the comfy couch for a long, somewhat painful interview.


lemuel pitkin 12.17.08 at 6:50 pm

The Corrections is entirely a novel of the ’90s.


Alex 12.17.08 at 7:02 pm


gmoke 12.17.08 at 7:14 pm

The photograph of the Abu Ghraib prisoner hooded on a box with wires trailing from his fingers redone so that it looks like an iPod advertisement so that he now has the white earphone wires coming out of his ears as well. Perhaps they’re playing a continuous loop of disconcerting music (hmmm, “disconcerting music”).


Doctor Memory 12.17.08 at 7:16 pm

ZachB: it’s honestly hard to separate them. The Wire is the definitive artistic reaction to the Clinton/Bush-era domestic policy; BSG is its counterweight on the foreign policy side. Both shows dipped a cautious toe into the opposite pond from time to time, but largely stayed with their strengths… until both foundered in a disastrously uninteresting final season.


dfreelon 12.17.08 at 7:37 pm

In the realm of popular cinema The Dark Knight is as iconic a depiction of the characteristic anxieties of the Bush era as I’ve seen.


engels 12.17.08 at 7:56 pm

Borat is hilarious–if you like laughing at people who are poorer or less educated than you are, especially if they happen to hail from Muslim countries. It should be included as a record of the way in which racist hatred is still quite acceptable in mainstream culture in the US, Britain and elsewhere, and of the expensively educated bigots, like Baren-Cohen, who promulgate and profit from it.


Paul 12.17.08 at 8:13 pm

I tend to agree with The Onion AV Club who, in their round up of the year’s terrible movies, named Witless Protection as the worst of the year. They noted that they do not normally regard Larry the Cable Guy with any consequence, but that there is an exception in this case “if only because this shabbily assembled turd represents an era in this country’s history that we’re (hopefully) about to leave behind.” The full blurb is short, but enlightening: http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/there_appears_to_be_an_event/3 (scroll down and beware the fleshy photo of Larry).


Ben Alpers 12.17.08 at 8:27 pm

How about 24, an entire series built around the ticking time-bomb myth?

More seriously, Get Your War On has a pretty good claim, too.


Shane Taylor 12.17.08 at 8:42 pm

Funny Games.


minneapolitan 12.17.08 at 8:45 pm

I can’t open the Newsweek link for some reason, so maybe they covered this, but I thought Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was the best film about the Bush administration made during the Bush administration. It just sorta brought it all together.


Laura 12.17.08 at 8:51 pm

I nominate the television series Arrested Development. It’s all there: the naked self-interest in Iraq, a prescient awareness of the housing bubble, and the desperate, hilarious feeling of being the only sane, competent person left in the universe.


BM 12.17.08 at 9:07 pm

Maybe it’s too overt, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does pretty well.


MR Bill 12.17.08 at 9:10 pm

Well, as someone involved in the visual arts, they pretty much sucked in the Bush era.
I can’t think of anything in painting or sculpture that is memorable, much less indispensable.

And, in another data point, check out one of my favorite sites, Skyscraperpage.com .
Note how few skyscrapers are being built in the US, and how generally crappy the designs of US buildings are. (I don’t care much for the Freedom Tower being built to replace the World Trade center, it looks uncomfortable, like a basketball player pulling his shoulders in, but at least its kind of interesting.) This was evident looking at the diagram page of “World Skyscraper Construction” a few years back, all the innovation had moved to Dubai or China.. http://skyscraperpage.com/diagrams/?25002165 is the link. Look at the first few pages, please.


zunguzungu 12.17.08 at 9:52 pm

I wonder if you could tag the entire revival of the superhero genre to the Bush era? The Batman movies are obviously quite beholden to him for inspiration, but there have been an absolute barrage of examples in the last few years.


Martin James 12.17.08 at 9:53 pm

Napoleon Dynamite


Ian Milliss 12.17.08 at 10:46 pm

more Donnie Darko than Napoleon Dynamite


KobayashiMaru 12.17.08 at 10:56 pm

I know the Daily Show predates Bush, but it really came into its own during the Bush years.


