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Turning Up the Stereotypes

November 16, 2006 By:
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Can't we all get along? Uh-uh, say Mitch Carroll (Chevy Chase, left)

Satire, it is said, closes on Saturday night.

Not this Shabbat.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" make good box office, too, as time and again, weekend, weakened from laughing, this "anti-Semitic" screed screams solid soiled sheets with audiences who go for the film that scats scatological.

Who knew that the Running of the Jew would have such a run?

Not since the Jews caused 9/11 -- that, according to Borat -- has a month been fixated on such anti-semantics in the news.

Is this what they mean by the November surprise?

Surprise -- now that the elections are over, it may very well be. Because it is not only "Borat" and his kamikaze Kazakhstan comedy that has made being Jewish germanely perplexing these days in the arts. The Sacha Baron Comrade also has company off the screen -- in theater and TV all this very month.

Jew as the "fall guy" in the arts this autumn? May very well be.

Take a look at these compadre calendar girls and guys: Off-Broadway, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" gives a name and face to the anti-Israel rhetoric of a young woman lost at sea until Palestinian propagandists rope her in by tossing her a lifeline threaded in anti-Israel idiocies.

The play, culled from Corrie's cursory attempt at understanding politics well beyond her capabilities, is a desert storm aswirl in sand that blinds and badgers but can't be grasped substantively. Rachel Corrie herself is the theatrical equivalent of a blogger bloated with self-righteousness, saturated with solipsistic sentiment logged on to lies and half-truths.

The rickety play, directed by screen star Alan Rickman, has obviously found an audience. It has been extended through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, November's nose has picked up a Jewish scent on the TV scene as well. Earlier this month, "Law & Order" took no prisoners in the ripped from the headlines/ripple effect of the Mel Gibson passion of the Crystol -- taking his anti-Semantic tirades of the summer and playing them for criminal mischief on the Friday-night series.

I'm Mel Gibson -- and you're not: Who better to portray the ultimate bray-heart -- Mitch Carroll -- than the WASPish Chevy Chase in a dramatic turn? (Actually, I can think of many others, but "On the Scene" isn't in on casting.)

Of course, this being "L&O," the crime involved a murder, of which Gibson has never been associated. (Then again, don't ask him about his own thoughts on Christ-killers ... ) If the scripted series -- in English, by the way -- seemed over-the-top with the Chase character's anti-Semantic rants, well then, who knows how the cop who arrested Gibson felt being yelled at by a Hollywood star for having his own Star of David? And, unluckily, there was no commercial break to rescue that cop from the star's savagery.

Chase for Ratings

While Chase acquitted himself well -- while seemingly still holding back somewhat, almost as if he feared letting it all harangue out -- the episode nailed the audience in addition to Chase's criminal Carroll. The series got better ratings than usual that night.

Anti-Semitism ... ya gotta love it?

A harmonic convergence of hatred? The rubber-necking phenomenon? The accidental tourist ... a viewer watching an accident as someone else self-immolates feels safe to move on away from the heat and vitriol fueling it?

All three of the arts events provide a challenging trifecta of treif politics. Yet only one can be deemed a worthwhile success, a true triumph, if truth be damned.

And maybe because its truth is damned, deliriously so, does it succeed.

Only "Borat," cow-tongue firmly in cheek, teaches while it tortures with its mangled English and manipulative mishugas. The anti-Semitism here -- spit out by an actor who is Jewish and genius -- is meant to be outrageous and patently false.

The stereotypes are at full volume, but it is in the outlandish humor that their outrageousness portrays bigotry for what it is -- a fool's gold for those without mettle. (Okay, Borat, call it a fool's Cohen if you need to.)

What "Rachel Corrie" can learn from "Borat" is the name of the game; the medium is the message, and you don't have to a be a medium to psych out an audience: Scintillating satire -- done right -- can trump untruths no matter how earnest the supposed soothsayer. Corrie is an innocent yet incorrigible, one who doesn't shine light on truths as much as blackens them. Diatribe, she shows, is a tribe to which falsehoods have their own membership dues.

As for giving Gibson his due ... the "L&O" owes much to the Hollywood star's less than stellar turn under the spotlight of a flashlight although a disclaimer at the episode's beginning denies the link. (Of course, the episode's title, "In Vino Veritas," seems a proper truth serum test of a scarlet letter.)

Had the episode not been so over-the-top, with so many twists and turns and double-crosses -- all traits of the truly great "L&O" franchise, by the way -- it would have worked better. Hewing closer to the truth would have given it more of a truthful hue.

But it's in its total corruption of honesty that the go-for-broke "Borat" -- and its sordid twisted-mind mentality -- comes up smelling, well, if not like a rose, then "besparmak" gone bad (and what could be good about a national dish of boiled horsemeat served in its own broth with noodles?)

It is in the film's total send-up of the serious semi-literate Borat that its illuminating humor comes out. (Not to confuse this film with a classic; it is hilarious but hype, and can be as nauseating and noxious as one of the toothless "natives" it depicts.)

Call it the Archie Bunker effect: Bigotry stripped down of its seriousness is shown to be the clown -- although not necessarily an innocuous one -- that it is. Poke and prod prejudice until it bleeds the truth, and its fluids squirt out like some fermented horse urine.

As the axiom goes, shine the light to shed the truth while darkness sheds its pain.

This is what "Borat" accomplishes -- if such a character can be said to accomplish anything at all -- while Rachel Corrie and Mitch Carroll cannot.

And yet, the very fact that November has pitted these three as a triptych of ticking bombs is a triumph all its own. Once when I asked the late Herschel Bernardi why Jews seemed to take a backseat in broadcast series and films when it game to popular characters, he likened it to either/oar: "We don't want to rock the boat by putting too much attention on ourselves."

How times have changed. Over the years, Jewish images in the arts have taken the back seat to no one, all oars in the water, with Jewish pride and bravery sinking in: Survival floats on action, not reaction.

Come on in, the water's fine. And even if it isn't always tranquil, it's treadable.

Trends have triumphed, making TV's "Rhoda" look so retro now, as Jewish men and women spill out of series and screens not so much like chicken soup overflowing its pot, but truffle-scented blintzes bubbling with Caspian Sea caviar.

Which leads to Borat, Rachel Corrie and Mitch Carroll. In the past, these three would have been excoriated by exercised Jews fearful that this painful panoply would jeopardize their own sense of security.

What to do with these characters? Shove them into the closets where they belong would have been the argument -- alongside the shelved sense of pride and self-worth.

But the very fact that these three anti-Semitic characters have caused no real sensation in the Jewish community may mean that Jews themselves have learned where the light switch is and are unafraid to use it.

Truth will out, and those willing to come out of the claustrophobic Jewish closet of fear of recrimination know full well that pride and education are key to turning the lock.

"Is it good for the Jews?" When that question is asked less in panic and more as a punchline, survival can be sustained.

Just who knew that a wild man from Kazakhstan who washed his face in the toilet would be the one to help us all come clean?

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