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Canada Borat's back, but does 'extreme comedy' really change minds or just push people away?

12:10  24 october  2020
12:10  24 october  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

Borat Gives Jimmy Kimmel an Extremely Incorrect Coronavirus Test (Video)

  Borat Gives Jimmy Kimmel an Extremely Incorrect Coronavirus Test (Video) Ahead of the new "Borat" film's Oct. 23 release on Amazon Prime, Sacha Baron Cohen showed up on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in character as Borat, where in addition to showing off a clip from the film, he attempted to administer an extremely incorrect kind of coronavirus test to Kimmel. He also stayed in character the whole time, including displaying Borat's trademark antisemitism (reminder: Cohen himself is Jewish and uses the gag to satirize racists). So, as Cohen-as-Borat came out onstage and sat down, he said he wasn't comfortable beginning the interview until he verified for himself that Kimmel wasn't sick with COVID-19.

The forthcoming ' Borat Subsequent Moviefilm' features a prank on President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is interviewed by Borat ' s 'daughter' in a New York City hotel suite. Rudy Giuliani leans back after actress Maria Bakalova takes his mic off and seemingly puts his hands down his pants.

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a group of people standing in front of a building: Sacha Baron Cohen's new film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, seeks to reveal the 'dangerous slide to authoritarianism,' he says. The character has come to represent a particular form of gonzo journalism, as he convinces people to reveal opinions they'd rather keep hidden. © Amazon Studios/The Associated Press Sacha Baron Cohen's new film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, seeks to reveal the 'dangerous slide to authoritarianism,' he says. The character has come to represent a particular form of gonzo journalism, as he convinces people to reveal opinions they'd rather keep hidden.

"How dark is she wanting to go?" a worker at an Oklahoma tanning salon asks, motioning toward a board showing different skin tones. It's still early in the Borat sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and Sacha Baron Cohen's titular character is bringing his daughter Tutar to local businesses for a makeover.

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"What colour is best for racist family?" he asks in a thick accent. The woman only hesitates a second before answering.

"I would say right here," she says, and points near the middle of the chart. "I wouldn't go any darker than a six or a seven."

It's standard fare for Borat. The character has come to represent a particular form of gonzo journalism, as he convinces people to reveal opinions they'd rather keep hidden. The movie has already provoked strong responses, and some see it as a way to change public opinion.

"The results aren't pretty, but they can deliver lessons," a Washington Post review reads. Online magazine Inverse wrote that Tutar — played by Bulgarian actor Maria Bakalova —  "expose[s] America's deep-rooted sexism." Variety pegged the film as "capable of sparking laughs, fueling public discourse and engaging voters," while Baron Cohen even took a stab at a description himself.

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  Rudy Giuliani Says He Was 'Tucking in My Shirt' in 'Borat' Scene Rudy Giuliani denied that he inappropriately had his hands down his pants during a scene that appears in the upcoming sequel to Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat," writing on Wednesday that he was only "tucking in my shirt." "The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment. At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate," Giuliani tweeted. "If Sacha Baron Cohen"The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment. At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate," Giuliani tweeted.

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"The aim is to make people laugh, but we reveal the dangerous slide to authoritarianism," he said in a New York Times profile, an echo of what he'd written in a Times Magazine opinion piece almost two weeks earlier. We Must Save Democracy From Conspiracies explains the dangers Baron Cohen sees in COVID-19 conspiracy theories — and how his various characters have been a foil to combat them.

"Yes, a lot of my comedy is uncomfortably pubescent," he wrote. "But when it works, satire can humble the powerful and expose the ills of society."

But how well satire works at changing minds depends on whom that satire actually reaches.

'Conspiracy without the theory'

Russell Muirhead is a professor of democracy and politics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and co-author of the book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, which looks at how conspiracy theories have shifted away from the classic model into what he calls "conspiracy without the theory."

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Using "Pizzagate" — the false story of a Democrat-run child sex-trafficking ring based in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. — as an example, Muirhead explained how the creation of conspiracies has changed.

"Classic conspiracy theory might begin with an event like the assassination of [John F. Kennedy] or the attack on the World Trade Center and try to explain an event that's accessible through common sense," he said. "Pizzagate doesn't do that. It doesn't gather evidence and facts."

Because of that, confronting such ideas with truth is particularly ineffective, Muirhead said.

Baron Cohen's workaround is to expose them for an audience. In one sequence in the film, Borat stays with believers of QAnon — a fringe theory related to Pizzagate that claims the "deep state" is colluding against U.S. President Donald Trump.

After they explain their beliefs around adrenochrome harvesting — a conspiracy theory that includes the assertion that Hillary Clinton harvests and consumes adrenaline from children — they balk at a fake medical book Borat shows them.

