Thursday, December 07, 2006

Two movies

I have not attended a showing of the pseudo-documentary created by Sacha Baron Cohen. However, I have seen the clips and read enough accounts to know that this is a specious, morally suspect product. As such I decline to give my money to it.

Evidently, the Borat film makes copious use of excrement jokes, a sure sign of comedic insecurity. Yet that is not the main problem. Repeatedly the movie purports to find evidence of rampant anti-Semitism in the United States. Some of the bigoted scenes are clearly phony in that they are staged, using personnel paid for this service. However that may be, there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism survives in the United States, along with many other countries. I need scarcely emphasize that this form of prejudice must be vigorously condemned.

Still, why is it that, in the film, anti-Semitism is wrong, but Islamophobia is just dandy? Over the years I have been critical of aspects of Islam and of Muslims. I have also looked askance at aspects of Judaism and Christianity. For one thing, all three have collaborated in fomenting homophobia. Recently we have been treated to a rare example of Jewish-Christian-Muslim harmony in Jerusalem, where representatives of all three faiths united to denounce a peaceful gay march.

In consequence the Borat film is hypocritical. Even as it opposes one form of bigotry, it fosters another.

Baron Cohen gets away with this by playing to the choir—or rather to two choirs. The first consists of the huge body of uneducated people, who still thrive in this country and abroad. The excrement jokes and the general boorishness of the character played by Mr. Baron Cohen delight these people. Call it the “Animal House” effect. In their defense, perhaps it could be said that these rubes do not know any better, and maybe should not be expected to.

The matter is quite different with the other choir. This consists of the “Secular Progressive” elites, all those people educated at Harvard, Yale, the University of Wisconsin, Berkeley, and tutti quanti-—not to forget Mr. Baron Cohen’s alma mater, the University of Cambridge in England. For these politically correct types, criticism of the Third World is normally out of bounds. Yet when it comes to a Muslim from a benighted Third World country this prohibition goes out the window.

The Borat film caters to two unfortunate tendencies. The first is simply an ignorant, “I don’t care” group. The second comprises educated hypocrites who decry Mel Gibson’s obvious prejudice, but find that of Mr. Baron Cohen to be incisive and appropriate.

Now I turn to a film of long ago, “Casablanca.” A few days ago a friend remarked that he had seen the movie twenty times. In viewing it again recently, he was heartened by the scene of the refugees singing the “Marseillaise.”

Why is this better than singing the “Horst Wessel Lied” in a Moroccan city?

Most viewers of the film have no idea of the history involved. The French annexed Morocco as a protectorate in 1912. The country retained its king as a nominal ruler, but the country was a colony in all but name. After the Germans overran continental France in June of 1940, Vichy officials readily collaborated with the Germans. That is why we see Colonel Strasser and his staff relaxing in Rick’s café.

After the war’s end the French resumed control of their Moroccan colony. But this attempt to turn the clock back did not last, and the Moroccans declared independence in 1957.

The question then is this. Why was it wrong for the Germans to occupy France, but perfectly OK for the French to occupy Morocco? In discussing this matter with another friend some years ago, he remarked: “Why don’t you know? Casablanca was a city built by the French on the Atlantic Coast. It was not Moroccan, but French.”

Just so. Then let's apply this principle elsewhere. Suppose the Nazis had built a purely German city—-let us call it Weisses Haus-—on the Atlantic coast of France. Would this creation have justified their continued occupation and subjection of the country?

Perhaps the standards for detecting hypocrisy are lower in movies than in other realms of cultural expression. If so, this is too bad, for the cinema has a lot of influence over the way most people think and feel.


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