American Shame

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boratscarlettletter.jpg

Shame.

No one has the right to shame another.

No one on Earth can cast stones at the wrongs of other human beings.

There has only been one perfect man…and even he didn’t cast stones.

I’ve got a big problem with the Borat movie. The problem I have with it is SO big that I won’t be able to write up an adequate post over my lunch break.

But let me throw a few things out there to try to make my point.

Not only does Borat belittle the entire country of Kazakhstan (which really doesn’t need any more problems)…he belittles the people of middle-class America.

Under the guise of being a “Trojan horse,” Borat gets people to show their real selves and, ultimately, to reveal that racism, sexism, elitism, whateverism is not dead.

According to an article I read in Entertainment Weekly, Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) and his production crew were less than honest in their approach with the people they interviewed.

The unwitting subjects, whom Baron Cohen and his team carefully selected for their potential comedic value, were handed release forms that were, if not technically bogus, at least ambiguous as to the filmmakers’ true intent. ”I don’t want to get into the whole process,” says Gianopulos. ”But people knew in advance they were being taped, so they signed the appropriate documents.” Asked if the releases said ”Twentieth Century Fox” on them, he answers, ”I don’t know.”

Even, from accounts at a local television station here in Jackson, MS, where Cohen asked permission to interview…after the TV station realized he was making a mockery of America, they escorted him off the set…and then he turned around and bullied back on during a LIVE broadcast. Read about the event here. (Thanks for link, Staci.)

Anyway…getting to the picture of Hester Prynne atop this post.

Did she do wrong?

Yes.

Should she have paid for it by public humiliation and shame…while man of the cloth Dimmesdale was free to continue preaching?

No.

I find what Cohen is doing all in the name of comedy to be reprehensible.

Sure there is racism and sexism and elitism and whateverism still alive today.

But people don’t need a comedian to find it…they just need to look in the mirror.

No one is exempt…and no one should be made to be “an example.”

If change is what Cohen is wanting to see happen from this film…he’s foolish to think it will make a difference.

If he just wanted to make money…he hit the jackpot.

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25 Responses to “American Shame”

  1. Holeigh Says:

    I really don’t want to see this movie…one of my best friends has seen it twice and he loves it so he keeps telling me I should go. Now I doubt I ever will, haha…from all the clips I have seen and stuff I have read, I think you’re right on, Shell. And it is a shame.

  2. bamaborntxbred Says:

    I’ll have to do a longer comment later too…

    I haven’t seen the movie. Initially I really wanted to see this movie…until Shelley showed me the error of my ways. I’m so glad now that I didn’t put another $8 into that guy’s pocket. I’ve heard story after story of people that were humiliated and deceived by him and his production co. What a sick man….

  3. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Am I casting stones at Cohen now?

  4. Shelley via Bama Says:

    Bama said, “Am I casting stones now?”

    Ha…all the way back to the office I kept wondering that about myself for writing this post.

    Sorry I had to throw it together AND make/eat lunch AND listen to Taylor’s message on Gray’s in 30 minutes.

    Y’all deserve better than a quick write-up…but I’m trying my best. 😉

    By the way…I meant to add…just because I have a problem with the film doesn’t mean it’s not funny. I’m sure it is. As a matter of fact…I’m positive it’s hilarious. But I still find it reprehensible.

  5. PhotoHolic Says:

    I have not and will not see the movie – my mind is made up in that respect. The only scene I know much about is one that was set here in B’ham………on southern manners and etiquette……….and it evidentally turned into stereotypical “southern bathroom humor”. There was an article in our local paper about the people who “signed on” to do it. They DID NOT KNOW they were being filmed for a movie, only that they were being asked – for real they thought – to teach a foreign visitor southern manners and customs. Instead, they were turned into a venue for ridicule. Now, while sarcasm is my daily bread…..it’s only used on those needed. Not innocents who are truly trying to do good.

  6. double d Says:

    Ok, I’m totally NOT informed concerning Borat, but….

    I would put this in the same category as Howard Stern, Jackass, PUNK’d, etc. Has never, and will never, garner my attention.

    However, many TV programs AND movies continually make fun of people, particularly Southerners…My Name is Earl, The Waterboy, etc. and many we have even commented on as being “hilarious”.

    Can we laugh hysterically at one and condemn another?

  7. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Well, DD-

    Those people on the shows you named, and the characters on them, are scripted and paid performers. Viewers (by now) know what they are getting into…so if they are Southern and choose to watch Earl..then that’s an informed choice.

    Borat duped everyday, innocent people. They purposely mislead those people into believing they were being filmed for different purposes.

    Punk’d gets approval from those folks that were “punk’d” after everything is filmed, so they are completely aware of what will be shown. If they are not down with it…they don’t sign and nothing is ever aired.

