by Will Lloyd
Monday, 26
October 2020

Christopher Hitchens is still right about Borat

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

  • November 5, 2020
    I concur. I enjoyed the humor of it seeing it years ago. Hitchens' criticism rings true, though. Clever editing almost certainly also plays a role. I can't be sure, but I'd bet it hides just how much he "prompts" some of these people. Read more

  • October 31, 2020
    In any population you can find haters, bigots, and fools. Borat may reveal a few of them -- just as Candid Camera exposed our ordinary human foibles -- but what he mostly does is humiliate people who are only trying to be agreeable. I thank you for sharing Hitch's spot-on observation. Read more

  • October 31, 2020
    Borat's arrogance and cynicism is beyond belief. Purports to be exposing racism and jingoism, but clearly doesn't care a fig about bringing Kazakhstan and its people into disrepute. Ghastly man. Read more

To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up