Last Thursday, I was walking thru the U.C. Berkeley Campus, & I stumbled into line for free passes to an advance screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. There was a slight confusion about my status as student (I told them I was a Scientology Major), but I got my big postcard. So I saw it this Thursday, in a hall full of rowdy, fully-appreciative 18-to-22-year-olds, probably the only suitable environment.
I walked the twenty blocks to campus, many hours early, & drank a few “soltice”-style pints in the university “lair”. There was loud thumping music, of course, but I spent both lemon-tinted pints reading Nabokov's Ada; Or, Ardor. With some European upper-class inflection, as Ada's mother has, both title & subtitle are supposed to sound about the same. I'm about a hundred pages into this book, about one-sixth. It's shocking, like Borat. It was a shocking night. Ada, in its own way a sequel to Lolita, is about cousins who are actually siblings, who have, whilst summering in Eden, their first physical contact. Wordplay & entymology, it's about anagrams: insect, incest. I guess it could be a companion-piece to Lolita – Humbert Humbert, you remember, had a proto-nymphet experience when he was a youth, which set the stage for his later perversion. A better way to understand it, both Van Veen & Humbert recognize true beauty & respond with an unquenchable erection. Humbert is fundamentally un-creative tho, & although he loves his nymphet, he doesn't get her intellect, & he's never really interested in her beautiful brain, his fatal flaw if anything is – one critic compares the book to a despot possessing a population, demanding allegiance thru rape whilst shutting himself off from true connection. I shouldn't comment yet on the quality of Van's lust, but I think he is legitimately turned on in part by his sister's intellect, even if he's bored by her pretentious scientific descriptions of caterpillars.
Sasha Baron Cohen is in a great position to mock American culture, expose it as racist & backwards, & Americans are dying to be constantly reaffirmed in this suspicion. At his best on Da Ali G Show, he acts far over the top, so that no sane focused individual could be fooled by the fraud of a fake foreigner making impossible & impossibly offensive cultural mistakes – yet they routinely are fooled. It's a similar charade with Ali G, the A-side of the shtick, with a “how stupid do these politicians think the 'hip-hop generation' actually is?” But, damn, what's with all the poop humor in this new movie? Maybe, because of my indoctrination as enlightened humanist, or my upbringing with Gallagher, I am not surprised nor scandalized by masturbation or feces, & therefore cannot be grossed-out or moved to a chuckle by gross-out stunts. If taking down Americans & exposing their prejudices is so easy, what can be learnt by bringing your own poop in a bag to the dinner table (because the foreigner didn't understand the flush)? Wouldn't anyone, not just racist Southern Christians, be dismayed? There are priceless moments – like when Borat, at a rodeo, gets the whole audience to cheer for something like “May George Bush drink the blood of every last Iraqi woman & child”; or when a cowboy tells him in confidence to shave his mustache so that he doesn't look like a Muslim terrorist. I guess I wanted more sociology & less scatology. I'm still convinced that the best movie ever made about racism is Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, using humor to discuss gray areas of the soul that a cheesy movie like Crash can't scrape away at. Borat, with its mockumentary format & deceiving character acting, had a potential to take Blazing Saddles into a post-9/11 world, but it seemed more inspired by Mel Brooks' fart jokes than by his comic insights.