Richard 12.18.08 at 12:59 am

Burn After Reading.


Bruce Baugh 12.18.08 at 1:32 am

Including some ’90s works seems entirely appropriate to me since the media and Washington culture that helped Bush along matured then.


Another Duncan 12.18.08 at 2:19 am

I’d disagree with “The Wire” as quintessentially Bushian. The roots of Baltimore’s collapse as depicted derive from systemic institutional flaws introduced by Reagan. Most notably: the “War on Drugs”; the destruction of domestic manufacturing concurrent with an assault on the unions; and a reliance on “hard” metrics (the ‘stats’ which need to be ‘juked’). The last is covered in Adam Curtis’ documentary “The Trap”. The Wire would still be apposite even if Gore had won.

As far as sci-fi comparisons go, I think season 3 of Enterprise is a better fit. After a catastrophic attack on Earth, the Enterprise goes in search of the attackers with a two-fold mission: find out “why they hate us” and kick their asses. Interestingly, the motive for the attacks turns out to be an imperialist attempt by time travelling extra-dimensional aliens to pre-empt federation interference, utterly unrelated to anything the humanity has actually done. This mirrors the Bush narrative that 9/11 was the first shot in a war caused solely by political muslims, bent on creating a new Caliphate while completely ignoring the Cold War foreign policy which led up to it.


paulo 12.18.08 at 2:58 am

It ain;t written yet. But when it is it will be written by Terry Pratchett.


Geoff 12.18.08 at 4:27 am

*Idiocracy, which was an eerily accurate portrayal of the level of political discourse in America during the Bush years.

*Team America. Need I say more?

*Although it’s from the 70s, I would have to nominate Full Metal Jacket. I mean, I’m just waiting for somebody from the Bush Administration to say “inside every Iraqi, there’s an American trying to get out.”


Down and Out of Sài Gòn 12.18.08 at 5:04 am

Pratchett would be good, Paolo, if you are looking for “exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of Tony Blair”. In Going Postal, the backstory involves a nastyprivate semaphore monopoly (‘the clacks”). They’re pretty hopeless running the system, due to their cutbacks on maintenance and staff, but they give good press releases. Yes, it fits Bush, but it fits Blair better.


roy belmont 12.18.08 at 6:09 am

My own experience of the Bush years found some resonance in John From Cincinnati.
For the Zeitgeist though, yeah the Wire, though it was made, written, and especially acted with more integrity than was visible anywhere in the culture it mirrored, except where that integrity was held, blocked and frustrated, in potential.

Thanks for saying that so clearly and evenly.


reason 12.18.08 at 7:40 am



Adam Roberts 12.18.08 at 8:54 am

300. In every way.


sg 12.18.08 at 9:10 am

After 28 comments Adam nailed it – 300.

It’s not just the war-love, but the overt and aggressive man-love, and the sissification of anyone who doesn’t want war, and the Bush-era diplomacy (down the well, Saddam!) It has everything Bush’s America loves, and right-wing boggers of the time said so. It’s pitiless, cruel and vicious, and all the heroes have fake abs.


Ginger Yellow 12.18.08 at 1:50 pm

Definitely BSG. The second and third seasons will go down in history as one of TV’s greatest achievements.


Nick L 12.18.08 at 2:37 pm

Adam Roberts and sg:

300 is the Bush era as Christopher Hitchens would have liked it to have been, not as it was. The key line in the film is near the end where the narrator calls on Greeks to rise up to defeat all forms of superstition and darkness. If this had been the actual goal of US foreign and domestic policy it may well have been worth supporting. But the idea of that the Bush administration and the queer-hating, Darwin-denying zealots and ruthless plutocrats that make up the American right could lead some kind of crusade on behalf of the Enlightenment is so laughably absurd to everyone outside of the ‘decent left’ and the inner coterie of New Labour.


