Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Borat's humour is immoral

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Borat's humour is immoral: "The humour of humiliation has become distressingly popular. The success of the film Borat is the latest example. I disliked it and was angered by it. I admit to laughing quite often because parts of it are very funny, but those parcels of enjoyment were trivial when set against the film's essential cruelty.

I am not referring to the jokes that send up national, ethnic or religious stereotypes and characteristics. There were plenty of those, some of which were in bad taste and offensive but often hilarious. Fine. My objection is to the exploitation of the naive, the trusting and the ignorant for the sake of a joke.

What Borat did was to inveigle ordinary, harmless people into participating in what was promised to be a documentary; the real motive was to abuse their cooperation by making them the objects of ridicule. It may be acceptable to exercise such methods to expose, in the public interest, someone's criminality, corruption or hypocrisy. To do so for the sake of cheap laughs is reprehensible.

Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen's character, managed to extract from a few of his pathetic victims some loutish behaviour and racist remarks; they may not have been nice people, but that hardly justifies the effort put in to make them look silly. But by no means all his hapless victims could provide the excuse that they were unpleasant and therefore somehow deserved their treatment.

The usual defence to charges of calculated embarrassment or humiliation is that the victims subsequently agree to their discomfort or stupidity being shown, and sign a form to that effect. Some do it for money, some - don't underestimate this motive - for fear of being seen as a bad sport, while others crave their moment of fame. Many, caught up in the excitement of the event, do not properly consider the consequences. For the Borat film, prospective victims signed a form agreeing to take part in a "documentary-style film". There are lots of lawsuits flying around in which they claim they were misled - denied by the film company. But my point is a moral, not a legal one. It is wrong to use people in this way. It shows disrespect and it is not funny."

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