Help! I am a victim of Borat!

I hate colds, and the one I had a couple of weeks ago has been aggravated by a sinus infection plus what should fairly be called post-election blog burnout. Fortunately, the sinus infection has a limited life, and it is starting to clear up. I'm confident that the post-election syndrome will also fade without my having to take antibiotics.

Still, I had hoped to be writing a review of Borat this morning, because last night I went out in good faith in an attempt to see it. But because there were so many mindless zombies infuriatingly doing the same thing that I wanted to do, I was unable to see the film. I feel duped by this experience. And victimized.

These mindless zombies (all of whom were duped into seeing a fraudulent film) completely ruined the film for me by buying all the tickets!

So damnably, despicably unfair of them! And I blame Borat, the phony company that made it, and the exploitation of everyone from frat boys to feminists.

Those, those, mindless hordes of people, why, they just go to these films because it's the thing to do, and it's maddening that they've been duped into going, although I should remember that they have no idea why they're going to the film!

I, on the other hand write a blog! Not only that, it's a misunderstood satire blog which sometimes dupes readers into thinking it's serious! And Borat a misunderstood satire film which has duped almost everyone.

Which means that I have more of a moral right to see the film than the mindless hordes of dupes who stood in my way!

However, I was very polite. I did not yell at the pathetic victims who prevented me from doing what I had more of a moral right to do than they had; I just got in my car and drove to the video rental store, where I rented a film I've already seen at least twenty times. (Yes, like Howard Hughes I watch favorite films over and over again and I'll probably die watching an umpteenth rerun. If you already know it's a good film, you can't go wrong.)

But I am not going to review an umpteenth rerun of a film I've been watching since childhood. That would be the ultimate "spoiler." Instead, I should review Borat.

I always enjoy reviewing movies before I've seen them, and for the reasons I have explained I have more of a moral right to review the film than any of the people who prevented me from seeing it.

At the outset, I note that some of the people who were duped into appearing in Borat are suing, despite the fact that they signed releases:

The filmmaker duped them, they charge. They signed a waiver, they allege, offered under the pretext that the movie was a documentary that would only be shown outside of the U.S.

As Borat might put it: Will Baron Cohen and 20th Century Fox, the film's studio, have to swallow crow of lawsuit?

The big question: How much weight do consent forms really carry?

Not enough, the lawyer for two "Borat"-ized fraternity brothers intends to prove.

The South Carolina University students are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies, their lawsuit claiming that the drunken, misogynistic and racist comments they made in the film were taken out of context and that crew members plied them with drinks before they signed any forms.

Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant would not release a copy of the consent agreement this week to The Associated Press. He maintained that the "lawsuit has no merit," and said the waiver was going to be filed in court Monday as part of the ongoing lawsuit.

I think the producers should argue that whatever they might have been told verbally was part of the satire, and that the language in the contract is what controls. The contract had a standard provision against admission of what is called "parole evidence," as do many contracts, and in general such contracts survive legal attack, because otherwise there'd be a floodgate of litigation by people claiming that they were told something else orally.

Nonetheless, they're suing:

"Generally these releases will hold up in court unless the person suing can prove that he signed the agreement under false pretenses or while incapacitated," said entertainment attorney Aaron Moss, who works for top L.A. law firm Greenberg Glusker. "Even if a participant was lied to, a court may find that the person should have read the contract and that if he didn't, it's essentially his own fault."

"It's a legal doctrine that says the contract supersedes the oral representation relayed," he explained.

Moss and longtime entertainment attorney Kevin Leichter -- who has represented celebrities as well as major studios such as Warner Bros. -- agree that they were not aware of any cases in which a consent form was deemed invalid. Generalized terminology strengthens these contracts, they said.

Lawsuits challenging such forms, Leichter said, "are not all that common. I think the reason is a well drafted consent form is a serious barrier to a lawsuit claiming lack of consent."

And they're claiming they were never given copies of the form.

What seems to be going on is that the people who signed these forms behaved in a foolish manner on camera. I suspect that some of them made statements which appear racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic, and now they regret them, and may see the film as a sort of career-killer. Years ago, a good friend played a despicable person in a cult film, and years later it caused him career problems. But he never sued the film maker; instead he laughed it off. These litigants are calling attention to their own stupidity, and by suing, they only fuel the perception that they really are the morons they appear to be in the film. They'd do better to claim (however lame it may appear), that they "knew all along" that the film was satire, and that they "went along with the joke."

As to the claim by the "frat boys" that they thought they were appearing in a documentary which would be shown only in Kazakhstan, I have read the contract (which appears here as a pdf file), and it says nothing about that. While their attorneys are claiming it's "fraud in the inducement," at the top of contract is the logo of "One America Procuctions" -- a map of the United States -- at the bottom appears the company's Los Angeles address and phone number, while the final paragraph states the contract will be governed by the law of New York! Anyone who is not a complete idiot knows that in this electronic age there's no way to keep a thing like a film confined within a single country. These kids are smart enough to be admitted to college, and I think their claim simply lacks credibility. Plus, they were paid.

But morons abound. I notice also that some humorless types think that morons will be unable to understand the film's satirical nature, and that they might think this Jewish actor's ridiculous anti-Semitic diatribes are serious. There's no way to protect people that stupid from themselves. They should not be allowed outside, and if any of them were in last night's audience, they committed a personal injustice against me.

I'm at least as much a victim as they are, and I should sue too. I mean, I never signed anything, and I wasn't told that the film might be sold out.

The funniest part of the satire is that a group of New York feminists took it seriously, and the BBC is playing right along by calling them "victims":

"I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community," Ms Stein says. "I mean, that's how it seemed to me.

