by Tyler Yen
In modern-day society, politics has cemented its footing into every aspect of life. Whether it is a class you are taking, a song you are listening to, or a film you’re watching, politics has managed to find its way in. In film specifically, it’s extremely hard to dodge any sort of political substance. As political films take many forms and genres, it is sometimes hard to decide how successful and efficient the political aspects are delivered. Borat has been a staple in the 20th century when it comes to prevalent and popular political films. In the midst of a global pandemic, Borat aims to reveal the flawed and corrupt political systems of America, mostly focusing on Republicans. Borat uses realism, absurdity, and comedy to expose the reality of American politics.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm takes us through Borat’s second journey to America. In this film, Borat’s goal is to successfully infiltrate America’s government by offering a gift to Vice President Mike Pence. When Borat arrives in America, he finds out that his daughter, Tutar, has snuck into America while destroying the original gift. This ends up creating the idea of presenting Tutar as an offering instead. The movie takes us through his adventure of preparing Tutar to be the wife of Mike Pence. Throughout the film, we are taken through many aspects of America, including a planned parenthood clinic, a Donald Trump rally, and an anti-lockdown rally. The end of the film even presents us with a real encounter with Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and friend of Donald Trump.
This essay will argue that Borat’s blend of documentary-style and absurdity to mask the ridicule of American politics effectively displays the disturbing truths of the far right. Firstly, this essay will discuss how the use of real-life “actors” contributes to the underlying narrative. Secondly, this essay will display how the absurd humour emphasizes the ridiculousness of previous stereotypes to verify credibility. Thirdly, this essay will explain how a comedy is a perfect way to criticize politics.
2. Real-life actors exposing Republicans
Real-life actors and scenarios are a rather new method for comedies. The whole point of using real people in real scenarios are to emphasise that their reactions are genuine. This method is stronger than realism when it comes to making the film feel more plausible and realistic. Realism is defined as “a filmmaking style that seeks to imitate or duplicate reality” (Christensen et al. 35). However, Borat would not be as effective if it simply used realism to recreate scenarios. Borat gets a lot of its meaning from being a “mockumentary” style film.
The first scene that displays Republicans in a bad light is when Borat takes Tutar to the Anti-Lockdown rally. Borat’s goal is to create a song that would appeal to the Republic rally while his friends go look for Tutar. The songs’ lyrics talk about how “corona is a liberal hoax” and how he wants to “inject [Obama] with the Wuhan flu” (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, 1:10:51). As stated before, this scene is filmed at a real-life rally. The reaction in the crowd is ridiculous and completely horrifying. Not only are people clapping along to the song, but also singing along to the extremely offensive and racist lyrics. Borat’s real-life audience reveals the underlying tones of racism and the bigotry of the far-right supporters.
The other real-life scene depicting a horrible abuse of power is the scene with Rudy Giuliani. In this scene, Giuliani agreed to meet with Tutar for an interview at a hotel. As the interview goes on, Giuliani starts getting more comfortable and touchier with Tutar. Giuliani then agrees to go for drinks in the bedroom with Tutar. In the bedroom, Giuliani says that Tutar can give him her “phone number” and “address” (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, 1:21:51) before starting to take off his pants. This scene reveals a disgusting abuse of power to try and sleep with Tutar. As a person in a position of power, by no means should they be using their position to try and receive sexual favours. The ability to capture this in real-life truly emphasises the villainization of republican figures.
3. Absurd humour
The Borat franchise is known for using completely absurd humour. The combination of absurdity and humour ridicules some of the stereotypes used in this movie. One of the most common stereotypes used in this franchise is the focus on Jewish people. A scene in the movie shows Borat going into a synagogue to speak with a Jewish person. He enters the synagogue wearing what he sees as a stereotypical Jewish appearance, including a longer nose, devil wings, and a money bag. He then asks the lady not to eat him, she responds with “do I look like I eat people” (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, 0:56:39). Throughout the scene, Borat starts to realize that all of those stereotypes are false.
The absurdity of this scene starts to verify the authenticity of the whole movie. The past Borat film could be seen as more of a simpler comedy, one that has more comedic purpose than Political intent. However, in this film, Borat aims to portray a deeper message about American politics. Previously, the absurdity just contributed to the overall humour of the film. Although, in this film, Borat tries to break those stereotypes and absurdity to transition into a more political film. By doing so, it emphasises the importance of the real-life political situations displayed in the movie. The political intent greatly increased in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm from the original Borat. Through use of absurd humour, the ridiculousness of the jokes is put into the spotlight. The jokes are use to mock those who may believed or used these common stereotypes. By emphasising the absurdity, Jason Woliner is verifying the credibility of the political content in this film.
4. Comedy as a tool
The political content in this film is delivered by use of comedy. A perfect example of this is the film’s verisimilitude. The meaning of verisimilitude of film is defined as “probable, plausible or likely” (Neale 28). In context of film, as the movie progresses, you assume that the film is a comedy by the amount of humour sprinkled throughout the film. However, Borat uses this verisimilitude of the movie being a comedy as an effective mask for delivering the political intent. Some could even describe it as a Trojan Horse for political intent. Looking back at the anti-lockdown rally, this is a perfect example of this use. While most people understand and laugh at the inherent humour of the lyrics in Borat’s song, hides the meaning of the people cheering and singing along to the song. The political intent of this scene is to display the blind agreement of the audience with the lyrics of the song. Although, to the average viewer it may just be seen as another humorous scene to laugh along with because of the ridiculous lyrics. This is part of what makes Borat so special. The Borat franchise is particularly good at delivering political content due to the fact that it is able to fall back on the use of comedy. Steve Neale stated that “as soon as one is prepared to de-substantiate the classical concept of genre’, as soon as one is prepared to recognize the transience of genres” (Neale 205).
Borat balances political intent with comedy through the excellent use of story order. The scene which summarizes this idea is after the Mike Pence rally. While unsuccessful in gifting Tutar to Mike pence, Borat then goes to a fax machine service to deliver the bad news to his leader. Borat then exchanges a conversation with his leader through fax as if it was text messaging. The humour of the exchange between Borat and his leader is intrinsically comedic. By inserting an inherently humorous scene after political content, Jason Woliner is essentially drawing the audiences attention to focus on the Comedy. This use of comedy as a device is paired well with the method on falling back on humour. As political intent is used in the film, more humour is inserted to guide the audience’s attention to more light-hearted content.
Borat is more than just a comedy. Of course, the movies intrinsic value is to have you walk away feeling good and share a few laughs. However, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is very much deeper if you deconstruct it to its roots. The film’s use of real-life actors displays acts of ignorance, corruption, and tones of bigotry in American politics. The absurdity of the comedy ridicules the stereotypes often associated with the republican party and their views on typical democrats. The use of comedy as a device for delivering political content in an effective and unintrusive manner is crucial to the film’s success. In the time of the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to make sure that our society is safe, and together, stop the spread of the virus. Borat gives us joy and laughs while still reminding us how little or how uncareful the American government has been handling Covid.
Haas, Elizabeth, et al. Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films. II ed., Routledge, 2015.
Neale, Steve. Genre and Hollywood. Routledge, 2000.
Woliner, Jason, director. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Amazon Studios, 2020.