Borat: On the Soul of Comedy
On our way to the supermarket the other day, you asked, “Why would anyone want to see the Borat movie?!”
Though your dour tone implied the question was rhetorical, and unanswerable, I am going to answer it because when I hear someone put out such a “big” and apparently troubling question, my duty is to offer an answer. Forgive me for my officiousness.
If my thoughts are to have relevance, a given must be that as culture evolves out of ignorance, the more necessary it becomes for the collective (“collective” meaning an aggregate of people who form the cumulative consciousness of, for example, a nation, a society, a team, an ethnic group, etc.) to confront the legacy of ignorance in a variety of ways. Comedy is one.
The immediate reasons that Borat is funny are 1) He is a clown and 2) His comedy appeals to people in this time and place.
Borat is pretending to be from a culture where scourges such as anti-Semitism, chauvinism, and being grossly oversexed are endemic. Western civilization has been dealt for millennia with these scourges. Apparently, they are still so close to home that they are worthy of satire.
Tragedy, in this essay, is defined as anything deemed “bad”: victimization, death, the vicarious experience of tragedy and any sort of malady, physical or mental, material or spiritual. Tragedy encompasses the entire spectrum of suffering.
Tragedy cannot exist without comedy and vice versa. Tragedy is the frown and comedy is the frown upside-down. They are symbiotic.
The evolution of human consciousness has necessitated that tragedy consume some people and spare others. Those who are spared are bound to live in the shadow of those who are not. In one way or another, the spared are burdened with the tragedy that has befallen others. They must then manage tragedy.
Consciousness in ancient cultures collectively managed tragedy through myth and ritual. Through drama, the groundbreaking Greeks stepped away from myth and ritual in their management of tragedy.
In modern times, as myth, ritual and dramatization become less overtly and collectively relevant to consciousness, consciousness individuates. It becomes a personal possession, something not enslaved to collective consciousness. (From the first flicker of primeval consciousness, the individuation of consciousness was already immanent.)
In this age, traditional cultures, such as Borat’s perpetuate tragedy by resisting individuation. They resist individuation by not recognizing the right to freedom of thought. They are unaware of the degree to which people have the right to, and even the capacity for, individuated consciousness.
In Borat’s culture, the enslavement of consciousness is not questioned. Presumably, in Borat’s culture, he would be an outcast were he not anti-Semitic, chauvinistic and grossly oversexed.
In American culture, Borat’s popularity evidences that Americans are still overcoming the tragic legacies of anti-Semitism and chauvinism, and that they are sexually imbalanced.
A Potent Antidote to Tragedy
Comedy is much easier to take than tragedy. Hence, cable has a comedy channel--and not a tragedy channel. A tragedy channel would be pointless since tragedy, in the computer age, is already always at every turn.
In America, comedy is virtually a cult; with comedy schools, a comedy channel, people CC-ing millions of jokes a day to each other, and comedy clubs in every city. People crave comedy as an antidote to tragedy.
Tragedy is like a poison to the heart and mind. The failure of the heart and mind to healthily incorporate life’s tragedies can cause comedy (among other things) to become obsessional. When people become obsessed with comedy, they can become crass. Surely, some of the people flocking to Borat are incapable of acknowledging tragedy because they have forsaken too much of their minds and hearts to comedy. The humanity of such people is lacking edifice. Let us be forever shielded from the excesses of their inhumanity.
Clowns of the Collective
Borat is an archetypal clown. The archetypal clown lives in all comics. It flows through collective humanity like water to any place with fertile ground for comedy. In this sense, people who are clowns are unwitting pawns of the clown-archetype.
All tragedy evokes the clown. The clown is invoked in the manufacture of any joke. The clown is existentially married to the collective.
The clown archetype puts tragedy into either divine or chthonic (“chthonic” meaning earthly and infernal) perspective. In divine comedy, the clown exposes people’s foolishness, which can edify wisdom. In contrast, to such magnanimous comedy, Satan—for lack of a better name--uses the clown for self-aggrandizement via the belittling of others. He practices satire as an end in itself. This is chthonic comedy.
Historically, comedy has been a mix of the chthonic and divine.
There are two supreme perspectives which the evolution of consciousness blends together: God’s and the collective’s. When God’s perspective and the collective’s are indistinguishable, there is Paradise. In lieu of Paradise, comedy is indispensable on the journey there.
The journey begins in innocence and proceeds to experience. Once a person is duly aware of their fall from innocence, they are in position to attain a higher, saintly state of innocence.
From God’s perspective, each stage of the journey from innocence to experience, and then through purgation to higher innocence, is denoted by a different type of clown; the fool is in innocence; the clown is in experience, the stooge is in purgatory on the path to higher innocence, and, finally, in higher innocence, when the soul is reunited with the flesh, the stooge becomes the joker.
These four archetypes of the divine clown—the fool, clown, stooge and joker—form a bridge from the primordial soup to Paradise. As such, they are “cosmic clowns.”
