I’ve just seen Borat, the movie featuring the apochryphal Kazhak, having been dragged to it by my 15 year old. I was stunned by it, and sat squirming uncomfortably one moment after laughing uproariously. I was surprised, also, because the movie is completely different from what I expected.

From the media coverage, I expected something along the lines of Steve Martin’s wild and crazy Czech brothers. I expected political incorrectness about backward central Asian countries. Surprise Surprise! It’s a satire of US mores.

No one seems to be discussing that, however. The discussions seems to center around the movie’s “political incorrectness,” a code word for speaking frowned-upon conservative values. But this implies that the
reviewers (and the audiences) agree with the “politically incorrect” statements made in the movie about women, Jews and gay people. Which, of course, makes the movie’s point: the U.S. is the cultural equivalent of a backwards nation.

In the world today, it is not Kazhakstan strutting like the cock-of-the-walk on the world stage, boasting of its dominance, but the “US and A.” The movie isn’t showing Kazhakstan when noting that US people have no sense of humor about their own foibles. It’s not Kazak frat boys bragging about how women are unworthy of respect and
useful only for casual sex. It’s not Kazhakstan where crowds cheer to hear about killing every last Iraqi man, woman and child. It’s not Kazhakstan where people talk enthusiastically about imprisoning and killing gay people. Personally, in my area of research on transgender workplace issues, which is sufficiently under the radar not to be seen as an issue of political correctness, I’ve regularly heard people here in the US saying that transgenders are mentally ill sexual deviants with criminal tendencies. I have few illusions about what people are really thinking about me as a transgender person.

So why hasn’t the discussion about the movie centered on US mores, rather than that of the “silly” Kazakis, so lacking in humor as to take out ads in the New York Times to proclaim their modernity and to threaten the movie’s creator with lawsuits and murder, solidifying the charge against them? What about the US, where the movie’s creator has been the subject of numerous arrest warrants for filming the movie?

From the point of view of queer theory, my guess is that heteronormative thinkers in both the US and Kazhakstan can’t conceive of anything being more wonderful than their own identities, in this case, that of jingoistic xenophobic misogynistic heterosexuals. I don’t think most of us in the US are educated enough about other perspectives to get the joke, even when it is explained to us.