Mrs Tilton 12.18.08 at 2:44 pm

Engels @8,

Borat is hilarious—if you like laughing at people who are poorer or less educated than you are, especially if they happen to hail from Muslim countries

Wait. You actually saw Borat? And still thought the poorer, less-educated guy from the Muslim country was the butt of the joke?


arthur 12.18.08 at 2:48 pm

I vote for the nonpolitical novel Little Children by Tom Perotta, which is also a Kate Winslet movie. It’s set at the end of the Summer of 2001, which is never explicitly stated, but there are references in the book to Gary Condit and a few other news events. A story of adultery among parents of toddlers, with a subplot about the community’s reaction to a suspected evil doer, it’s about lying, infedility, irrational (but not completely irrational) fear of evil, and mainly the childishness of the people who are supposed to be adults.


dsquared 12.18.08 at 2:56 pm

And still thought the poorer, less-educated guy from the Muslim country was the butt of the joke?

IIRC, the Romanian village that he filmed the introductory section in were pretty pissed off at the way they were portrayed.


Michael Drake 12.18.08 at 3:13 pm

Heart of Darkness.


engels 12.18.08 at 3:14 pm

Yes, I have seen Borat (though I can’t claim have given it my full attention for two hours) and I am pretty confident that for many of the other people watching the room the poor, less educated guy from a Muslim/ex-Soviet country appeared to be the butt of the joke. The fact that I have seen central Asian immigrants in London finding themselves (unwillingly) as the butt of the same joke in real life has tended to confirm this. Not to deny that film also ridicules mostly poor and uneducated Americans.

I know the correct view for sophisticated liberals is that it is all anti-racist post-modern irony, but that seems to me to be on the same level as the post-modernism ‘feminist’ arguments about how lap-dancing clubs ’empower’ women.


Mrs Tilton 12.18.08 at 3:20 pm

dsquared @34,

yeah, Baron Cohen’s humour is pretty coarse.

Still: Romania’s not a Muslim country. And though Kazakhstan is, I don’t recall anything being made of that fact in the film. IIRC, Baron Cohen originally chose the country for his character because he figured that most of his target audience would know little about it other than its name and the fact that it had some vague connection with Russia.

But that’s all so much nit-picking. The substantive point here is that anyone who thinks Borat is all about giving racist American bigots a good laugh at the wogs — indeed, anyone who thinks the Americans in the film come off better than the caricature foreigners — has colossally misunderstood the film.


Mrs Tilton 12.18.08 at 3:37 pm

engels @36,

to be really certain about this, I’d have to watch the film again, a notepad to hand, and that’s not going to happen. But my recollection is that few of the Americans singled out for Baron Cohen’s mockery were poor, and I have no reason to suppose they were poorly educated. Some in fact were quite affluent, and had presumably enjoyed the benefits of expensive education. The Americans in the film who I’d think were likeliest to be poor and poorly-educated weren’t mocked and indeed come off as rather sympathetic. They’d also be the ones any racist bigots in the audience would be most likely to hate.

But I take your point, and shall do my best to ensure that the lesser orders do not have access to Animal Farm and A Modest Proposal. Possibly the authors had some other point they wanted to make, but as you know and I know, for most people, these works are nothing more than a crude appeal to pig-hatred and anti-Irish cannibalism.


Boston Charlie 12.18.08 at 3:42 pm

Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.

All of relevance that came after is commentary, elaboration or exhibition.


Dave 12.18.08 at 4:07 pm

Show people a film with a funny foreigner in it, and they’ll generally see it as being about how funny the foreigner is. I suppose you’d call it confirmation bias.


Kaveh Hemmat 12.18.08 at 5:05 pm

@ Mrs Tilton 32: Borat uses a very straightforward racist/Islamophobic code: hirsute foreign man who has the sexuality of a 12-year-old boy, comes from a country that has a song called “throw the Jew down the well”. They don’t have to say “he’s a Muslim” anymore than a conservative politician speaking about “welfare queens” and “thugs” in the 1990s needs to tell you they are black, or that a wealthy cabal of pale, dark-haired businessmen who controls the media would need to be identified as Jewish.

