The Electric Commentary

Friday, January 26, 2007

Borat's Most Poignant Moment

Borat is currently playing at the Brew and View Theatre in my neighborhood, which is the perfect place for it. It's extremely funny, but one point in particular stuck with me as an especially well-crafted and intelligent moment.

Without spoiling anything, Borat has just had his heart broken while hitch-hiking with some drunken frat boys (who are now suing Sacha Baren Cohen), and he stumbles into a good old-fashioned revival meeting. We see several prominent politicians saying rather inflammatory things, but the true genius of the scene is in Borat's interaction with the preacher.

When he walks in he stands nervously at the back of the tent where he witnesses people running, dancing, and speaking in tongues. Eventually one of the tongue-speakers escorts him to the front to be saved.

He describes his challenges on his journey and asks if anyone can take away the pain. This, of course, prompts the obvious response that Jesus can. The preacher then puts his hands on Borat's head and at first Borat (remember, in character) resists because it's weird. However, after a few seconds he starts to pretend to speak in tongues just to fit in, and everyone takes it seriously.

Borat, as a character, is a simple fellow. Sacha Baron Cohen uses Borat to make a larger point about the ignorance and biases of those that he encounters, but this requires that Borat is fundamentally backward.

This dichotomy allows the scene to work brilliantly. We're all laughing at the revivalists with Cohen, but we're also seeing true conversion in action. They are essentially preying on the weak, the vulnerable, and the stupid with emotionally charged yelling, singing, and mob mentality, and they are getting him when they think he is in the midst of an emotional crisis.

This is the only scene in the film that portrays Borat as a victim. Generally Borat's incompetence is used as an excuse to victimize others, but here in the house of God he actually becomes the victim, and in doing so he exposes the nature of such revivals. After all, if preying on the weak and stupid is the bread and butter of such people, what are we to think of the existing membership?

12 Comments:

  • People pay for candy, psychotherapy, entertainment, and under libertarian ideals drugs, BJ's, and whatever else to make themselves feel better. So when religion does it (arguably better for many) it is victimization?

    By Blogger Scott H, at 5:11 PM  

  • "So when religion does it (arguably better for many) it is victimization?"

    Yes. That doesn't mean it should be illegal or anything. It's a sin to let a sucker keep his money, right? That said, snake-oil salesmen, pimps, drug dealers that target kids, and preachers are all pig-humpers. They suck as people. They're assholes, but they should be free to be assholes.

    By Blogger JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe, at 5:34 PM  

  • I hope you can realize how blessed you are, Noonan bros., that you don't need to use a crutch like religion. Some do. If they don't swing it at me, I don't try to kick it out from under them. Maybe someday I'll need one, hopefully not. But I'm glad it's there until people can stand on their own, or near the end if necessary. Or sometimes when you get tired, it helps too. I didn't see Borat since I don't like that humor. I have been to a pow wow though, which is theatrical and mystical and not part of my culture. I really enjoyed it though because it was a sunny day and I took it for what it was. Maybe Borat manipulated the editing and you might have respected the scene differently and the people participating if you were there in all senses? (not suggesting intoxicated either, just participating more fully) I'm with scott h.

    Say, have you ever been a guest at a more exuberant church service? Not suggesting a blues bros. scene but maybe your mind thoughts on this would differ if your whole... spirit could get into religion in another way.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:40 PM  

  • Scott and Mr. Anon,

    In this particular scenario, it was basically cultish. There was no appeal to reason, no explanation of why it would be a good idea to convert, no explanation of the ramifications of what could for some be a life changing decision. They do this in the heat of the moment, based solely on emotion. Cohen plays up his naivety to drive the point home. This was manipulation.

    I recommend watching it before critiquing my analysis. Plus it's really funny.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 6:06 PM  

  • Thanks but I don't like that kind of humor myself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:30 PM  

  • Also, it's not really me that you should be taking to task, I'm just telling you what I saw in a movie.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 8:37 PM  

  • Nobody was taken to task, were they? It sounded like you agreed with what you were watching in the movie. After all, if preying on the weak and stupid is the bread and butter of such people, what are we to think of the existing membership?

    How were the hairy naked parts? I don't think I could make it through that myself, but to each his own.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 PM  

  • "This was manipulation."

    So are tv commercials. I'm not disputing the psychology of the revival based on the scene, which I haven't... viewed. Victimization depends on what comes later.

    Maybe protestant preachers should have to take a vow of poverty.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 12:19 AM  

  • "I hope you can realize how blessed you are, Noonan bros., that you don't need to use a crutch like religion. Some do. If they don't swing it at me, I don't try to kick it out from under them."

    You had to bring me into it, huh? I think it's just a likly that religion actually creates the need for the crutch for a lot of people. And isn't Borat an example of someone swinging their crutch at someone else? Praying on someone who appears weak or stupid? I don't think it's ever very cool to take advantage of people whether you think they need it or not.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 10:55 AM  

  • I think it's just a likly that religion actually creates the need for the crutch for a lot of people.

    And probably a good majority of the problems too, eh? Imagine their daily lives without religion, then tell me how much better it will be, you think. From your perch looking down.

    It's actually very nice that you want to protect people from their beliefs and choices like that, Danny. Very noble, shepard to sheep-like actually. You get the idea.

    Maybe you really can start practicing reason and science and convince enough that your way is working so well for them they will choose to follow. On all types of established religious traditions.

    And isn't Borat an example of someone swinging their crutch at someone else? Praying on someone who appears weak or stupid?
    Well, I choose not to see that kind of an entertainment movie. But c'mon now, how much was he preyed on, or did he and his camera crews go to them looking to be prayed on? I think it was well edited to develop the feelings your brother is attributing here. Finally: Do you think Borat represents the typical immigrant or person who presents himself for that kind of religious worship? If so, I can see where you would think your (non) religious worship choices are superior and where you might wish to persuade such folks that your ways would work better for them also, starting where they're at today. Again, it's great you're healthy and don't need any crutch to do what you do every day.

    Sorry, got to go, for good. :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:21 AM  

  • If I'm not mistaken, I only objected to their method here, and frankly I'm pretty surprised that all of you take such issue with it. Scott, do you object to Benny Hinn's techniques, even if some good comes from them?

    But c'mon now, how much was he preyed on, or did he and his camera crews go to them looking to be prayed on? I think it was well edited to develop the feelings your brother is attributing here.

    Mr. Anon (who has apparently left us), that's the point. He did manipulate them into manipulating him.

    Scott, at the micro level I agree with you. If it makes you happy I'm fine with it. At the macro level I think it has a small destructive component in that it operates separate from reason, and that in extreme situations (like the middle east) it can create big problems, but I also think that if religion did not exist that something else would pick up the slack, something I elaborated on in this post.

    By the way, the hairy naked wrestling was surprisingly funny, although the Brew & View may have helped with that.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:29 AM  

  • I only take issue with the word victimization, although I'm sure that victimization happens sometimes. "Victimization depends on what comes later." I had to look up Benny Hinn, so I can't answer your question. I would say that, in theory, a little trickery isn't the worst thing if the outcome is good.

    I do think the method is completely ridiculous, but if people are dumb enough to fall for that, religion is probably one of the least harmful things that they get suckered into over the course of their life. I question whether people going for that kind of stuff are ever going to be great at reasoning. In the middle east, they fight each other all of the time and although they're different sects, I get the feeling they're fighting over historical cultural and clan separations based on power struggles from long ago. Religion or not, they'd probably be doing the same.

    Yeah, lack of reasoning is bad. People need to learn reasoning earlier in life. I can't believe how incapable of it many of my law classmates were when they started out.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 12:37 PM  

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