"In our earnestness, we were trying to help women around the world."

Shocking and provocative

Ms Stein is not alone in being duped by Baron Cohen.

The British comedian has perfected his act as the apparently naive reporter whose enthusiastic offensiveness either leaves his interviewees in shock or persuades them to reveal a little too much of their own prejudices.

And the result is set to be one of the year's most popular films.

Oh my God! It's popular! And what about the victims? They were "ensnared":
Most of Borat's victims were ensnared in a similar way. They would be contacted by a woman calling herself Chelsea Barnard from a fictional film company, One America Productions.

They would be told about the foreign correspondent making a film about life in the US, with the pitch tailored to each person's specialist subject.

Then on the day of the interview, they would be presented with a release form at the last minute, be paid in cash and, finally, Borat would amble in, beginning with some serious subjects before starting his provocative routine.

"We're all primed to do an academic dissertation, we did our homework," says yoga teacher Grace Welch, another member of the three-strong feminist panel.

"And as we're talking, out of the blue, he says: 'Do you know Baywatch?'

"I knew something was going on but I didn't know what it was. I'm looking at the cameramen and everyone was stony-faced. And then he would come out with outrageous things."

Ms Stein first tried to throw Borat out when he started talking about women having smaller brains than men.

The producer persuaded her to carry on, apologetically explaining that Borat did not realise he was saying anything wrong.

But the final straw came when Borat asked the women to lift up their shirts at the end of the interview.

I love it when life imitates satire.

Elsewhere, the feminist explains in detail how she was "duped." And she also complains that she's just as strong as Borat, but this never made it into the film!

Inspired segments of Borat and me were cut. At one point, Borat declared that men are stronger than women and held up two chairs to prove it. I did, too -- although I'm only half his size, I'm used to working with bronze and hefty sculpting materials, so his pecs didn't hold up his thesis. But, clearly, he will only show segments that make the "figures" in his art -- his interviewees -- look foolish, so that he looks superior.

My art confronts fears and overcomes them with symbols of empowerment. I don't know what motivates Borat/Cohen to use his considerable talents to deceive and manipulate: maybe it's his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman's beating him at Scrabble. I only know that afterward, I am left feeling confused and sad.

Finally! Now I know what the movie's really about. But you know, it was plenty humiliating last night to get beaten by all those hordes of victims standing in the ticket line so that I couldn't see the film.

Seriously, I would rather have been beaten -- and even beaten badly -- by women at Scrabble.

While I am a victim, in the larger scheme of things, aren't all the parties victims? Weren't the producers of Borat also duped by their victims, who failed to disclose that despite their pretensions at being funny, they had intended to be very serious?

And despite their pretensions at being serious, aren't they still duping the producers by refusing to disclose the fact that they are in reality very funny?

I'll close with the paradox of the lesbian feminist joke:

Q. How many feminist lesbians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. That's not funny!

But as a lesbian in Berkeley told me years ago when I told her this joke, it really isn't funny!

So don't just sit there laughing.

Go out and sue!


AFTERTHOUGHT: Is there any moral lesson here? Clearly, some people do not appreciate it when other people think they are funny when they are actually being serious. Some people are more sensitive about these things than others, but that does not translate into legal liability. So far as I know, there's no right to be taken seriously. People who would have the world take them seriously should probably not allow themselves to be interviewed by goofy looking people and then sign releases. I think these lawsuits only add to the humor. It's been axiomatic since at least the days of Candid Camera that people who don't know they're being funny are often the funniest of all.

MORE: The New York Post's Andrea Peyser has more about the angry feminist Linda Stein, plus pictures of the artist shaking her fist! And the artist's web site lists all her Borat-related appearances.

Can we have a respectful moment of silence in honor of Warhol?

UPDATE: I finally saw Borat at a Sunday matinee. Not only is it hilarious, but I'm finding it a little tougher to believe that the people claiming they were duped actually were. I'm thinking they must have been in on the joke. (Pamela Anderson was even though she won't publicly admit it.)

MORE: Megan McArdle chose not to see Borat, as she doesn't like "any form of entertainment that uses gullible people as props." It's a long and thoughtful post which drew many thoughtful comments. Here's mine:

Good post, and while I understand the concerns, I saw and liked Borat.

The film made fun of nearly everyone, and Baron Cohen (whom I'd never seen nor heard of before the film) reminds me of Howard Stern and Candid Camera. I always loved Howard Stern and I enjoyed the film, although I felt sorry for the people at the dinner. I try to be polite to everyone, avoid ad hominem attacks and always use logic and reason, and while I would never treat people as Cohen treated them, I laughed and laughed. Which means I'm probably a hypocrite or have a double standard or something, or I don't care enough to honor my principles. I guess I'm inconsistent, but then, this was humor, broadly applied.

Honestly, I think this country is losing its sense of humor, and I have a lot of trouble seeing people who signed releases as victims. (Especially the feminist artist who lists her Borat role and her TV appearances complaining about it at the same web site where she promotes her art.)

Maybe I liked the film because I'm too polite, and thus in need of comic relief.

Christopher Hitchens gives the film a mixed review. He thinks the use of feces is a cheapshot, and concludes that Americans are too polite:

....it's that attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan. In what other country could such a character talk his way into being invited to sing the national anthem at a rodeo--where the horse urine is not so highly prized, and where horse excrement, and indeed all excrement, is still a term of abuse?

MORE: Romanian villagers employed as extras are also suing, on the grounds that they were told the film would depict them differently.

For a comedy, this film sure is being taken pretty seriously.

posted by Eric on 11.19.06 at 10:42 AM










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