More disturbing than the racial coding itself is how many of the jokes are about Borat’s sexual humiliation, resulting from his naivety. Inscribing sexual perversity into Muslim & Middle Eastern male bodies is a major theme of Bush-era culture. And it runs into the 90s, too. See also the Saddam Hussein character in South Park, Laura Bush’s praise for Reading Lolita in Tehran (THEY should read stories about pederasty, but it’s too degenerate for US–Lolita itself doesn’t make the list), and US-run prisons in Iraq–there seems to be practically an obsession with sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.


Bbuck 12.18.08 at 5:29 pm

A Million Little Pieces.

A tale about a man’s terrible habits and all around self-destructive behavior.

Most fitting: it’s all lies.


sg 12.18.08 at 6:14 pm

Engels, I once knew a sex-worker who was empowered by her work. It was very post-feminist. I haven’t seen Borat but I can’t imagine it empowers Kazakhs in quite the same way, and everything I have heard about it makes it sound nasty.

I think 300 represents the thinking of the Bush era. Even it’s closed, non-ironic ignorance is perfectly representative of the cabal of right-wingers who conceived of their suicidal iraq project without a moments thought for the consequences. I don’t dispute the excellence of BSG (aside from that awful woman in the red dress), but it appears to represent (by allegory etc.) the entire scope of the Bush era world, both points of view, etc. You can’t properly describe the Bush era if you include both points of view. There was only 1, and it triumphed over the muslim hordes.


michael e sullivan 12.18.08 at 6:35 pm

37: But that’s all so much nit-picking. The substantive point here is that anyone who thinks Borat is all about giving racist American bigots a good laugh at the wogs—indeed, anyone who thinks the Americans in the film come off better than the caricature foreigners—has colossally misunderstood the film.

Nobody thinks that. You are missing the criticism.

The problem with Borat is that it combines reveling in racist tropes (as noted well by Kaveh Hemmat at 40) with the primary humor of laughing at the rubes who go along without seeing the con. You are supposed to laugh knowingly at most these tropes, “Ha, ha, that is so racist, and look at the fool who is so bigoted he thinks Borat is serious!”, even while a few others just slip right by and you don’t even notice.

SB-C is essentially doing muslim blackface, and it is every bit as problematic and racist as the blackface or “hood” parties cooked up by university “liberals” every year around february and for many of the same reasons.

Basically when we watch something like Borat, we get to have our racist cake and eat it too. We aren’t racists, of course, because we are in on the joke, and we certainly aren’t like those people SB-C has gotten to spout real bigoted nonsense to go along.

But there’s no real counterpoint. There are no Robert Townsend scenes where the veil falls off and we see a faithful and honest depiction of a mystified actual person dealing with the racist bullshit coming his way. Instead we get an eastern european village scene that is universally despised by the people who were filmed in it. We get Robert Townsend as filmed by 70s blaxploitation purveyors, and never see his personal reaction.

Which is not to completely endorse Hollywood Shuffle as a paragon of all things anti-racist in making fun of racism: one can raise issues with it’s depiction of jews, for instance. But it’s doing something similar what people claim Borat is doing, and the differences are both stark and instructive.


lemuel pitkin 12.18.08 at 6:54 pm

the blackface or “hood” parties cooked up by university “liberals” every year around february

What on earth are you talking about?


Kaveh Hemmat 12.18.08 at 7:02 pm

Thanks Michael, you put it better than I could.
We aren’t racists, of course, because we are in on the joke, and we certainly aren’t like those people SB-C has gotten to spout real bigoted nonsense to go along.
In fact, when SB-C was a guest on SNL, he just did the Borat character on stage, there were no rubes to laugh at, Borat was the whole joke. The laugh lines were stuff like Kazakhstan exporting female (ahem) body hair for use as pot scrubbers. I think it’s safe to say not only that this isn’t about laughing *at* racists, but that the character is producing its own, novel racism.


