by John Kendall Hawkins
"Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men -- machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!"
- Charlie Chaplin, an actor in The Dictator (1939), a Hollywood film, in which art imitates life, but with better lines and edits
One of the great undertold secrets of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, aside from its well-recognized jaw-dropping lyrical accomplishment as a work of English as a Foreign Language, is its masterful take-down of aspects of American culture -- specifically, its near-lampoon of sexual mores and commodification of desire in general. Prurience goes up against Puritanism, and though the book would be banned in America for Nabokov's ostentatious pedophiliac naughtiness, in the end, Prurience knocks up Puritanism and, 65 years after that ban, a barely literate version of Humbert Humbert is in the White House.
Sexploitation is as American as Mom's bent-over apple pie, fresh-baked from the oven, cinnamon wafting in flaring nostrils. Charlie Chaplin impregnated Lita Grey, his underage co-star of The Kid (1921). Shirley Temple was famously victimized as a young starlet on Hollywood sets in the 30s. Roman Polanski 1977. Fast forward to 6 year old beauty pageant star Jon Benet and her unsolved disappearance from home in 1996. Forward again to 2013 and Bad Grandpa, the beauty pageant to end all beauty pageants, pre-pubescents pole-dancing for mom. Couch casting with Harvey Weinstein. Jeffrey Epstein and his virgin islands. Donald Trump and his seamy daughter-loving comments. This is the kind of exposure of America's restless desires that Nabokov's genius tongue pole-danced to in Lolita.
Well, in the American road travels depicted in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, there's prurience up the yinyang and Puritan values, if they ever actually existed off the rock in Plymouth, have long faded into the sunset of strip mall services, cartoon conservatism, ironic costume shops, knock-off fast food joints, and seedy Motel 5½s -- the kind of thin-walled inns where Humbert Humbert might have done the low down dirty with Lolita, the light of his life and fire of his loins, while the maid looked the other way in, when she saw blood in the sheets, in the morning. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm suggests that America has pulled in "for the night" at that Naughty Mind the 50s sought desperately to ban -- call it Trumpcadistan.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was written by Cohen and Anthony Hines, who has worked with Cohen on Borat: Cultural Learnings and Bruno. It was directed by Jason Wollner, a relative new-comer, who most recently worked on the TV series The Last Man on Earth, an update of the campy 1964 apocalyptic film, starring Vincent Price as a scientist who fucks around with gain-of-function research and spoiler-alerts the world. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm stars Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Tom Hanks, and a telling cameo from Rudy Giuliani.
IMDB rightly describes the films as a "Follow-up film to the 2006 comedy centering on the real-life adventures of a fictional Kazakh television journalist named Borat." In the first film, Borat leaves his beloved inbred village in Kazakhstan and travels to America to educate the un-inbred nation about his country's culture, while carefully observing the superior ways of Americans. Also, he lusts for Pamela Anderson and seeks to kidnap her for marriage. Like a retarded Don Quixote, if the Don were a journalist and America was a windmill, his sexual antics, turding in public, provocative anthem-singing, irritating interviews, etc, eventually wear thin, but not before exposing the fat underbelly of the gross national product. Borat: Cultural Learnings left Kazakhs feeling deeply humiliated by Cohen's film depiction of their 'retrograde' culture.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm opens with Borat busting rocks instead of balls, sentenced for his embarrassing antics-gone-viral to a life of hard labor at a Kazakh gulag. Borat, in overvoice, explains how as a result of his quest, Kazakhstan's two main exports -- potassium and pubis -- had nosedived. Kazakhstan's annual "running of the Jew" had horrified the conscience of the world. The national mood eventually changes when the country experiences an economic boost in its service sector, when the film puts Kazakhstan "on the map" and tourists, especially from certain social sectors of America, are bedazzled by the possibility of riding in carts pulled by muscular women, like the local Uber franchise. Potassium and pubis are on the rise again. As Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran observed, "The Kazakhs were perfectly content to have their island of reality visited by citizens of other islands only to be ridiculed, so long as they pay for it."
With this new jubilant mood in place, Borat is taken off the rocks, reinstated as a journalist, and dispatched to America, which has been made great again, by the ascension of one "McDonald Trump." He breaks the news to his circa-16 year old daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev, who is busy watching a Disney-like animation called Melania, which begins,
Once upon a time there was a lowly peasant girl named Melania from shithole country, Slovenia, who dreamed of marrying a rich old man.
Borat means to leave her behind to build her dreams, but she secretly stows away in a crate with a monkey meant as a gift to Mike Pence. On arrival in Galveston, Texas, Borat discovers Tutar in the crate and sees that she has savaged the monkey for food and comfort. Thinking quickly, Borat realizes he must replace the gift meant for Pence -- Tutar is to be gifted away. And so the new adventure begins.
Over the years, Sacha Baron Cohen has shown an ability to hook up with self-important people for interviews you wouldn't think possible, except that they buy in to his journalist credentials, perhaps fantasizing about their message getting out by way of the media, no matter how clearly clownish. Da Ali G Show comes to mind. The character-host interviews luminaries, He discusses War with Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Brent Scowcroft. He talks Politics with Steve Forbes and Newt Gingrich. He subtly sends up Art and Belief, and he even takes Ralph Nader for a ride without a seatbelt. All of them punked by Ali G. And the Show introduced us to Borat.
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