January 20, 2007

"I don't buy the argument that, 'Oh, I wouldn't have acted so racist or anti-semitic if I'd known this film was being shown in America.'"

Says Sacha Baron Cohen about the people who are suing him over the film "Borat":
"This wasn't Candid Camera," he says. "There were two large cameras in the room."
It makes you wonder -- doesn't it? -- why we didn't hear about people suing Allen Funt all the time back in the "Candid Camera" days. Maybe people accepted the pranks because they were primed week after week with the jaunty theme song that instructed us to have a sense of humor:
When it's least expected - you're elected. You're the star today
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
With a hocus-pocus - you're in focus. It's your lucky day
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

It's fun to laugh at yourself. It's a tonic, tried and true.
It's fun to laugh at yourself as other people do.

How's your sense of humor? There's a rumor: Laughter's on its way.
Smile! You're on Candid Camera! Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
I don't know. Looking back at those lyrics -- and remembering the tune -- I get the feeling they are laying it on way too thick. It seems to tip us off that they are nervous that their victims will get mad or the viewers will think they are being too mean.

According to the producer of "Candid Camera," there weren't lawsuits and it was because "We never tried to embarrass people or put them in a precarious situation... We did much gentler things."

All that niceness and denial of any cruel edge make it less funny, though, doesn't it?

On Bloggingheads, we were talking about whether it was wrong to respond to Simon Cowell's invitations to laugh at people who look odd or are afflicted with delusional self-esteem. I had to say that part of what makes "American Idol" work is this feeling that it's wrong. That feeling that to laugh is to transgress is what makes you laugh.

Comedy is sadistic.


Dave said...

Can we just get rid of lawyers? Then my tax dollars wouldn't be wasted on white trash trying to extort Cohen for money.

David said...

On a deeper philosophical level American Idol is an expression of our natural revulsion against political correctness run amok in this country.

The limitations an individual may be living with does not diminish the dignity of that person in pursuit of his personal best.

When we laugh at the impossible dreams of others we are recognizing our own limitations and fallibility. Further, we admire their courage to stand up in front of an audience and perform.

"It's show time!"

"Exit stage left!"

Keep a sense of humor and dream on. Everyone in the audience feels your pain. Interesting to turn that phrase back on the victocrats that make a living off those words.

Anonymous said...

This post should have video of the Madison city council meeting with the jaunty theme song playing in the background.

Anonymous said...

"All that niceness and denial of any cruel edge make it less funny, though, doesn't it?"

No, not at all. I guess it is a matter of taste, but I find a cruel edge to be an impediment to comedy, not an enhancer. I hated Borat for this reason. I can't stand the first part of any season of American Idol, especially this season, for this reason.

DaveO said...

I agree with the previous comment. I can't appreciate the brand of humor, which seems so prevalent these days, that not only relies on but emphasizes the embarrassment or pain of the subject. Kids tripping and whacking their heads on furniture isn't funny. Inviting somebody to sing on national television, then insulting them for singing badly, isn't funny.

I've got a lousy memory, and Funt's show was on a long time ago, but as I remember it, Candid Camera wasn't insulting. Didn't most of the shows rely on a practical joke, such as a suitcase filled with bricks, a car with no engine in it, or a bar stool that moved up and down?

Practical jokes such as these seem positively quaint when compaired to the crotch-kicking that passes for humor now.

Hamsun56 said...

I think the situation was different with Candid Camera. I assume that CC had to get a release before they could show someone's face on TV. The "victim " signing the release knew exactly they were signing that release for. With Borat, the "victims" weren't aware of what they were singing a release for - they were led to believe (despite whatever small print that might have been in the release) that this was a small documentary for a foreign market and not a major motion picture for the US market.

What surprises me is that there aren't many tort lawsuits against some of these newer, more aggressive "Candid Camera" shows. Surely someone must have suffered some emotional distress from these pranks ?

Liam Colvin said...

Well, since we are now the gimps and freaks of the world, Cohen making this repugnant and belittling screed is hardly odd.

Cohen makes fun of the fat geeks in the US by making fun of a hairy fool from one of the 'stans. Typical of a Brit, he thinks all woogies are grist for "humor", at least as embodied in the UK.

I refuse to watch this movie, just as I refuse to watch the Daily Show and Colbert. Virtually all the jokes in these shows are at best mean spirited and at worst outright vindictive. I don't really care if they are making fun of the right or the left, the first world or the third. This kind of humor is ultimately degrading.

Sorry. Cohen is a jerk and deserves to be sued.

Anonymous said...

There's a huge difference between Candid Camera and Borat that explains why CC was never sued. Everyone who appeared on camera in both shows signed releases. But the CC participants signed those releases after the event. People who didn't want their embarrassing behavior shown didn't sign and no one was the wiser. But Borat obtained releases (reportedly sometimes by subterfuge) before any of the participants knew what would transpire. Of course the "stars" of Borat are much more likely to object to being made the object of ridicule--they didn't agree to it and the CC participants did.

vbspurs said...

Quoting SBC in the Grauniad:

I mean, even if I went to the bathroom, I had to make sure I went to the bathroom as Borat." He allows a tiny sliver of a smile. "There would definitely be potpourri in the toilet, so you'd know Borat had been there."

See, this is what makes Borat the character BRILLIANT, in terms of utter commitment to craft.

I may have hated it, because it was genuinely unfunny (you can laugh at the premise, but the antics are very specific, and very tied to masculine conceptions of fun), but it was beyond exceptional as social satire.

Comedy is sadistic.

Well, it is in Britain.

Not for nothing, are you talking about two British men, in making your point about sadism.