    There is a BIG difference in your examples and Borat.

  8. ivoryhut Says:

    The first I ever heard of Borat was when they were talking about it on the morning radio, and it sounded really funny. Then I heard snippets here and there, some short clips, and didn’t really form an opinion until Cohen was a guest at SNL the night Hugh Laurie hosted. And I must say, while I can see how some people can find it funny, it crossed the line into too offensive for my tastes. So I don’t have any intentions of seeing it, nor do I even want to spend too much time contemplating it.

    I have absolutely no interest in humor that uses vulgar language or obscenities. I think one can be perfectly funny without the use of certain choice words (e.g. that recent F-bomb fiesta-gone-haywire on GC was NOT my cup of tea). I won’t impose my preferences on others, but I definitely will not support it either by adding to the till.

    But my views then were based solely on the fact that I don’t like that kind of humor. Reading now about how the footage was gathered leaves an even worse taste in the mouth.

  9. double d Says:

    So you all don’t have a problem with people being made fun of, just the fact that people were “duped” into looking stupid?

    I understand what you’re saying about people making an informed decision to see actors making fun of a culture or “people”, but movies like Joe Dirt re-inforce stereotypes and make fun of people under the guise of satire. All that is ok, though?

    I’m a little thick but it seems that everyone LOVES Larry David et al and he thinks this guy is revolutionary for comedy…everyone’s problem is the means that he goes about “getting the funny”, right? That’s what I meant about Howard Stern, Jackass, Punk’d…those are not “traditional” means of getting the funny, but people think they’re hilarious.

    I’m having a little trouble understanding the outrage, is all. Doesn’t seem that this is anything new in the “gross” humor arena. But hey, what do I know? My idea of humor is a tricked up electronic monkey with a visor and antenna….

  10. Shrewspeaks Says:

    I am struggling with this…I see everyone’s point but I feel like I can’t comment until I see the movie…If someone has seen this movie, please speak up.

    I remember when the Last Temptation of Christ came out and everyone’s panties were in a bunch over it…I saw it and honestly…I felt many of the objections were unfounded.

    Now, in this case it could all be part of a brilliant marketing scheme or people trying to get rich off of a successful movie…So I would like to know if anyone HAS seen this and can comment. Help me decide.

  11. double d Says:

    And, just to clarify…I’m with Ivoryhut. I don’t watch that crap because I don’t think it’s funny. I’m not defending the idiot, just trying to make the point that there are many others just as idiotic as Borat.

  12. bamaborntxbred Says:

    DD- This was part of a comment I posted yesterday…

    “You know, “tolerance” is pounded into our heads by “Hollywood”, however, not everything is okay to be tolerated. There are those particular groups that are still “okay” to disparage. Groups like: Overweight people, Christians, Southerners, etc. Watch tv and movies and you will not see an overweight person in a lead role…they are always the funny or lazy side-kick. You will see Christians portrayed as idiotic extremists or hypocrites that are actually evil at their core. Southerners are cast as ignorant and backwards.”

    So, of course I object to people being made fun of for stereotypes. But I’m disgusted and disturbed by Borat b/c he does that…and takes it much further by outright ridiculing people that were not informed about the “end game” or given an opportunity to refuse that the footage be shown.

    And sure, a lot of people don’t find humor such as Jackass, Borat, etc. to be funny and choose not to watch those things. It is a different thing altogther to be the un-informed (on-film) object of the joke.

  13. ridearoundsally Says:

    Ok here goes…I will probably get booted off for this but…Borat..yes his humour does cross every line of decency, taste, anti-semitic, sexist and perversly offensiveness..but..its funny, very funny. Rumour has it that Kazakistan are not amused and have threatened to sue!! But Im sorry..I found it offensively funny. I loved his comment on why He fell in love with Pamela Anderson..”she have teeth that only grow on inside of mouth” also bits where he launders his undies in a pond in central park or when the live chicken escapes from his bag on a subway train. Also the fear on Pamela Andersons face when he finally finds her at a book signing. Fans of irony will love this..British born “Cohen” is a devout Jew!! go figure!(if youve seen the movie you will understand) He shot to fame with Da Ali G show where he duped a succession of rich and powerful Brits into making fools of themselves on prime time TV (which I believe Americans found to be very amusing) I think this will become a cult classic and will offend as many as it will delight, I believe its one of the funniest movies ever made. If there is any justice in this world Sacha Baron Cohen should walk away with this years Academy award for best actor.