Kaveh Hemmat 12.18.08 at 7:07 pm

I don’t know how many people doing this are self-described liberals, but I understand these parties are not all that rare.


roy belmont 12.18.08 at 7:07 pm

“there seems to be practically an obsession with sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners”
There were some of us out here on the loopier edge of current-event-watching that thought at the time that maybe the release of the graphic imagery from Abu Ghraib, its being splattered across every possible global news screen, was itself a continuation of the acts of sexual humiliation depicted. A widening, an expansion of the degradation, a trumpeting publication of it, a gloating extension of the acts themselves.
Still are some of us who think that.
As much as I’d like to engage Mrs. Tilton on the subject of Borat I’m, sadly for me, unable to so do, having never willingly watched anything Baron-Cohen’s done.
Though what little I do know about him professionally would seem pertinent, in that it illustrates somewhat the larger less visible dynamic of the Bush years.
A Jew making a stand-up career pretending to be a bling-draped Arab hip-hop wannabe Muslim asshole, then achieving international fame and fortune pretending to be a naive hick barbarian Muslim asshole.
The pejorative noun and its most immediate adjective being the take-away point in both cases.


lemuel pitkin 12.18.08 at 7:17 pm

I don’t know how many people doing this are self-described liberals, but I understand these parties are not all that rare.

The presumption would be that none of them are self-described liberals. I have never before heard anyone claim they are, and I’d like to know what Michael’s evidence is for what looks like a rather vicious slander.


Michael Bérubé 12.18.08 at 7:31 pm

Most of those people are indeed self-described university “liberals,” in the Australian sense, where liberals are hood-wearing racists and they celebrate Halloween in February because the water flows upward and everything. It’s like when Laura Bush inscribed sexual perversity into Muslim males by praising Reading Lolita in Tehran, too.

Hey Scott! Always good to see you around these parts. I nominate this very thread as the popular culture text that exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W. Bush.


lemuel pitkin 12.18.08 at 8:30 pm

I wish I could make a suitably clever followup to 50 instead of just dopily registering my slack-jawed appreciation for its sheer awesomeness, but nothing’s coming to me. So let me just say if CT were a bar band instead of an epoch-exemplifying pop-culture text, I’d be the obnoxious guy shouting, “More Bérubé!”


c.l. ball 12.18.08 at 8:45 pm

Re 29

The abs aren’t fake.


Doctor Slack 12.18.08 at 8:51 pm

“See also the Saddam Hussein character in South Park, Laura Bush’s praise for Reading Lolita in Tehran (THEY should read stories about pederasty, but it’s too degenerate for US—Lolita itself doesn’t make the list), and US-run prisons in Iraq”

The first one is a sample of standard homophobic “the enemy-is-effeminate” humour, the last one is an example of policy. The middle one was stock posturing about the “free” world vs. its unfree enemies (the Muslim world), the content of the book didn’t really matter.

300 is a good choice, definitely. Its crude, ur-fascist militarism, eugenicism and hate-mongering are squarely centred in the American proto-fascist psyche (which, like the comic itself, predates Bush but became truly visible under him).


C H 12.18.08 at 8:57 pm

I also feel uncomfortable about the way in which SBC’s audience reacted to the movie (many people did seem to delight in the racist caricatures) but I am not convinced that SBC is racist or intends for the film to promote racism.

It does seem possible that he is a very shrewd comedian without any particular scruples. Maybe he’s comfortable exploiting latent racist attitudes in the audience without himself being actively racist. I dunno.

He certainly isn’t the only popular comedian to try and walk the line between being racist and “parodying racism.” I think of the whole Sarah Silverman, “I hate chinks/jury duty” dust-up. Silverman’s defense was that she is clearly not racist, and therefore the joke isn’t racist but rather “makes fun of racist people” or something to that extent.