Candid Camera, from the re-runs that I have seen, wasn't that cruel.

"Punked" is much more, and even then, it speaks more to Americans' love of putting down the rich and famous, rather than British-centric humour of putting down the pompous and glib.

You love "gotcha" moments.

We love "gotcha" lifetimes.


Revenant said...

I'm not following the case, but if the people were encouraged to act in a bigoted manner then the line about how they wouldn't have if they knew Americans would see it makes perfect sense.

Palladian said...

The grandest, sweetest and best satire ever would be someday, somehow, trick Cohen into embarrassing himself on camera. Maybe, in the end, his career will be an unintentional slow-motion consummation of that wish.

Or maybe, in the words of Liberace, he's laughing all the way to the bank.

Humans have always loved humiliating and belittling each other. We can cook up all kinds of pseudo-psychoanalytic, philosophical reasons why we like to belittle each other, but in the end it's simply a social power game. It renders the object of one's scorn powerless and demonstrates who's "boss". It's the "alpha male" asserting dominance before the rest of the pack. It's a primitive, pre-conscious delight. The discomfort some of us might feel at these sorts of displays is our consciousness peeking feebly through that grunting, primordial fog.

Maxine Weiss said...

Ann seems to have an affinity for people with the last name, Cohen.

Peace, Maxine

Anonymous said...

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." - Mel Brooks

HaloJonesFan said...

Maxine: Oh SNAP.

Ann: I think it was Scott Adams, who suggested that there were five elements in humor. I don't recall what they were...something like "cruel, taboo, unexpected, ironic", something else. He said that any successful humor piece needed to use at least two of them.

Anonymous said...

I have never seen American Idol, but I can see that making fun of delusional people could be fun at first. After awhile, I think (hope?) that my morals would kick in, and it would be too much. Then I would feel guilty for laughing in the first place.


paul a'barge said...

why we didn't hear about people suing Allen Funt all the time back in the "Candid Camera" days. Maybe people accepted the pranks because they were primed week after week

Maybe the Candid Camera folks were modestly bright and 1)told folks they were going to be the target of a goof and 2)got folks to sign a legal waver.

Borat's done himself in here, with his own arrogance, and frankly I hope the guy pays out the nose.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cohen has gotten people to sign legal waivers. However, I think the potential legal problem has been that it was done in certain cases under false pretenses.

Cohen, is correct that racists or anti-semites should be shown for what they are. However, it is plausible that through creative editing that things can be made to look worse than they are.

I have been a huge fan of the Ali G show and saw the movie Borat. However, I have become less and not more of a fan of Cohen since the movie. Borat, was always been my least favorite character. Ali G mainly poked fun in a good natured way at prominent people and his Austrian character mainly poked fun at fake fashinonistas or homophobia in a good natured manner.

Borat, makes fun of people in a nasty manner in many cases and makes fun of people even who are trying to be nice. He seems to pick disproportionately on "red America" where Ali G spewed his venom in an equal opportunity manner. A newscaster was apparently fired from her job as a result of Borat entering the studio. How do you think the heavy-set woman at the dinner table felt when Borat insinuated that she was not attractive?

While certain aspects of the movie were humorous some were just mean spirited.

Ann Althouse said...

Partisan: I think the Borat contract is probably like the contract Cohen used as Ali G when he interviewed James Lipton, who describes the contract in an interview on the Ali G DVD. According to Lipton -- who is very articulate -- the contract clearly states that Ali G may not be who he seems to be and so forth.

Leland said...

I have to agree with Hansun56.

If you embarrass someone in a forest and nobody is really around to see it, did you really embarrass them? I think you have if you filmed it and broadcast worldwide.

vbspurs said...

Cohen, is correct that racists or anti-semites should be shown for what they are. However, it is plausible that through creative editing that things can be made to look worse than they are.

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks that the Americans portrayed showed an unusual amount of patience, and wrong-minded indulgence about his antics, but Chris Hitchens concurs with that.

It's a comedy. A satire. An acute social commentary.

In that way, it becomes very heavy to analyse Borat to death.

So just to say that if someone finds one person in the US portrayed in Borat, that wasn't goaded into making their commentaries as retaliation for what he was saying, please point it out.

You'll find Hitchens may be a drunkard, but he's a very observant drunkard.

As for me, I'm just observant. :)


Anonymous said...

Ann, I am sure you are correct, which is why the suit against Cohen was recently dismissed. Yet, how many people in his movie who are not as wealthy and do not have lawyers reading the fine print (Lipton either read it or some working for him did so)know exactly what they are getting into.

The fact is while he is under most probably sound legal ground, the ethical ground is a little more questionable.

The lawsuit claims that in October 2005 a production crew took the students to a bar to drink and "loosen up" before participating in a documentary they were told would not appear in the United States.

"They were induced to agree to participate and were told the name of the fraternity and the name of their school wouldn't be used," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Olivier Taillieu. "They were put into an RV and were made to believe they were picking up Borat the hitchhiker."

While I am not particuarly sympathetic to the fraternity kids who acted like jerks, I am more sympathetic to the dinner party guests who probably weren't aware that they would be ridiculed in a nationwide movie. Especially the woman who was made fun of for being unattractive.

HaloJonesFan said...

Ann: But "may be portraying a character" isn't a blank-check to do whatever he wants, or to misrepresent his plans for the video footage. If I have you sign a contract for me to make a documentary about you, that doesn't mean that I can use Photoshop to put your face on a naked woman's body and sell it to Penthouse as "Hot For Teacher: Ann Althouse Gives Us The Naked Truth About Blogging!"

(although it's an intriguing notion.)