Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Waters vs. Borat the Brute

Both of these not-so-gentlemen humor the world with a penchant for highly offensive musings on sex, substances, and seldomly serious stuff. For my money, humor seems like it almost mandates significantly disgusting or disconcerting content these days if it intends to arouse substantial reactions. John Waters puts on GayFace/VanillaFace, resulting in an irrepressible combo of wry wit and socially relevant chortling.

Borat, along with the two other incarnations of Sacha Baron Cohen, dons BlackFace/KazakhFace/ GayFace in order to cover the gamut of gangsta-ness, orientalizing barbarism, and gaiety. What do these masks convey in this funny world where the funny farm is overflowing with obscene narratives and culturally corrupt concepts?

Culture exists so that it might be corrupted. What is culture if it cannot be misappropriated and mashed up for conspicuous consumption? Comedians are said to be successful upon crossing the point at which they've appropriated appropriately enough to receive comedic license. This license allows for licentiousness and filthy frothings. In the case of Waters, the monologue tends to the familiar and cutesy, albeit nastily nauseating. For Borat the trickster, humor is a game in which he cons his subjects into displaying their alleged animosities and/or miseducations.

For the rodeo islamophobe, the ostensibly Jew-baiting gun merchant, and the frattish rv drunks, Borat eggs on their hatemongering. Borat enjoys bringing people into his universe in order to ridicule their absurdities and revel in the debased qualities of normal folks. Is this noble? Not terribly so. But, it's godforsaken hilarity. That movie has corpses turning giddy. Waters, on the other hand, knows how to document the styles and the accents of the common man, without managing to stick a fork in their collective anus. Waters perhaps does not aim for the same manner of cultural critique as Borat, but the effect in his films is a bit more deferential with respect to class differences, even if not to propriety and behavioral norms.

One looming issue strikes again. In the spirit of Dave Chapelle, are we allowed to make fun of our own people? Can we adopt a people and then code-switch into their ranks in order to become a cultural chameleon? Imeptuous Borat from the Kazakh steppe impersonates a brutish faux Central Asian in order to become an ethnically ambiguous character of his own creation. This character ends up being a hybrid Slav-Jew-Oriental uncouth ignoramous who never ceases to enthrall. Ali G, as a black person who is not actually black, also presents us with a Bamboozled sort of minstrelsy. Cohen no doubt embodes the new age minstrel show. Bruno, for his part perhaps more akin to Waters, is cast as a relentlessly "out" homosexual, who actually was once physically assaulted for his aggressively impudent advances. It is hard to reproduce the comedic effect of Borat on a blog, but his jokes turn poker faces sour, make soccer moms squirm, and leave the rest of us wondering what the net effect of his routine is. Do the offended feel more victimized than the fans feel uplifted?

The movie is designed to draw massive crowds of eager young fans, mouths gaping in awe of the cinematic presence that Borat captures. Conversely, Waters leaves his older cast of onlookers utterly stunned by the various cult films that he's churned out, punctuated by kitschy Cry Baby, virulent Serial Mom, and pop classic-turned Broadway thriller Hairspray.

Waters finds comedic relief in absolutely disgusting tales of anal blossoms, nurses feeding turds to unsuspecting patients, and meth-hooked hyperactive homos. Does this mean that Waters does not have to leave his cultural universe to attain superstardom? The creation of Kazakhstan as imaginary home of Eastern orientalisms and ignorant imbeciles for Borat's unending but misdirected adulation. The real nation that exists independent of Borat's illusions plays no role in this spoof. Nonetheless, it's not just a place represented by villages of angry Romanians who've sued Borat for misrepresenting them on screen and for exposing their virtues (or lack thereof) to the moviegoing set. (I read that the so-called town abortionist was the most irate upon realizing the SUCCESS of the Boratic travesties).

Anyhow, join me on Borat's irreverent and repulsive bandwagon. Be sure to check the official Borat website for a slice of the cheese curd made from his mother's breast milk. Ahh yes, I liiiiike!

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