My knowledge of American pop culture from summer 2006 to fall 2013 is hazy, at best. Those were the years I lived abroad in Tokyo, first as a broke college student and then an underpaid journalist. Illegally torrenting films while dodging Japan’s internet police was my main method of movie-watching, which meant I had to be selective about what films were worth a potential cease-and-desist letter. Borat did not make the cut. This is why I currently know next to nothing about Borat (the character), Borat 2 (the sequel film), or why some millennial men (my husband) insist on saying “mah waif” whenever they refer to their spouses.
Today, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm dropped on Amazon Prime Video. I know this because my husband, in need of a little break from work, took today off specifically to “relax and investigate whether Borat 1 holds up and if Borat 2 is good.” I suppose this is the new normal now, with movies that would’ve been destined for theatres now making their debuts on streaming services.
By 9 a.m. my husband was on the couch in his underwear. His Borat-a-thon had begun.
Outside of the “my waiiiiif” jokes I have had only one real experience with Borat as a concept prior to this morning: A desperate, frantic call from my mother in November 2006, shortly after the first Borat movie was released in theaters. A rough transcript of that phone call is as follows:
YOU MUST NEVER WATCH THE BORAT MOVIE!!!!!!! HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE BORAT MOVIE? I READ A REVIEW AND THEY SAID IT WAS FUNNY SO I WENT TO THE THEATRE. IS THIS WHAT I LEFT KOREA FOR? IS THIS WHAT AMERICA IS? IS THIS WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE LAUGH AT? IS THIS WHAT I SACRIFICED DECADES OF MY LIFE FOR, TO GIVE YOU AN EDUCATION IN A COUNTRY OF DISGRACEFUL, DISRESPECTFUL BUFFOONS? DO YOU HEAR ME CRYING? I AM CRYING BECAUSE THIS IS NOT WHAT THEY TOLD ME AMERICA WAS GOING TO BE LIKE. I DID NOT RAISE YOU TO BE THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO IS DISGUSTING LIKE THIS. I WANT YOU TO HAVE AN ELEGANT LIFE!!! I WANT YOU TO LIVE ELEGANTLY!!!
It took about 20 minutes to reassure my mom I hadn’t watched Borat because it was not released in Japan, and that no, Borat—both the character and film—did not represent all of America. She let me hang up after I promised that I’d never watch Borat.
For the record, I still haven’t. A movie that could elicit such strong feelings has left me curious, but I’m also someone who keeps promises. Reading the Wikipedia synopsis of Borat is baffling and I’ve never been able to make it all the way through the summary without my eyes crossing. Glimpsing inaudible snippets, partially obstructed by my husband’s collectible Halo bookend left me with somehow fewer answers than I’d began with. You could argue that this is sort of me breaking my promise. Considering I continued working through this whole thing and my husband was listening to the movie via his AirPods Pro, I don’t think “occasionally looking at” really counts as “watching” the movies.
During his re-watch of Borat 1, I saw the following:
- Borat chasing a chicken on a New York City subway
- Borat wearing a weird cowboy hat and American flag shirt at what appeared to be a rodeo (I’m told he was yelling about Iraq?)
- Borat walking in a town where people waved at him a lot
- Borat creepily watch Pamela Anderson in a hotel room
- Borat wrestling an unknown man in the nude
- Borat performing what I think was a weather forecast
- Borat pooping on Trump Tower
From these glimpses, I think I get why my mom—who isn’t exactly on speaking terms with satire as a concept—was viscerally upset.
“It’s a very short movie, thank god,” my husband said. At this point, he had put on pants. He went on to tell me that “the frat boy scene in the RV” is proof that MAGA chuds existed before Donald Trump ever came along, that much of current America can be described via Borat screencaps even though some of the content has not aged well, and that the difference between 2006 and 2020 is that “racists now say the quiet part out loud.” I’m sure if I watched the movie I’d understand more fully how he came to that conclusion, but I’ve gone 14 years Borat-free and I see no reason why I should change that now.
Regarding Borat 2, the only thing I knew before today was that Rudy Giuliani was involved in some capacity. For the sequel, my husband moved from the couch TV to the “bedroom” TV (we live in a cramped studio). This meant I had a less obstructed view, but at least my husband kept his earbuds in so I could continue my day unBoratted. I mostly glanced back whenever I heard an occasional burst of sharp laughter or an incredulous “Oh my gawd,” behind me. Once I saw Justin Trudeau in blackface. There were also lots of pictures of Donald Trump. At the beginning, there was a monkey dressed in strange outfits.At one point someone asks, “Could a woman ever be a journalist?” to which Borat says “No, it’s dangerous.” Apparently, one bit involves Borat selling his daughter to Mike Pence, which involves a trip to the tanning salon and cages? I think Borat runs through CPAC dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member?? I know the glimpses I caught are meant to be exaggerations, but the problem with satire in 2020 is it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s a joke.
“It was okay,” my husband said. “I don’t have as many hot takes about this one so that should tell you something.” He paused a bit and then said, “Borat walked so Eric Andre could run.”
“Would I like this movie?” I asked.
“Probably not.” he admitted.
We chatted a bit about how this is one of the few new movies that actually came out this year because of the pandemic and how, probably, this would be a pop culture moment that would also define 2020 purely because of the lack of competition. “Borat is going to be a Best Picture Oscar contender this year because nothing else came out,” my husband said, at which point neither of us said anything for a very long time.
Having watched my husband watch both Borat movies in rapid succession, I’ve come to the conclusion that everything that’s wrong in my life at this moment is Amazon’s fault. Amazon made us reschedule our wedding. Amazon destroyed my tenuous grasp on sanity with terrible Prime Day deals and serious crimes against fashion. My editor reminded me that Amazon also embodies the staggering wealth inequality in America, the brutal, inhuman quantification of the workplace, corporate looting of state and federal coffers through tax avoidance and sweetheart subsidies, and the alarming readiness of the tech space to serve the needs to police and military interests.
Most egregiously, Amazon’s streaming service has now inflicted upon me Borat 2, and this blog assignment. I will not take these slights sitting down, so fuck Jeff Bezos, I’m cancelling my Prime membership. That’ll show him.