News

Smile, you're on Kazakhstan camera

Barry Koltnow
The Orange County Register

OK, let's make a few assumptions. Let's assume that you are a stupid, racist college student. And let's assume that you are also drunk.

So, you're a drunk, stupid, racist college student, driving down a highway with a few of your drunk, stupid, racist college friends, and you pick up a hitchhiker.

Not just any hitchhiker but a foreign journalist accompanied by a documentary film crew. Sounds like it might be fun so you give the foreign journalist and his film crew a ride.

And it is fun. You continue drinking, and share a few laughs with the foreigner. The alcohol-fueled conversation starts to get a little political and, before you know it, the foreigner has steered you into a discussion on the merits of slavery.

Being drunk, stupid and racist, you fall for the bait and express your opinion that everything in society has gone downhill since the abolition of slavery.

Just what one might expect from someone who is drunk, stupid and racist.

But the story doesn't end there.

At the end of this abbreviated road trip, you are informed that the foreign journalist is none other than British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen of HBO's "Da Ali G Show" fame, and that his film crew is not making a real documentary about the United States, but a mock documentary that pokes fun at certain people - including drunk, stupid, racist college students.

The hilarious satire, which opened in theaters Friday, is called "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

Let's get back to those drunk, stupid racist college students.

After being told that they were being put on by Cohen and director Larry Charles, they are asked to sign a talent/model release, which gives the filmmakers permission to use the students' likenesses and words in the movie. The students gladly signed the releases. Of course, they may have been drunk at the time.

But there were other people made to look foolish in this movie, and they did not appear to be under the influence of anything. Yet they cheerfully signed the releases as well.

I spoke to the film's director, and he said that, despite the nature of the movie, not a single person refused to sign the releases after their run-in with the alleged foreign journalist.

"Believe me, we were very careful with those releases," Charles told me. "We spoke to a lawyer every day, and we knew exactly how far we could go.

"That's why we never got into legal trouble when the police stopped us." (They were questioned more than 50 times during nine weeks of shooting by local police and agencies such as the FBI and Secret Service.) "Everything we did was grounded in a legal reality."

That doesn't answer the big question I had while watching this movie.

My question was: "How stupid do you have to be to sign a release after you've been made a fool of in a major motion picture?"

It is similar to a question I ask when I watch reality TV: "How stupid do you have to be to sign a release after you've been made a fool of on national television?"

And if I ever watched one of those "Girls Gone Wild" videos, I'd ask this question: "How stupid do you have to be to sign a release after you've been made a fool of in a sleazy video?"

Charles said he asked himself the same question, even as he was asking these people to sign releases. And he has an answer.

"The biggest surprise I got out of making this movie was finding out how much ego and vanity there is in the world. People want to be on TV. They want to be in the movies. They are very seduced by that. And they have such big egos that they believe that they're showing the world how smart they are."

Hey, I've got news for all you people. You don't look smart. In most cases, you look pretty dumb.

But I do think that the film's director has a point about ordinary people being seduced by the extraordinary lure of a few minutes of fame.

People love to ridicule celebrities, but I suspect that there are very few people who would not jump at the chance to trade places with them.

Of course, I'm not talking about switching places with a celebrity who is going through a marital, financial or legal crisis. It's the glitz and glamour side of their lives, and all that might entail, that attracts us to the rich and famous.

And if we are unable to switch lives with them, the very least we can do is to strut our stuff for Simon Cowell, eat live bugs on "Fear Factor" or tell a journalist from Kazakhstan what we think of slavery.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.