Thursday, November 16, 2006

David Brooks Asks: What's The Matter With Kansas... And Iowa... and Texas?

A few movie reviews of Borat:
So, what does all of this have to do with David Brooks, you ask? Behind the firewall, after taking digs at American Idol, The Daily Show and "culture-war comedians [like Bill Maher] whose jokes heap scorn on the sorts of people who are guaranteed not to be in the audience", Mr. Brooks has this to say:
And so we enter the era of mass condescension. Thanks to the creativity of our cultural entrepreneurs, we enter a time when we can gather in large groups and look down at our mental, social and spiritual inferiors.

* * *

But, of course, the crowning glory of the current moment is the “Borat” movie, an explosively funny rube-baiting session orchestrated by a hilarious bully.

The genius of Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance is his sycophantic reverence for his audience, his refusal to challenge the sacred cows of the educated bourgeoisie. During the movie, Borat ridicules Pentecostals, gun owners, car dealers, hicks, humorless feminists, the Southern gentry, Southern frat boys, and rodeo cowboys. A safer list it is impossible to imagine.

* * *

The more tolerant the simpletons try to be toward Borat, the more he drags them into the realm of anti-Semitism and vileness. The more hospitable they try to be, the dumber they appear for not understanding the situation.
Brooks extrapolates,
Finally, there’s blue America snobbery, as people on the coasts try to fathom those who would vote for George W. Bush. The only logical explanation is that they are racist, anti-Semitic idiots who can be blamelessly ridiculed.
Perhaps I should admit that I didn't find the little bit of Cohen's "Da Ali G Show" that I saw to be funny, and I have no intention of seeing Borat. Even if I accept the critical position that the film is hilarious, the tactics used to obtain releases were at times reprehensible.

Yet from what I have read, if Brooks has in fact seen the movie, it's hard to know what to make of his column. First, he describes the movie as "hilarious" - is this entire column an exercise in self-flaggelation for his lauging - sneering, even - at Red State Americans? (Brooks has no problem with sneering - as the column shows, he happily sneers at Blue State Americans. He has a long history of sneering at intellectuals. And within that column he implicitly sneers at dumb jocks who grow up to vote Republican, whom he fancies himself as leading around by the nose - in his own words, his brand of former high school nerd has "learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them."

But among his examples from Borat - the frat boys. News accounts indicate that the frat boys demonstrated misogyny and lamented the end of slavery. What problem does Brooks have with ridiculing bigots who favor enslaving African Americans? What's elitist about outing that form of bigotry, and looking down on it? (Oh sure, they're pulling the Mel Gibson "I was drunk so what I said doesn't really count" defense - which is an excuse I categorically reject. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions so you are less guarded about saying what you actually believe.) The feminists... He's speaking of the group of educated women who appear in the film in a New York art gallery? (How dare liberal Blue Staters sneer at those... liberal Blue Staters....) The rodeo cowboy - this is the person who was wistful for the day when Americans could get away with killing gay people? Again, Brooks has a problem with making this brand of bigot look like an idiot?

Perhaps he believes that he's allowed to laugh at the victims of Cohen's "hilarious" bullying because he believes himself to have unique insight, such that he and he alone recognizes that the victims (other than, perhaps, those New York feminists) don't represent Red America. Ah yes, David... You are so much better than everybody else. And if anybody is positioned to tell us we're in "The Heyday of Snobbery", surely it's you.


  1. I have to admit that I found Borat's movie to be extremely funny, albeit offensive at times ... What I would love is for Borat to have met David Brooks and drawn out his obvious biases for all to see, because from what you've shared here, he just seems to be a royal jaxkass

  2. I recall somebody being inteviewed by "Ali G", and it supposedly being apparent that for most (all?) of the interview he did not understand that it was a gag interview. It would be interesting to see Brooks interviewed by Borat (or perhaps Brooks interviewed by Cohen as himself) to see who came out on top. Brooks is smart enough, though, that if he were interviewed by "Borat", whether playing along with the joke or feigning righteous indignation, would be very unlikely to say anything foolish.


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