Borat’s Coded Message: Pogroms Could Happen Here

The movie Borat is a lot of things, a comic triumph, mean, weirdly Tocquevillian. It is filled with anti-semitic humor, and I admit I laughed. But there is also something really scary about the film, and that seems to me the takeaway, if you are Jewish (which the maker, Sacha Baron Cohen, is): the feeling that it could happen here, pogroms could happen in the United States in about ten seconds.

The U.S. portrait Borat offers is of an ignorant redneck land pulsating with unexamined prejudice. A crowd at a rodeo cheer when Borat gives a speech about killing every woman and child in Iraq. College students who pick him up hitchhiking are pleased to talk about the power of Jews in America. His image of Christians at a revival meeting—crazies. And into this world comes Borat, from a village in eastern Europe, not far from the old Pale of Settlement, talking about Jews and money. When he shows us his village’s annual festival of the Running of the Jew, culminating in the destruction of the Jew egg, the Jew baby, the American audience you’re sitting with is laughing.

It felt to me like a test. Borat was saying, Watch, I will bring virulent anti-Semitism from eastern Europe to the liberal utopia, and people here will eat it up. These ignorant people too can turn into cossacks under the right circumstances.

I don’t agree with Borat on this. I think America is too liberal, too diverse and too loving of its diversity, to fall for such a thing. But I got a chill alright.