Jonah Goldberg

Cohen's success stems in part from the fact that he never lets on what his movie is really "about." Unlike Michael Moore - who, just for the record, isn't a fraction as talented as Cohen - Cohen never made himself available to interviewers when promoting the movie. He always appeared as Borat, which made it impossible to ask Cohen what he really thinks of America, what the "message" of the film is or how realistic his "reality" film is. This was a brilliant marketing ploy, and the TV press eagerly played themselves for suckers. Imagine if, say, Cookie Monster started spewing racial epithets on "Sesame Street" and, in response to the controversy, the producers allowed Cookie Monster to do all the talking at the press conference.

Similarly, Cohen refuses to divulge his "methods" - an easy trick when Cohen himself rarely appears at his own interviews - so audiences and critics are free to believe that "Borat" is far more real than it really is. Some of the scenes in the movie are transparently staged. Others must be highly pre-produced. All of it is heavily edited for effect. Yet, some people, including European critics, delight in how "Borat" reveals the bigoted underside of the "real" America.

This is nonsense on stilts. Cohen undoubtedly shot thousands of hours of footage, and he picked the funniest bits, not the most representative ones. Even so, as Christopher Hitchens noted recently in Slate, most of the Americans - save for some cranky feminists - are polite to a fault with Borat. One Southern lady takes her guest to the bathroom to explain how to use the toilet and toilet paper - only after Borat has brought a plastic bag full of what those tools are intended to deal with. Do we really believe the French would be even more accommodating?

Meanwhile, Borat's more conservative defenders hail the film's allegedly implicit critique of political correctness. But this is a hard case to make when Borat's victims are almost all demons in the politically correct pantheon (Christians, rednecks, et al.). Borat never visits, say, Muslims who might sincerely return Borat's high-fives for Jew hatred.

In short, "Borat" isn't as revolutionary or "transgressive" as its fans claim. It's just a funny movie. And that should be enough.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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