I wouldn’t call any of this “having your racist cake and eating it too,” at least not on the part of the performers. Rather, this just seems like comedians doing whatever new, outrageous thing they can think of to get laughs, without regard for exactly who or what their audience is laughing at.


Watson Aname 12.18.08 at 8:58 pm

52: Not fake, but what you see is at least as much lighting (and probably makeup) as it is workouts


Righteous Bubba 12.18.08 at 9:28 pm

Who are these betrayers of verisimilitude that have invented these enfabulousnating new techniques of lighting and make-up?


Watson Aname 12.18.08 at 9:30 pm

Hollywood, Righteous Bubba.

Seriously though, watching good lighting work is amazing.


Kaveh Hemmat 12.18.08 at 10:48 pm

@53 I should point out that I haven’t actually read Reading Lolita, I’ve heard it’s very good, though it’s been criticized as (perhaps unintentionally) neocon-enabling. My concern with Laura Bush’s interest in it has to do with the title more than the contents, and, thin as that sauce is, I do think there’s something to it. To be clear, I don’t think Laura Bush sat down one day and said to herself “what can I do to inscribe perversity into Muslim male bodies?” but I do suspect she could have been subtly influenced by her environment to zero in on that book; at the very least she is (surprise! gasp!) guilty of being careless of the implications of promoting it.

King Darius with eye makeup in 300 was a better “sample of standard homophobic “the enemy-is-effeminate””, imo, than Saddam Hussein in South Park. The latter wasn’t actually effeminate, iirc, at least not in any other ways, not in the way that, say, Prince Edward in Braveheart was. It’s more like his hyper-masculinity is rolled over to a negative value, and his “submitting” to the devil is funny because it’s ironic. I think he and Borat are of a type, which different from the effeminate tyrant motif, though there is some overlap.


notsneaky 12.18.08 at 11:02 pm

Just want to note that this is one of those 1 in 100 instances where I agree with Engels. And the fact that I’m simultaneously disagreeing with Mrs. Tilton makes it 1 in 10000. The whole “it’s a joke on unsuspecting racists” is just thrown in to make all the straight up racism palatable and guilt free. The only thing noteworthy about SBC is that he manages to make standard fratboy humor (who I’m willing to bet are the majority of the intended audience here) appeal to folks who should know better. Lenny Bruce it ain’t.


Righteous Bubba 12.18.08 at 11:18 pm

The whole “it’s a joke on unsuspecting racists” is just thrown in to make all the straight up racism palatable and guilt free.

I disagree, but it’s a tough line to walk and if the SNL episode mentioned above is as described that seems like a failure. It may be that the film is also a failure but I haven’t seen it. SBC’s error may have been to choose an actual country. Personally I don’t think Borat is in any way different from these two guys except for the Candid Camera element:


Dave Weeden 12.18.08 at 11:45 pm

I may think this because I’m reading it at the moment, but “Nixonland” does a very good job of addressing “eight often turbulent years with a divided electorate and a fractured media landscape.”

I did try reading some of the Newsweek efforts. I liked the one on American Idol:

Start with the title: in England, the show was called “Pop Idol”—but when it migrated here in 2002, it apparently needed an infusion of patriotism. So, much like freedom fries, “American Idol” was born. …

And like Dubya, the show makes a virtue of its unflagging consistency. “Idol” is the most predictable show on television. Simon Cowell is always the evil one. (It’s no accident that he’s also the only foreigner at the judges’ table.)

But Simon Cowell is the evil one in England [sic] too. This whole exercise couldn’t be reading too much into Bush could it?


novakant 12.18.08 at 11:49 pm

Well, he made me feel sympathetic towards Posh and Becks – no mean feat. Don’t know if this can be applied to the Borat case, but nobody I know actually thinks the Kazakhs throw Jews down the well. Also, Wikipedia quotes a Kazakh newspaper, novelist and the national football team as being highly supportive of the movie and adds that the DVD is a top seller in Kazakhstan.