  14. Shelley via Bama Says:

    i have always had a problem with stern, punk’d and jackass…and believe it or not…i have a problem with shows like candid camera (modern day). anytime you “trick” someone or set them up so that they can look foolish (by their own accord or not)…it’s not good.

    as for shows that portray stereotypical characters…i don’t always like the outlandish portrayals…but i can accept it better than the shows listed above.

    television and movies aren’t the first to use extreme characters for entertainment…look way back in literature. “the fool” is used in many ways to drive home a point…don’t be foolish with money…or your heart…or with greed…or etc. but to make fun of a fool just for being a fool isn’t just morally wrong…it’s lazy. a good writer will use foolish behavior to drive home a point…like what is done on Earl (which ultimately shows strength of character…even for Joy at times!) And on the WaterBoy…didn’t he have good characteristics and an innocense that made him endearing?

    i’m not saying it’s okay to poke fun as long as you say how sweet or nice someone is…just that there can be a point to illustrating extreme characteristics if it drives the moral or theme of a story.

    borat doesn’t do that. he dressed up and acted like a dim-witted ignorant person…knowing that people would either be overly kind and patient with him because of the image he projected or that they would save whatever they wanted because they didn’t see him as a threat.

    i think what some of the people say in the film is just as reprehensible as what cohen did…but why single them out as the worst of mankind or for being so awful?

    seriously, if we are honest with ourselves…we know that each of us harbors a dark side that thinks things we know are wrong…from lust to greed to hatred to envy to selfishness to narcism to…well…you name it.

    the human race is fallible and wretched on so many levels…for one person to bring out the worst in others on purpose and then tape it and show it and make money from it is among some of even the most wretched of behaviors.

  15. bamaborntxbred Says:

    ridearoundsally-

    I think it’s great that you saw the film and enjoyed it! I’m not condeming the people that have seen the movie…just the makers of the movie.

    I’ve seen Borat interviewed on a lot of entertainment “news” shows and I personally get a chuckle out of his antics…but at this point, the secret is out…the interviewers know that he is Cohen playing a character…so no one is “hurt”.

    I for one am a fan of all things funny: Sick humor, bathroom humor, dark humor, smart humor, sarcasm, etc. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie…so I’m disappointed that I’m not going to see it (what I thought it would be) now.

  16. ridearoundsally Says:

    Bama…I would still go see it..you shouldnt really take a stand on what other people say. Go and decide for yourself and then if you dont agree with it fine. I see where all you guys are coming from but take a look around…America might be the butt of the joke this time, but a nation is laughing.

  17. Shelley via Bama Says:

    Sally…heck no I won’t boot you off of Monkbot for sharing an opinion different than mine…but I will hit you upside the head with a large fish.

    Just kidding. 😉

    Hey…I never said Borat wasn’t funny. I’ve seen clips of it and of Da Ali G show…and, yeah, it’s funny.

    And I don’t have as big a problem with poking fun of people who live their life in front of the camera by choice…my problem is when the “everyday” guy, who has no idea what he’s up against, gets in the line of fire.

    Have I laughed at offensive stuff? Yes. But do I still have a problem with it? Yes.

  18. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Ridearound- I’m not taking a stand on what other people say…I’m too bull-headed for that…I’m taking a stand on what I’ve seen and read and what has been reported.

    I don’t mind “sacrificing” my chance to go to a movie that will leave me feeling worse for seeing it. There have been times in my life (and more to come I’m sure) when I’ve purposely chosen to do something I don’t feel is right, in order to get an immediate laugh or thrill…I always come out on the other side as less of “myself”. The older I get the more I’m choosing to do what is right for me. In this case it’s easy b/c the choice isn’t immediate and pressing.

  19. nolagirl Says:

    I haven’t seen it (but want to) so I don’t have anything to add just yet. 🙂

  20. Libby Says:

    Shelley,

    Have not seen the movie — just doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. But clearly it is making a mint for the producers. Hard to comment – when I have not seen it… but your comments are not inspiring me to run out and spend my money to see it.

    Thanks for the post

  21. double d Says:

    WOO HOO!!!

    M-IT! M-IT! M-IT!

  22. Mind Doc Says:

    (soap box alert, flee for your life!!)

    Interesting topic, Shelley.

    Disclaimer: I have not seen Borat, but I have seen some Ali G.

    I think that SBC is a very talented comedian. I like some of his stuff, but not most of it. I knew that I was not going to see this movie, long before it came out. I cannot stand what I consider to be cringe-inducing humor – the kind of thing when people are put in situations that cause them to look foolish, for the purpose of laughing at them when they do. It seems kind of unfair.

    I think that SBC’s exposure of Anti-Semitism is brilliant and brutal. I think that there are some things that humor can expose with a clarity that nothing else can. I struggle with movies like this, because I am aware that what he is doing is creating an artificial situation and causing people to react and causing US to react to those people. There is some danger in that, I think. However, Anti-Semitism does exist and that type of hatred and ignorance begs and pleads and demands to be mocked.

