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And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats - Matthew 25:32

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November 13, 2006


Borat - A Tricky Jew's Milgram Experiment
I can't help but notice that Sacha Baron Cohen is one devious, tricky Jew. I really like his moviefilm, and I'll be pretty inclined to defend his methods. Still, with Cohen pushing the (anti)Semitism theme so hard, he invites judgment in return. As fellow Jew Ayn Rand once said, "Judge- and prepare to be judged."

As best I understand such things, the basic anti-Semitic archetype or "racist stereotype" would be the tricky Jew. The charge would be that Jews are really smart and tricky, and will deceive you to malicious ends. That would not describe the Jews I've ever known personally.

However, that description obviously applies to Sacha Baron Cohen. The whole approach of Borat is to play a nice, friendly ignoramus to trick people into humiliating themselves- on film, for all the world to see. Sacha Baron Cohen with malice aforethought took the goodwill of the Americans and broke it off up in them. I think the frat boys are pussies to complain publicly, much less suing- still, I can empathize with how they would feel abused. Cohen doesn't play nice. Sacha Baron Cohen is a devious Jew.

But besides being funny, this movie makes an interesting and worthwhile sociological study. I would defend by comparing it to the famous Milgram experiments. Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram set up studies in the early 1960s based on deceiving subjects to make them think they were giving painful electrical shocks- all to the end of testing how willing people would be to do so simply on the basis of the scientist's status as a kind of authority figure.

The Milgram experiments have been very valuable intellectually, but have also been considered "unethical" in some quarters because they were LYING to the subjects, and knowingly generating a lot of distress when they're thinking that their electrical shocks are giving someone a heart attack or such. I'm inclined to say that the important scientific results justified the deception. Then again, I fear that I'm arguing that the ends justify the means. Still, the only things that might have been hurt were the subjects private feelings of pride.

But Borat's experiments/pranks are FAR more ethically questionable, if you want to look at it that way. The actor and comedian Cohen is not subject to the ethical standards of university scientists. He's ruled only by his own sense of boundaries- very few of which he seems to recognize.

I will note boundary wise though that he's very careful NOT to make Borat a Muslim, or to go after any of them. Borat himself "follows the Hawk." That's good, cause if he went around humiliating Muslims like he does these white folk, they might have killed him. Lots of Muslims have gone kill crazy in recent years over far less- beauty contests or Mohammad cartoons, for example.

But if the private distress of Milgram's subjects was a little questionable, worldwide public humiliation on the big screen is exponentially tougher. You have to say that what Cohen did to the frat boys was 100 times worse than anything Stanley Milgram was doing.

Still, if any of the Americans deem themselves to have been humiliated, they ultimately did it to themselves. They knew cameras were rolling, and they signed release forms. The Jew might have offered encouragement, but he didn't MAKE anyone say anything.

The Borat experiment justifies its somewhat questionable methods though by turning out a really funny movie that will also be the useful spark for millions of good discussions. The film can be seen as a meta-experiment, a kind of Rorschach test of audience reactions. Cumulatively, audience reactions to Cohen and the subjects (including the frat boy lawsuit) are perhaps more interesting even than the film itself. For example, I'm intrigued by the harshness of some of the anti-American judgments based on very minimal bad behavior by any Americans in the film.

As a subject/viewer myself, the Borat character seems to be setting people up for cheap judgment on charges of racism and bigotry. But then, perhaps that's my reaction to the Rorschach patterns- my deep inner rightwing paranoia comes out.

In any case, I'd just like to suggest to some of the clearly judgmental people in the audience gleefully righteously denouncing the supposedly awful behavior of the Americans in the film that they should be as understanding of Borat's Americans as they expect the Americans to be of everyone else.

Perhaps we should close this consideration with the prime words of the king of the Jews, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."
Borat Alabama dinner party

BORAT PHOTOS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

posted by Al at 11/13/2006 11:18:00 PM

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