Paralleling the cosmic clowns’ journey (from innocence to experience, through purgation to higher innocence) and sequentially corresponding to each cosmic clown archetype (fool, clown, stooge and joker) are tragedy, ignorance, purgation, and salvation.
Tragedy originated in metaphorical Eden and has echoed through history ever since. The advent of tragedy was a cosmic event taking place over tens of thousands of years, giving birth to ignorance. Ignorance then plagued history until it could be salved with knowledge. There is no salvation without knowledge.
As God envisioned the Kingdom of Heaven, God recognized that a full range of consciousness could be imparted to human beings only by their attainment of the knowledge of good through the knowledge of evil. Just outside of Eden, where time itself factors into the faciltation of the knowledge of good and evil, comedy and tragedy arise.
The mark of God’s personage as the joker is all over comedy and tragedy. The joker in God interweaves comedy and tragedy (as welll as all opposites). For God, and for the joker that resides in a human being, comedy is more music than an existential reflex to tragedy.
The 1960s seeded wide-ranging collective change facilitated greatly not by suffering and war, but instead by the spirit of music pouring forth from the joker. In participating in the creation of the 60’s psychedelic parallel universe, the Beatles were avatars of the joker. In “I Am the Walrus” they mention him in the same verse that they refer to comedy and tragedy:
Don't you think the joker laughs at you?
The joker awaits the day when comedy and tragedy become history. It will not be a day of death, but one of global change led by the spirit of music drawing the forces of comedy and tragedy into union within individuals.
A unique aspect of the Borat film is that the “actors” signed release forms to be in the film under the pretense that the actor who played Borat really was a Kazak named Borat—not an actor playing Borat. Some of the people in the film have sued Borat for misleading them, one claiming to have lost his job because of the film.
This type of comedy, where the unsuspecting are tricked into playing the fool, is a staple segment of “fake news” programs such as the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. The premise in such segments is that an interviewer pretends to be a real-news reporter and then conducts an interview capriciously, and sometimes as a tongue-in-cheek assault on the interviewee’s motives and character.
This type of comedy is of the highest order. It facilitates fun-poking at ignorance—ignorance being the ultimate source of all tragedy. Such comedy comes straight out of the joker’s mouth, which is to say, straight from God.
Victims of such comedy may claim to have a right not to be misled into exposing their foolishness, and may be in position to sue Borat. Still, God recognizes no one’s right not to play the fool. In fact, God wills that people play the fool until wisdom (not law) makes people impossible to mislead.
As the joker, God can be unthinkably cruel for the sake perpetuating the paradisiacal agenda, forcing people into situations where they must either own up or be destroyed. Judas is the archetype of such people.
Judas comes to radically contrasting ends in the Book of Matthew and the Book of Acts. In Matthew, he hangs himself because of what he’s done. In Acts, where Judas is remorseless, God smites him to bits on the field Judas bought with the money made through his deceit. Certainly, God doesn’t expect people to literally hang themselves after their hypocrisy is exposed. The point of the differing stories is that the Judas-archetype in everyone is to either own up to their foolishness, or be destroyed.
Let it not be overlooked that Judas was Jesus’ favorite. God had Judas sell Jesus out, so should not all Judases be forgiven?
Richard Pryor and Borat
The tragedy of American racism produced a classic clown, Richard Pryor. In the 1970s, once the greatest struggles of the Civil Rights Movement had passed, the wounds still present in the American collective made Richard Pryor’s emergence as essential to the transformation of culture as any reformer’s. Richard Pryor is a link in the collective’s age-old line of comedy providers. Certainly, Borat must be included, to some degree, within this tradition.
The more primitive the mind, the more brutal the comedy. The more evolved the mind, the more subtle and satirical.
In tandem with consciousness, what is funny evolves across time. Compare, for example the comedy of Uncle Milty, Lenny Bruce, Steven Colbert et al.
Comedy can be timeless or it can reflect a given time and place. To offer a darkly poignant example of time-bound comedy, when I lived in Budapest, on several occasions in movie theaters, I heard men guffaw when violent things happened to women on-screen. Men such as these are why Borat has value. Borat is not perpetuating the devaluation of Jews and woman. Rather, he is exposing it through satire.
Presumably, Borat does not believe devaluing Jews and women is funny. Rather, he assumes the audience knows he is utilizing impersonation to make fun of those who perpetuate tragedy. This is the clown’s function; to turn tragedy on its head.
In conclusion, comedy evolves symbiotically to human consciousness. Tragedy cannot avoid exposure to the light of comedy. People want to see Borat because his comedy neutralizes tragedy with laughter—particularly the tragedy perpetuated by mindsets unbefitting global citizenry.
When a day that is beyond tragedy comes, that day will also be beyond comedy. It will be a day of pleasure, bliss and love. It will be a day of days. No joke.