By JOHN TIERNEY
NY TIMES 11 November 2006
I read, with great interest and greater disdain, John Tierney's smug and shallow moralizing in his NY TIMES op-ed piece about Borat. He starts by saying:
"Yes, its a funny movie - I was howling along with everyone else. Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic master. On "Da Ali G Show," he was an equal-opportunity skewer of hip-hop artists, fashionistas and pretentious talking heads. He was a television star making fun of television icons and gaseous poseurs."
But after howling with the pack, John has second thoughts -- presumably an upwelling of guilt. "Oh my! Perhaps I really shouldn't have laughed! What happened to my superior perspective and exquisite sensitivity? Perhaps somebody recognized me with my mouth open and my head thrown back, howling. The word might get out to my redneck friends (some of my best friends are rednecks). I must make public amends."
And so John writes this Mea Culpa op-ed piece, briefly acknowledging that he howled with laughter, but hastily, and prissily, retracting every chuckle and guffaw. "It wasn't the real me," he explains. "That was the bad John Tierney laughing. Let the Righteous John set the record straight."
He then introduces the essence of his distress:
"What bothers me most about the movie is its premise: that villagers who have not embraced Western values are violently anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and misogynistic. Borat is an absurd caricature, but we wouldn't laugh if we didn't think there was some truth to the stereotype of the morally backward peasant."
I would suggest to Mr. Tierney that he go back and read twentieth-century history a bit more carefully. There is plenty of truth in it. I am sure that John is neither a liar nor a fool, but is he really saying, with a self-satisfied smile, that Western values are not anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic or misogynist? C'mon, John, get real! We don't live in a Texas-schoolbook sanitized version of American history. Despite the largely fictitious moralizing of the Conservative pundits, we live in a violent, fragmented, racist, generally anti-Semitic, deeply homophobic society.
Has it ever occurred to Mr. Tierney that the real target of Borat's lampooning might not be the caricature Kazakhstan peasants, but Western culture, and especially the United States as it has become under Bush? Where Fahrenheit 9/11 aroused bitter enmity, Borat engenders guffaws. Clever Borat!
Also, regarding Mr. Tierney's nonexistent Slavic anti-Semitism: The cruellest concentration camp guards were Ukrainian, and during the Nazi occupation both Ukrainian and Polish peasant gangs would hunt down escaped Jews for sport.
Tierney goes on to point out the Kazakh peasant sensitivity to Family Values and their distress at the erosion of same in the hedonistic American liberal culture. Did Jerry Falwell ghostwrite this passage? :
"If you went into a real Kazakh village (as opposed to the one in "Borat," which was actually in Romania), you'd find a lot of people - women as well as men - who frown on American values. They admire some of our freedoms and rights, but they also see the flip side of Western individualism: weaker families. They feel sorry for all the children separated from parents, all the adults living alone."
I am deeply moved, almost to tears, by the image of concerned Kazakhstan peasant families gathering around the table, on bleak winter nights, for a discussion of American Family Values. How they must grieve for all the American children separated from their parents, and for all the lonely, individualized, non-collectivized American adults. How poignant! The Brotherhood of Man is alive and well, and peasant families across the Slav world regularly gather in spontaneous prayer groups, soliciting Divine Intervention for their American brethren. Gee! Kind of chokes you up, doesn't it?
Mr. Tierney ends with a classic redneck, swift-boat, neocon attack on the stereotypical Eastern Liberal, Commie, Long-haired, Kerreyesque moral poseur:
"In the meantime, they don't need our guidance, let alone sneers from a Cambridge-educated comic affecting moral superiority."
Hmnnn. That's odd - - John just did a pretty good job affecting moral superiority. He raised the bar on moralistic posing. So why attack Borat for something he does so well himself? Professional jealousy? It's like a dog biting its own tail....
Ah. well. I urge audiences who are insensitive enough to enjoy Borat to muffle their guffaws... It is the decent thing to do.