Cold War-era Ideas Echoed in “Borat”

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Sasha Baron Cohen’s mockumentary Borat (2008) not only evokes a Cold War-era importance of assimilating to “superior” American society and culture, but also highlights a continued divide between what is considered “American” and “un-American.” Cohen transforms himself into fictitious Borat Sagdiyev, a reporter from Kazakhstan who is tasked with discovering lessons, learnings, and secrets of the American way of life in order to share these new understandings with and better Kazakhstan. Cohen utilizes few actors and improvisation, as genuine interactions between real, unsuspecting Americans and Cohen’s Borat constitute the majority of the film.

The official title of Cohen’s film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, initially exposes a sense of American superiority and need to assimilate to American cultural practices. Through highlighting that “cultural learnings of America” would benefit Kazakhstan, and not the other way around, Cohen emphasizes the Cold War sentiment that the rest of the world should use the United States as a societal model. This parallel is further accomplished through Borat’s background as a citizen of a formerly communist country and his quest to exchange his background for American ideals and beliefs. In the film, Borat even attends lessons to learn the mannerisms of average Americans and accepts an invitation to learn proper dinner etiquette at a Southern family’s home in the hopes of assimilating to American practices. This family has no knowledge that Borat is in fact British Cohen, and they interpret Cohen’s foolish actions at the dinner to represent inferior cultural mannerisms of individuals from Kazakhstan, which again highlights a sense of American cultural superiority.

In another moment during Borat, average Americans have a negative reaction to what is perceived as “un-American.” At a rodeo, Cohen sings a fictitious rendition of the national anthem of Kazakhstan, something the American spectators believe is genuine. The audience reacts negatively through booing and cursing due to the foreignness of this anthem as opposed to the more widespread and culturally accepted American national anthem. Just as Americans during the Cold War were not receptive to things viewed as unpatriotic and sought to define what is “American” and “un-American,” average Americans shown in Borat continue to exemplify this attitude.

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