Borat and the great art/life divide

The Frankenstein factor

by Jason Gross

26 November 2006


In this day and age, why oh why does this have to go on?  Borat actor defends his creation.  Yes folks, the art/life divide has once again crumbled and needs to be erected…
From the CNN article linked above, Borat’s creator explains:

“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,” said (Sacha) Baron Cohen, a devout Jew who keeps Kosher and observes the Sabbath when he can.

... which is to say that his Borat character is an ignorant anti-Semite but SBC himself is not.  In fact, throughout the Borat movie, SBC’s character is able to draw out the sick prejudices of others (some of whom are suing him now because of that). 

If the situation sounds familiar, it should, unfortunately.  When the TV show All in the Family first aired on CBS, it had to be proceeded by a warning about the content of the show.  Archie Bunker was your dyed-in-the-wool ignorant racist though Carol O’Connor was such a great actor (and Norman Lear such a good writer/visionary) that he also humanized him- you could laugh at his stupidity but he wasn’t a two-dimensional character.  In fact, O’Connor was such a good actor that many people assumed that he WAS Bunker.  Reality proved a little tricky- rather than supporting Nixon, O’Connor was actually a McGovern booster in real life.

Another example: when the movie Fatal Attraction came out, actress Glenn Close was evidently so believable as a jilted homocidal lover that she was tagged “the most hated woman in America.”  Did people really believe that she went around trying to kill the wives of husbands she went out with or was this just some played-up scary male fantasy (and publicity) come to life?  (a double standard seems to be in play for gangster roles: how many bad guys has Robert DeNiro played yet no one thinks of him as having mob connections)

Music also has plenty of examples of life/art confusion.  Eminem is usually vilified in this regard though he doesn’t always exactly discourage his bad-boy persona not just ‘cause it sells records but also ‘cause he ain’t always a saint.  One of his defenders is Randy Newman, a guy who also knows about inhabiting sociopaths in his songs though except for “Short People,” he’s usually let off the hook as a clever songwriter- guess there’s a different standard for rappers…

So, poor Borat is in a long line of an ongoing tradition.  And he’s in good company of other great artists who have made us uncomfortable.  The problem is when some people mistake roles for real life and think that creators are always culpable for the misdeeds of their creations.  Call it the Frankenstein factor.

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