Borat Strikes Again

Leading up to the film's release Sacha Baron Cohen gave all interviews in full character as Borat, the nation of Kazakhstan was in an uproar over their negative portrayal, and controversy over the film's defiance of political correctness added to the hype. Now that the film is in theaters, another group is up in arms: the individuals who unknowingly betrayed their ignorance, prejudice, and general stupidity. When watching the film, my time was split between gut busting cackles and hair-raising winces. A result that I believe Cohen would have deemed successful. Yet, it was not the blatantly prejudiced remarks from the film's protagonist that churned my stomach. Rather it was the nonchalance with which racial and homophobic slurs seeped out of the mouths of my fellow Americans. I knew Borat wasn't real. I was aware of the farce. Therefore I allowed myself to laugh. But certain people interviewed in the movie were real. They meant what they said, and their comments left me with a feeling of shame towards my nationality.

Now, some of these unwitting participants have spoken out against the film and claim that they were duped. Some are taking legal action. According to an AP article in the Washington Post,

Two of Cohen's targets _ fraternity boys who made drunken, insulting comments about women and minorities _ are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies. The lawsuit claims that a production crew took the students to a bar to "loosen up" before participating in what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside of the United States, and that they signed waivers after drinking heavily. Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant said the lawsuit "has no merit."

However, not all of Borat's unwitting subjects were so upset. The public speaking coach, who attempted to teach Borat the finer points of American humor, accepted the joke.

"They were exercising a First Amendment right," said Haggerty, adding that he enjoyed the movie. "And this Sacha Cohen guy's going to make 87 gazillion dollars. You know, good for him. I'm just sorry that he had to do it in such a way that he allowed people to make jerks out of themselves exposing their character flaws."

The local television producer who lost her job after being duped into giving Borat airtime on her morning show is merely asking for an apology.

I can understand the humiliation of the individuals in the film who were, as Haggerty said, made to "make jerks out of themselves exposing their character flaws". However, some of what was revealed through Cohen's trickery were more than mere character flaws. They were insights into the racist, sexist, and homophobic mentalities of our society.

Whatever these individuals said on camera was real. They really said it. They really thought it. Just because the audience that viewed it was not what they intended does not detract from that fact. These individuals were not persuaded to lie.

As for the drunken frat boys, who I can attest after seeing the film were undoubtedly drunken, does their claim have merit? Even if there is no legal foundation for their suit, does their claim have merit ethically? They were indeed misled. Had they not been intoxicated or if they had known the true audience of the film, they most likely would not have said the sorts of things that they did. However, they said them. If anything, their drunken states led them to be more loose-lipped about their prejudices.

While, Cohen's film was not meant to be a scathing expose of prejudice in America, it did expose some unpleasant truths. It could be argued that the end justifies the means. However, the end, in this case, was primarily box office sales, not an intrepid pursuit for truth. Does this fact mean that Cohen should not be held to the same ethical standards as real journalists, or does it make Cohen more culpable for his deceptions?

While I can recognize the concerns of those individuals whose reputations have been marred by the film, I also believe that one should take responsibility for their comments and beliefs regardless of the forum. If nothing else, this experience may lead to a rise in HBO subscriptions by fraternities across the country, if for no other reason than to not be duped again.

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