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  Sacha Baron Cohen Mocks Trump With Job Offer as 'Racist Buffoon': 'You'll Need a Job After Jan 20' "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen hit back at Donald Trump on Saturday, implying that the president was an unfunny yet laughed at "racist buffoon." "Donald–I appreciate the free publicity for Borat! I admit I don't find you funny either. But yet the whole world laughs at you. I'm always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you'll need a job after Jan. 20. Let's talk!," Baron Cohen wrote on Twitter Saturday, responding to Trump's"Donald–I appreciate the free publicity for Borat! I admit I don't find you funny either. But yet the whole world laughs at you. I'm always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you'll need a job after Jan. 20.

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"It's a lie," one of the men says. "That's — it's a conspiracy theory."

The Hollywood Reporter, the National Post and others pointed out the irony of the scene, but whether this type of humour will actually change anyone's mind — especially the two men featured — is suspect.

'Extreme comedy' and voters

Amy Becker is an associate professor of communications at Loyola University in Chicago who researches the effects of political entertainment and comedy on voter engagement.

In a 2019 study on "extreme comedy" that focused on Baron Cohen's style of duping politicians in Who is America, Becker found that audiences tended to react to those situations along party lines: If they already believed what they were being told, they were likely to find the comedy credible. If they don't hold the same beliefs, the opposite effect can be seen.

That puts Borat at risk of merely convincing people who are already convinced.

a man standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Sacha Baron Cohen arrives in character for the premiere in Los Angeles of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on Oct. 23, 2006. With the release of the sequel 14 years later, some believe his style of comedy may affect audiences differently. © Matt Sayles/The Associated Press Sacha Baron Cohen arrives in character for the premiere in Los Angeles of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on Oct. 23, 2006. With the release of the sequel 14 years later, some believe his style of comedy may affect audiences differently.

"I think that people are pretty fixed in their beliefs these days," Becker said. "So I'm not sure that it's necessarily doing much to change opinions for people who are on the fence."

'Borat' Sequel Promotes 'Racism, Cultural Appropriation and Xenophobia,' Kazakh American Association Says

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Muirhead has similar concerns. While satire is "a very powerful tool in politics," he said, Baron Cohen's ambush style — where he interviews unsuspecting people and elicits embarrassing responses — could push those on the fence away.

And that is the group most likely to be swayed by such satire, he said. "True believers" of conspiracy theories are rare, while thoughtful citizens confused by a "blizzard of misinformation" are much more common.

"And when a blizzard becomes a whiteout, it can be very disorienting," Muirhead said. "That's the group I'm really, really concerned about, and that's the group where the great antidote to disorientation is common sense."

Borat's new audience

If people do see Baron Cohen's comedy as lighthearted instead of a form of mockery, Muirhead said, it could still have a great impact.

But there is something standing in the way of that. The world Borat inhabits today is different from the one he was in 14 years ago, Vulture journalist and movie reviewer Bilge Ebiri says.

In the first movie, Borat was largely an equal-opportunity offender. Now, Ebiri said, he mostly goes after those on the right.

Rudy Giuliani wearing a suit and tie: Rudy Giuliani, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, shown in July, was caught on a hidden camera in an embarrassing position in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. © Evan Vucci/The Associated Press Rudy Giuliani, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, shown in July, was caught on a hidden camera in an embarrassing position in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

And in 2006, Baron Cohen could simply show people saying shocking things to generate a response. Now, Ebiri said, such revelations have become standard fare — something audiences are more likely to gloss over.

Ebiri pointed to the scene in Borat involving Rudy Giuliani — U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and a former New York mayor — in which he was caught on hidden camera lying on a bed with his hand down the front of his pants. Tutar stands nearby as he does, while posing as a journalist.

That generated a wave of news stories, but few, Ebiri said, touched on Giuliani's statements before that scene, where he claimed China manufactured the virus that causes COVID-19 and spread it around the world on purpose.

"A statement like that, just something that is so blatantly untrue," Ebiri said, "being uttered by an ostensibly respectable politician, that would have been bigger news 14 years ago."

That, he said, shows how much differently people react to the style of comedy in 2006's Borat compared with the sequel. And if we're already inured to misinformation, he said, there's not much use in Borat exposing it.

Watch How Sacha Baron Cohen Escaped That Hairy Gun Rally Scene in 'Borat' Sequel (Video) .
"Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" was not only tricky to make in relative secrecy, it was also highly dangerous. On Tuesday, star Sacha Baron Cohen tweeted out video of a hairy getaway from a right-wing rally in Washington state. Cohen's performance at the far-right militia group's Olympia, Washington rally, which was billed as "March for Our Rights 3," included lyrics about injecting Barack Obama, Dr. Anthony Fauci and CNN with the "Wuhan flu" — orCohen's performance at the far-right militia group's Olympia, Washington rally, which was billed as "March for Our Rights 3," included lyrics about injecting Barack Obama, Dr. Anthony Fauci and CNN with the "Wuhan flu" — or chopping them up "like the Saudis do.

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