Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has been hailed by many critics and viewers as brilliant satire. The mockumentary stars British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and is based on Cohen's television character. The premise has Borat, a Kazakh reporter, traveling to America to make a documentary about the American way of life. Along the way, Borat, an anti-Semite, misogynist, and homophobe, meets various characters ranging from veteran feminists to a jingoistic rodeo producer. He becomes enamored with Pamela Anderson and vows to marry her.

The film begins in Borat's fictional Kazakh hometown, where his sister is a prostitute and the village has its own rapist. He leaves for the United States with his friend and producer,Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian). Borat's encounters with his American subjects are based on the premise that he has no knowledge of American customs and ends up offending everyone he meets. Among his victims: a TVmeteorologist, a gun dealer, and a Confederate antique store owner. Borat and Azamat eventually part ways after a dispute ends in a nude wrestling match in a packed ballroom. Afterwards, Borat sets out on his own to complete his film, offend more victims, and find Pamela Anderson.

Borat has been made the subject of controversy, which drew two types of reactions. Some detractors accused the filmmakers of reinforced racism and anti-Semitism. Of course, Cohen and director Larry Charles are sending up the stereotypes for effect, regardless of whether it makes for good satire, a subject which will be addressed later. The use of irony, present in the 1970s All in the Family and The Colbert Report, seems lost on those who make these accusations. The detractors could benefit by offering a more penetrating analysis of the film. The film's supporters, on the other hand, responded to the allegations by claiming that Borat is making fun of the supposed stupidity of Americans for having such prejudices in the first place. Certain aspects of American culture are certainly fair game, American backwardness in particular. But great satire, in one way or another, provide insight into institutional decay that is the source of what it is targeting. Jonathan Swift took aim at the English elite in "A Modest Proposal," Charlie Chaplin did it in his films, as did Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove. However, Borat focuses its assault on mostly ordinary people and no where does he bother with authoritarian figures (except for the congressman and the chief justice in the Pentecostal speaking-in-tongues sequence that goes nowhere). The reactionary views espoused in the film are symptoms of social, political, and economic oppression in America, rather than the stupidity of Americans themselves. This may be lost on the film's supporters who subscribe to the filmmakers' elitist outlook that bigotry is fostered within working class and poor America, not the American ruling class, which has a long history of dividing the oppressed with bigotry. Individual backwardness, as presented in the film, is certainly something to be addressed, but it is mostly treated in a superficial and obvious manner.

Borat has its few funny moments, but ultimately it is a failure as a satire. There's nothing that groundbreaking or insightful in its presentation. While great satire, from the anti-authoritarian point of view takes aim at cherished institutions, Borat does this to the limited degree, but not anything extraordinary. The scenes with the rodeo cowboy, its jingoist crowd and the one featuring a trio of racist, sexist frat boys weren't that shocking. One needs only to go to some fundamentalist church or some college party to see this. Most of these kinds of people who hold these views are products of a reactionary political environment created by political, economic, and media institutions. Ridiculing bigots as an attack on anti-authoritarianism is what would separate great satire from the pretenders, but one gets the feeling that the positive reaction of many viewers to the film is more about feeling better about themselves than eliminating bigotry. This isn't that productive, if we're analyzing this as a social, political satire. After all, it's not enough to show people saying racist, sexist, xeno/homophobic things. It's more insightful to show it why it exists.

There are other problems with Borat too. Much of the film though is more irritating and painful than anything. The most fatal flaws involved the scenes that completely backfire. One was with a scene with a veteran feminist group. Cohen repeatedly baited the women, who initially responded with patience and then with annoyance. Cohen seemed to be using the self-consciously tired tactic of being the "equal opportunity offender," (the "if we're going to make fun of right-wing fundamentalists, then we better make fun of left-wingers too, so we can offend no one by offending everyone" routine) but instead of making the feminists look shrill and self-righteous (which I assume was to be the purpose), the women were just tired withBorat's foolishness. Another scene is with the Southern dinner society. Here, there is potential to ridicule the upper crust subjects, but instead, they seemed merely fed up that they were being had. There seems to be an attempt to make them look racist and elitist, but some could feel some sympathy for the subjects' irritation atBorat's hijinks, which wasn't supposed to be the case.

In the end, Borat is nothing more than a series of pranks on camera skits than any meaningful satire.