    I remember, when I was very small, being fascinated and riveted and horrified at Candid Camera. I cannot even watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. I cannot watch people when they are unaware of being watched and laughed at – maybe because I would literally expire on the spot if that happened to me. I don’t know if I would go up in a poof of greasy black smoke or implode, but I would just die. Or hope to die. I cannot abide situations where I know that people are being shown in a way that they would not choose – when they have not consented to being the butt of the joke.

    I have to say that I don’t mind vulgarity or obscenity in humor. Alone, those things are not especially funny to me, but I don’t rule out something being funny just because of those elements. I can be as lowbrow as the next person. I admit that I think that “poop” is a funny word, but I can’t see watching a whole movie based on scatology.

    I am all for black humor and gallows humor and parody and sarcasm and irony and pastiche and silliness. I don’t think that mean is necessarily off-limits, but, maybe, mean-spirited is? My husband just asked me what the difference is, and I cannot say.

    For me, the question is this – is the movie worth the few moments when you have to laugh because it is either laugh or cry?

  23. bentendo Says:

    Okay, I have seen “Borat” not once, but TWICE. Both times at certain points during the movie, my throat closed up and said “NUH-UH, no more laughing…PLEASE!”.

    So here’s my assessment of the film:

    It is very crass. It is shocking. But until you’ve seen it, and actually heard the ignorant comments spill from the mouths of these “victims”, then you truly can’t understand the brilliance of it.
    In my opinion, Borat isn’t casting stones. No, these people have stoned themselves. Even if they weren’t told that the film would be shown in America, they were told that it would be shown in a foreign country.
    As an American, with gay-bashing, muslim-bashing, etc. running rampant in the political and social atmosphere, wouldn’t you (shouldn’t you?) put your best foot forward? Offering an olive branch, not ignorant hatred?
    In many cases, people need the mirror held up to themselves. They will never see their ignorance until it is pointed out to them. I am not beatifying Sacha Cohen, far from it. Like I said at the beginning, the movie is crass. But it is in the performances of the “duped” that really makes this a worthwhile film. Plus, not everyone in the film gets taken. There are several people who hold their own, and are genuinely funny and/or warm (this includes the folks on the Jackson morning show).
    If you don’t see it because the toilet humor offends you, then bravo to you. To me, that is an acceptable reason.
    But to pity these people who have shot themselves in the foot (and were paid to do so) and not see it to champion their cause, is wrong.
    I, for one, left the theater with the knowledge that I really had a lot about myself that I needed to clean up, and some prejudices and ignorance that I certainly shouldn’t tolerate anymore.

  24. shelley Says:

    Bentendo…I never said it wasn’t funny. As a matter of fact, I’ve said it IS funny.

    But I think it’s awfully pious of Cohen to say one group of people deserves public ridicule over another…just because he deems them as deserving of that ridicule.

    Let me be clear…I don’t pity the people in his film. Sure, these folks were stupid enough to get duped, but what if one of those people was someone you loved…someone you were related to? I know we all have relatives or loved ones who spout total and complete absurdities at times…but would we choose to publicly skewer them? Or would we tell them in a loving way that they are hurtful with what they say. And to go one step further…don’t we have a responsibility to be that caring/loving to our fellow man…not just our uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins, sisters, parents?

    Cohen isn’t being loving…or helpful.

    It’s great that you came away with a sense of what you need to fix in yourself…but don’t you think that you might be in the very, very, very small minority? Honestly, not many people have the ability to truly self-reflect and acknowledge their own faults and THEN vow to fix those faults.

    My point isn’t that the people in this film need protecting. You’re point is valid…they knew they were being filmed…regardless of where they thought it would show. However, I still say, every single person walking the planet has demons…and just because these folks were either duped or dumb enough to be filmed doesn’t mean they are more deserving than the rest of us to be outed.

  25. PhotoHolic Says:

    Mind Doc said…
    (soap box alert, flee for your life!!)

    I like that Mind Doc…….and probably need to add it to many of the things I post. 🙂

    When most people look in a mirror, they generally see what is programmed/habitual in their mind – not necessarily what’s really there. Like geographical stereotyping. I don’t generally get offended when people automatically assume Southerners are backwoodsy, ignorant, toothpick knawing moonshiners. Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and taken that all the way to the bank – numerous lucrative times. In many ways, it’s an advantage.

    One of my basic problems with this movie is it’s Hollywood. Mindless Hollywood. Do-no-wrong Hollywood. Make-no-apologies Hollywood. Me-smart, You-dumb Hollywood. But obviously I’m in the minority as it’s been the highest moneymaking movie since it opened.

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