YouTube Video: Ali G on Feminism!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Borat: All Publicity is Good Publicity?

The Ali G Show has certainly experienced its share of the media limelight since its debut on HBO in 2000. With its racy content and original twist on the typical comedy show, the series has received a considerable amount of publicity; the show has won six television awards and continues to be aired on HBO due to popular demand. The Ali G Show exploded into the mainstream media with a bang when Borat made his first appearance in theaters with his big screen movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Before its premiere in theaters, the Borat craze permeated the newsrooms, entertainment channels, and movie reviews in both magazines and newspapers. Borat’s movie was considered a “must-see” by many aspects of the media; critics raved about the hilarity of socially challenged foreigner Borat traveling across America and learning about U.S. culture, while making a fool out of both himself and others along the journey. However, while Borat’s movie was praised feverishly by many at first, later on, these same aspects of the media began to express contrary opinions. After the movie’s release, news stories about Borat continued to appear on television, in newspapers, and online. However instead of hearing about how funny Borat was, news stories about lawsuits and controversy began pouring into the newsrooms. The Ali G Show has seen both good and bad publicity, you know that old cliché: “all publicity is good publicity.” Despite controversy in the media over Borat, there are still plenty of American fans who’d give him a “high fiiive!”

Ian Youngs, entertainment reported for BBC News, discusses the controversy over Borat’s movie, particularly focusing on hegemony and the degradation and humiliation of women in his article “How Borat Hoaxed America.” The bold heading in the online article reads “Borat…is expected to score a box office hit by offending and humiliating real Americans in a new movie.” The news in this particular article is inferring that Borat is offensive, “shocking and provocative.” By simply looking at these bolded headings, the reader can sense the negative opinion this reporter, and the media in general, has toward Borat. In the movie, Borat interviews three female members of the Veteran Feminists of America. These women are unaware of who Borat is; they are told by producers that they were being interviewed for a documentary aiding third world women. However, as the article continues to explain, Borat begins asking questions that are blatantly mocking the member’s causes. Borat discusses his country’s advances; women now only have to walk three steps behind men as opposed to ten steps in the past. He asks the three members how he could contact Pamela Anderson, and at the end of the interview requests that the women lift up their shirts. As you can imagine, this comment called for an immediate end to a humiliating interview for these three women. By the description of the interview relayed by Youngs in the article, it is obvious that the BBC news is frowning upon Borat and the insulting and humiliating ways he succeeds in making America laugh.

The article repeatedly calls those who were interviewed by Borat for the movie “victims.” This one word is overflowing with negative connotation; a victim is someone who is threatened, harassed, or attacked. Interviewees like the three feminists were verbally harassed and mocked. Their beliefs and opinions about their cause were threatened, while their credibility as a legitimate organization fighting for the well-being of third world women was attacked for all of America to see. In this particular interview, women in general were mocked and humiliated; Borat’s statement about women’s brains being smaller than men’s, for example, infers that he believes the myth that females are not as intelligent as males, hence they are inferior. Also, his request for them take off their shirts emphasizes and further enforces the already established stereotype of females being mere objects of sexual desire. Young’s choice of words therefore helps to convey the overall reaction of BBC news and media in general. From this article the reader can see the shock and disdain the some aspects of the media wished to express concerning the controversial film.

Borat’s interview with the three feminists is especially controversial in that it indeed enforces the already established mindset that feminist are something of whom to make a mockery; feminists today are still considered extreme, man-haters who are eccentric in their beliefs about gender equality. This interview only made it seem funnier to make fun of feminists. In Marisa Ragonese’s article entitled, “Riot Grrrls Castrate Cock Rock in New York,” we see how society finds it acceptable to attack the beliefs of feminists. On a popular New York rock station, talk show hosts ridiculed the feminists protesting about the absence of female rock artists on the air. The day of the protest, dj’s allowed a protester to talk about their cause, only to make fun of their cause after the representative left. The feminist protesters provided the rock station with plenty of negative things to say about feminists (Ragonese).


As one can see after reading Youngs’ article and this analysis, the Borat movie and its portrayal of various stereotypes, especially those concerning gender, is the primary reason for the abundance of press that it has received since its release. Controversial issues are what make the news and media thrive; Borat’s movie is prime material for the news and media to scrutinize through a somewhat gendered lens.

-Miss Nooch

Ragonese, Marisa. “Riot Grrrls Castrate ‘Cock Rock’ in New York.”

Youngs, Ian. “How Borat Hoaxed America.” BBC News.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Lauren- interesting take on this part of the film in your post. I tend to doubt that the feminists were actually threatened by Borat (or the 'cause' of feminism in general). However, I would like to see more info from the news article you've cited here because it's important to know what was stated beyond the title and subtitle that you've cited here. It's potentially the case (playing the role of the skeptic here) that the article is actually mocking the other numerous news pieces published in the US (your article is a BBC piece)--but I wouldn't know that without more info from the article. Why do you think that Borat has had such success with the topics he's chosen to satirize? Why are women-related topics still considered a goldmine for material that may result in controversy?