by Will Lloyd
Monday, 26
October 2020

Christopher Hitchens is still right about Borat

Fourteen years on, the writer's comments ring more true than ever
by Will Lloyd
Sacha Baron Cohen’s fake Kazakh is making headlines once again

Borat is back. Rushed into production earlier this year, announced only a month ago, and streaming on Amazon Prime since Friday, Sacha Baron Cohen’s fake Kazakh is making headlines once again. Like the first Borat, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a mockumentary engineered to make real people expose themselves as ignoramuses and xenophobes.

Borat has a plastic surgeon explain what a “Jewish nose” looks like. He gets a tanning-salon attendant to explain what spray tan colour is best “for a racist family.” A dress shop owner laughs when Borat asks where the “Yes-Means-No” section is. And there are no issues when he ambles into a bakery and demands a cake with the words “Jews will not replace us” piped atop it in icing.

A reviewer for the BBC calls this “urgently satirical”, propelled by a “ripped from the headlines relevance.” But given how same-y Subsequent Moviefilm is to the first Borat, all I could think of was the review Christopher Hitchens gave the original in 2006. The only thing Baron Cohen exposed in America back then, Hitchens felt, was their extreme politeness:

Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse. At a formal dinner in Birmingham, Ala., the guests discuss Borat while he’s out of the room… agree what a nice young American he might make. And this is after he has called one guest a retard and grossly insulted the wife of another… The arrival of a mountainous black hooker does admittedly put an end to the evening, but if a swarthy stranger had pulled any of the foregoing at a liberal dinner party in England, I wouldn’t give much for his chances.
- Christopher Hitchens, Slate

What was really revealed when Borat was invited to sing the “Kazakh” national anthem at a Texan rodeo, or calmly dealt with by the car salesman he demanded “pussy magnets” from? Not xenophobia, but an “attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism.”

The only people who were actually rude to Borat were “the stone-faced liberal Amazons of the Veteran Feminists of America”. Nothing much has changed with Subsequent Moviefilm, which reveals far more about the prejudices of paranoid liberals than it realises. That’s why Hitchens thought the joke was on the Cohen. Fourteen years later it still is.

Join the discussion

  • I’m not talking about white Americans. Only a minute proportion of white Americans would wish to see the Jews exterminated. I’m talking about the people who sing ‘From the river to the sea’ on Al-Quds marches in London. I’m talking about significant proportions of the populations of countries who refuse to recognise Israel in any form and especially of those countries still at war with Israel. BTW I’m not Jewish nor do I have any allegiance to Israel.

  • Surely, even the most apparently anti-semitic sections are simply the reactions of people who are, perhaps excessively so, polite and tolerant. That is the mark of a liberal society – its citizens do not punch the strange foreigner on the nose. Though it is time one joke Borat was so dealt with.

    I also wonder, in this age of everything being on camera, how many of his “victims” know they are being recorded.

    Time for a new routine, Sacha

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