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.





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