Posted by: Steve Coplan | October 24, 2006

A double-edged sword

According to the Merriam Webster, the definition of satire is trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly. Satire in general has a political agenda, even if it’s simply disruption of the status quo by ridiculing the hypocrisy of conventional wisdom. The objective of disrupting the status quo is to provoke debate by calling into doubt widely-held notions (otherwise known as holy cows) and ultimately provoke change.

On the eve of the launch of Borat’s Cultural Learnings movie, one of his unwitting victims has spoken out — in such an august publication as the Downtown Express (which I read on the odd occasion when we still lived in lower Manhattan). “Instead, for the sake of a cheap laugh, he chooses to reinforce the stereotype of women as the inferior sex, at the expense of women. How funny is that?”, asks one of the women who did not acquit themselves very well in the defense of feminism. As it happens, some of us enjoy a cheap laugh every now and again, particularly at the expense of those who take themselves too seriously and without the perspective to address opposing views. She continues: “I don’t know what motivates Borat/Cohen to use his considerable talents to deceive and manipulate: maybe it’s his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman’s beating him at Scrabble.” Ah — nothing like an ad hominem attack to raise the quality of debate. Actually, I think it’s the opportunity to act completely outrageously through an alter ego when you really are a nice, polite Jewish boy from north London, but that’s just my theory.

But I do have to admit that doubts have crept in that the real objective of the satire may be lost in the din — which promises to be considerable, taking into account the number of views the movie’s clips have generated on YouTube. (As an aside, Borat is speaking Hebrew throughout the opening four minutes of the film). Cohen has taken potshots before at self-regarding feminists before as Ali G, but in the wrong hands this type of comedy can justify some retrograde views.

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