The Jew in the Crown

Culture and Media, Films

Now that the Borat movie, in set to be released, and the imdb board is trading briskly in insults, it occurred to me that there was something interesting about the fact that Sacha Cohen, the comedian with the persona of a Kazakh TV journalist, is Jewish.

First, I was reminded of Lev Nussimbaum (See mine and Amardeeps post), an Azerbaijani Jewish man who passed himself off as Essad Bey in pre-war Germany. And second, I was reminded of a conversation Kerim and I had in London. In essence our friend, a British Jew said that despite being upper-middle class and very well educated there was only so much hope of advancement, his Jewishness would ultimately hit a glass ceiling, Disraeli and Rothschild notwithstanding.

If Jews have been Europe’s first other,” or if Shylock came before the battle of Plassey (1757), it stands to reason that an resident Oriental” like Borat/Cohen would self-Orientalize” and take on a Kazakh persona, much like Lev Nussimbaum, who found a career in Oriental drag. So what Borat/Cohen is doing is not very new in a sense.

I don’t know how I feel about his show though, at times I find it quite offensive, and at other times its very funny. One of the interesting things about his performance is how he takes on Englishness, and I mean Englishness, not Britishness. In one of the clips I saw, he goes to a boat race, and proceeds to examine the mascot of one of the teams which is a Hippopotamus, and sits next to a gentleman in a pin striped suit and learns about the appropriate rituals and responses demanded by the situation, much like a Colonial anthropologist, or Diane Sawyer! Also interesting is the moments of anti-Semitism and racism Borat exhibits or gets his guests to display.

I guess what I am suggesting is that Borat the Kazakh is about being Jewish in modern UK, and examining being Anglo. And if I were a Kazakh, I think I might be annoyed at being used as an instrument so that Anglos can understand themselves better. Nobody wants to be a mere mirror.

(Also see Siddartha’s post on Sepia Mutiny)