Probably one of my favorite movies of all time is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, starring Sacha Baron Cohen. And it seems like he’s struck gold again with Who is America?
Perhaps part of the reason I enjoy Borat so much is nostalgia for the time period in which it was released. When it came out in 2006, George W Bush was president. Wasn’t that fun? We thought it was the height of kakistocracy. Saddam Hussein had been captured just a few years prior, we had the ill-informed “Mission Accomplished” photo op. (If you haven’t already, you should check out Will Ferrell’s special You’re Welcome America, where he reprises his fantastic George W. Bush character one final time.)
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It was a time when our government didn’t seem to be getting torn apart at its very seams, but there are also other things to remember fondly about 2006. Arrested Development finished its production run on Fox. We watched movies on iPod Nanos. Twitter was invented. You could “poke” your friends on Facebook. It was still funny to make Chuck Norris jokes before we all realized he’s anti-LGBTQ. Jim and Pam FINALLY kissed each other on The Office. Walmart stopped selling VHS tapes entirely, and Blu-Ray was launched. We lost Steve Irwin.
And perhaps the single most important event of 2006: Pluto officially lost its classification as a planet.
Borat also stands as one of my favorite movies because it gave us one of the best underused meme formats of all time:
And because despite having a scene where, for no real reason, the two main characters of the film get into a fight while naked (that includes Sacha Baron Cohen having his co-star’s penis in his face), the movie won a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
Prior to Borat, Cohen had used the somewhat lesser-known character Ali G in a similar satirical style with great success. So surely, Cohen wouldn’t be able to fool any big-name people now? Public figures have people gatekeeping access to them, fact checking and verifying requests for interviews to limit the possibility of an embarrassing situation. Cohen simply can’t have another Borat-style film ever again because he’s too famous and too recognizable.
You may have forgotten, but this is 2018, where facts don’t seem to matter and fact checking is passé. The culture of alternative facts created an opportunity for Cohen, which he seems to have capitalized on with his latest show: Who Is America?
Cohen’s latest project is made for Showtime, and is a stab at the absurdity of our current political system.
Having watched the video, it seems as though Sacha conducted long interviews with various public figures, putatively to gain their trust, then had them read things from a teleprompter.
Some of the politicians Sacha Baron Cohen scored interviews with for Who is America? include Bernie Sanders, Joe Walsh, Trent Lott, Sarah Palin, and Roy Moore. Showtime didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the show until Palin & Co. started promoting it for them – a textbook example of the Streisand Effect. The harder you try to demonize or make something disappear, the more effective you are at promoting something that otherwise would likely have been ignored or not been nearly as popularized. Basically, it’s like when you were a kid and your parents told you not to do something – you want to do the thing you were told not to do simply because you were told not to do it.
The first episode aired on Sunday (7/15/18), but there’s a 10-minute trailer available on YouTube.
The premise is that Cohen is promoting a method that Israel supposedly uses to train children as young as three years old to use firearms. And because of a combination of tribalism, lack of critical thinking, and rabid support of firearms, people actually go along with it.
Except for Matt Gaetz, a republican Congressman from Florida. Gaetz points out to Cohen that typically, members of Congress don’t just hear a story about a program then offer an endorsement.
And of course, we immediately get a smash cut to members of Congress supporting the program.
There is absolutely a lot of deception from Cohen here. He misled everyone he spoke with and filmed. I’ve seen others criticize him for this, most notably Sarah Palin who called him out for impersonating a disabled war veteran. However, according to Cohen, he never said he was in the military or that he was a veteran, saying:
I was in the service — not military but United Parcel and I only fought for my country when I shot a Mexican who came onto my property.”
He wrote, “Coincidentally, just like our President, I was sadly prevented from joining the regular army on account of bone spurs bein’ [sic] discovered in my testicles.”
Trickery or not, this highlights an important issue we face today. No matter how ridiculous the message, if it comes from someone who appears to be in our tribe and it furthers the agenda we want, we’ll support it. That is exactly how Donald Trump became president – by tossing away values and intellectual honesty in exchange for control of the executive branch of government.
Some of my favorite quotes from the video below are:
– Tea party conservative Joe Walsh saying “A first grader can become a first grenadier.”
– That we teach 3 year olds to use guns, not 2 year olds, because we call it the “terrible twos” for a reason.
– Virginia Citizen’s Defense League president Philip Van Cleave participating in a PSA advertisement – Kinderguardians – for stuffed animals with guns in them, one designed for 12-24 month olds
The best quote from this clip is this gem:
“The science behind this program is proven. At age 4, a child processes images 80% faster than an adult, meaning that essentially, like owls, they can see in slow motion. Children under 5 also have elevated levels of a pheromone, Blink 182, produced by the part of the liver called the Rita Ora. This allows nerve reflexes to travel along the Cardi B neural pathway to the Wiz Khalifa 40% faster, saving time and saving lives.”
– Gun Owners of America Executive Director Emeritus Larry Pratt
Watch the video below.
What do you think? Is it right for Cohen to trick people like this? Let me know in the comments.