There’s so much Borat publicity these days (love him, hate him, sick of him), a media outlet would have to come up with something truly special to get anyone’s attention. The reliable writers at Rolling Stone are doing just that, courtesy of an in-depth interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind the character. The “interviews” prior to this have been Cohen (and, presumably, his own writers) answering journalists’ questions in character, as Borat. Not here. In a issue of Rolling Stone due to hit newsstands within the week, Baron Cohen riffs with writer Neil Strauss, shedding light on all of the film’s speculation and controversy. Among Baron Cohen’s remarks for the interview:
When Baron Cohen first heard that the Kazakh government was thinking of suing him and placing a full-page ad promoting the country in The New York Times, he was editing his movie in Los Angeles. His reaction: “I was surprised, because I always had faith in the audience that they would realize that this was a fictitious country and the mere purpose of it was to allow people to bring out their own prejudices. And the reason we chose Kazakhstan was because it was a country that no one had heard anything about, so we could essentially play on stereotypes they might have about this ex-Soviet backwater. The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist — who believe that there’s a country where homosexuals wear blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old.”
In actuality, it turns out that Borat is a far more damning critique of America than it is of Kazakhstan. The jokes that Baron Cohen mentions above — and all the rest about beating gypsies, throwing Jews down wells, exporting pubic hair and making monkey porn — are clearly parody. But the America that Borat discovers on his cross-country trek here — rife with homophobia, xenophobia, racism, classism and anti-Semitism — is all too real.
“I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it’s hatred of African-Americans or of Jews,” Baron Cohen says…
“Borat essentially works as a tool,” Baron Cohen says. “By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.”
Like many, I’m sure, I can’t wait to read the full interview. The question will become, though, is it smart for Baron Cohen to reveal himself and his thoughts – behind this curtain – before he’s made and released his next alter-ego project, Bruno?