P.S.: I’m so geeky that when I first came across Sacha Baron-Cohen’s oeuvre, I wondered if there was any relation to Simon Baron-Cohen – turns out they’re cousins.


Righteous Bubba 12.19.08 at 12:08 am

In Metalocalypse five idiots export aggressive culture around the world, killing and maiming largely through misadventure, getting away with it all because they are too powerful to stop.

I guess it fails as Bush culture because the show has the lead characters remain the most popular people on Earth.


Mrs Tilton 12.19.08 at 12:36 pm

notsneaky @59,

I hadn’t realised that our opinions overlap 99.99% of the time, so it saddens me that we must part ways over Borat.

Seriously, to address your point (and that of several others, starting with engels), I should make clear that I agree that much of Baron Cohen’s work is coarse, and that a Kazakh (or generic eastern European or central Asian — only the latter really applies to K’stan, but Baron Cohen is, I think deliberately, pretty vague about what sort of place Borat’s “Kazakhstan” is) could well take offence. I’d think them a bit thinskinned myself, but certainly well within their rights. [FN 1] Baron Cohen’s American targets have more serious grounds to be offended, but then they are for the most part people who deserve offence. I don’t want to come over as an impassioned defender of Baron Cohen. I simply think one’s offence-o-metre has to be calibrated very loosely to dismiss the film as mere racist bigotry. (Kaveh @46, I know Borat only from the film. What you describe from SNL is less defensible though still, I think, not quite equivalent to Der Stürmer.)

Roy @48,

A Jew making a stand-up career pretending to be a bling-draped Arab hip-hop wannabe Muslim asshole

It’s an uncommon Arab, I’d say, who rejoices in the name “Alistair Leslie Graham”. It might be the “Ali” part that has you thinking Baron Cohen’s first famous character is an Arab. It is, instead, just part of his wannabeicity. I don’t find Ali G the funniest thing in the world, I’m sorry to say, but I will always have a place in my heart for him after his Sammy Wilson interview.

[FN 1] Apparently, though, few Kazakhs are offended. On the whole they seem to think the film a scream, as Novakant notes @62; but to be fair one should also note that, whatever about your man in the Almalinskiy omnibus, at the time the Kazakh government was very definitely not amused (until, if I what I heard is correct, their president’s daughter told them to lighten up).


Dave 12.19.08 at 4:16 pm

Ah, humour, such dangerous stuff. How much better-off we will be after the revolution, when all perceptions are fully calibrated to objective reality, and jokes will become impossible.

Meanwhile, I think SB-C is a dick, but Ali G was definitely supposed to be white.


michael e sullivan 12.19.08 at 7:14 pm

49: It was overstretch to describe such parties as “cooked up” by self-described liberals. There may be some, but that is probably not the case for most, if any. I do know people who have attended such things, or defended them, who are self-described liberals. I would not describe them as liberals, hence the quotes.

I certainly did not mean to suggest that this was the typical behavior of self-described liberals.

60: No, Borat isn’t really different at all from Latka Gravas. Andy Kaufman was a pig. His later antics make that much more obvious. But Latka is plenty offensive enough, even if I didn’t quite understand why as a teenager. Mork? I don’t remember it well enough to judge. He wasn’t indicated as any particular race or ethnicity explicitly and I don’t recall if there were obvious enough tropes that it qualifies, but assuming there were, I’d say it’s essentially the same schtick.


roy belmont 12.19.08 at 10:53 pm

Mrs T @64:
My apologies to Baron-Cohen and anyone else maligned or discomfited by my misapprehension.
It was based entirely on the “Ali” in Ali G, and SB-C’s visual presentation of the character.


om 12.20.08 at 4:28 am

No one suggested There Will Be Blood?!

I’m shocked!


Martin James 12.22.08 at 5:30 pm

On further reflection, certainly Downfall.

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