Archive for the ‘Kazakhstan’ category

Borat

November 3, 2006

I like Ron Rosenbaum. I really do. His writing on Shakespeare is inspired. (And this is coming from someone who does not even much like Shakespeare.) But Rosenbaum has another career as a critic of Jewish culture and a chronicler of Jewish history (indeed, I hasten to add that his purview extends beyond the parochial). In 1999 he came out with Explaining Hitler, and this was followed-up with a volume he co-edited in 2004 (at the height of the publishing craze around the “New Anti-Semitism“) titled, Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism. I have only personal familiarity with the latter volume, and it is a fine book encompassing a range of viewpoints, from the measured to the unhinged. Sadly, Rosenbaum himself was a bit unhinged around this time, warning in The New York Observer (where he writes a regular column) of a “the Second Holocaust”: “It’s a phrase we may have to begin thinking about. A possibility we may have to contemplate.” Such concerns, however sincere, are egregiously wide of the mark.

All of this is by way of clearing my throat to address the most pressing cultural matter facing America today. The question by which all sensibilities are gauged. The question, of course, of Borat.

Rosenbaum has a piece in Slate today in which he argues…well, I am not sure what the hell Rosenbaum is really trying to say. And frankly, I am not sure Rosenbaum knows either. This exemplifies the problem with so much of Rosenbaum’s writing as of late, it seems as though he is figuring it out on the page as he goes. And it takes him an agonizing amount of time to get to his point (much like me, in this post). The man needs an editor.

As best I can tell Rosenbaum likes Borat, at least he likes “Borat One” – who is “brilliantly oblivious, appealing clueless” and who appears on the HBO series the pre-dates the new film. “Borat Two,” on the other hand, “the heavy-handed, frat-boy, butt-head” of the movie. Rosenbaum does not like this Borat. The bulk of the piece is spent ruminating on the famous “Throw the Jews Down the Well” segment from the HBO series. Rosenbaum tediously parses a variety of possible explanations and implications for this disturbingly humorous episode. Some are more appealing than others, but one is ridiculous.

Rosenbaum writes of Sacha Baron Cohen (the creator of Borat):

“Yes, we’ve all been told by the 5,000 Borat profiles that have been written as of this writing, Sacha Baron Cohen is a practicing Jew from an Orthodox family…The usual corollary derived from this is that he himself can’t be anti-Semitic, but I wonder if there’s another corollary: This is a practicing Orthodox Jew’s vision of the world, even of the most Jew-friendly nation in the world: They all hate us even if they try to disguise it, but you can find it right beneath the surface.”

To his credit in the next sentence he backs-off this a bit, writing, “It can’t quite be said that he’s sending up this view…” All of which begs the question, why suggest this at all. It simply makes no sense. The viewpoint he ascribes to Cohen is less that of an Orthodox Jew than an Orthodox Zionist. It is the idea that Jews will never successfully assimilate, the anti-Semitism is a perennial threat to the Jewish people, and the only possibility for “normalcy” (a favorite term of the early Zionists) is a Jewish State. If anything, the Orthodox reject the standard Zionist line as an affront to God, who is regarded as the only force who can dispatch the messiah and reconstitute a Jewish polity. Rosenbaum surely know this.