Borat and the Limits of Free Expression
Now, for those of you who think I'm stodgy, I would disagree. I often think of myself as too base in my sense of humor. I loved American Pie (my favorite line being..."oh, Stiffler's Mom") and I can't get enough of the pop-culture disaster that is the first few episodes of each season's American Idol. Part of my brain is, admittedly, still stuck on the male sophomoric humor that finds value in bathroom jokes. Also, to the extent it lends credibility to this argument, I love sports and don't think it important to see all (any?) of the films that have been nominated by for Academy Awards. It would seem that despite being 38 years old, I should find some value in Borat. Instead, I found it to be obnoxious, offensive and hurtful in a way that didn't even remotely justify the small amount of the humor I found in the first 40 minutes.
My chief objection lies with the underlying principal of making fun of people in a hurtful and disrespectful way. I understand the need to catch some participants unaware (the older man at the rodeo talking about terrorists and mustaches was priceless) so they would be honest but too often it was done in a cheap way to get a laugh at someone's expense (the dinner party and the bed & breakfast come to mind). I'll embrace humor when it isn't at someone's expense but when it is, I find it hurtful and unworthy of my attention. If one can excuse that behavior, then we could move on to the scene of the running of the Jew and the killing of the Jew egg. I understand that it was done to parody people who think that way but I think there is a world of difference between that message and the many messages Mel Brooks shared with us in Blazing Saddles. Brooks was able to identify racist / sexist sentiment but he didn't do it cheaply, he didn't leave a humorless wake of offensiveness and incivility when he made his point. People laughed but they laughed at the silliness of the underlying sentiment and how it was presented, not just the absurd presentation.
The title of this blog suggests that perhaps Borat goes too far and isn't entitled to protection under the First Amendment. Well, that was a set up. However stodgy you think I might be, my last proof to you that I'm not is that I do think the First Amendment protects this nonsense, though I hope that common sense and taste will encourage self censorship. I wish I had my $30 back and hadn't rewarded the producers and been counted among those who have seen it.