Amazon Agitprop and American Ambivalence
Amazon recently released a docuseries by none other than Borat Sagdivev. Of course, Borat is a fictional character, one of many played by English actor Sacha Baron Cohen. The agitprop pushed by Cohen -- his comedic specialty -- offers an ivory tower glimpse of how cultural elites view average Americans. The latest “documentary” -- yes, that term is used loosely here -- is another example of narrative-driven infotainment that remains questionable at best.
For background, the original Borat movie was released in 2006. Ostensibly, it was about a Kazakh journalist traveling to the United States in the hopes of translating American success stories to his own country. The film’s overt humor comes from the foibles of culture clashes through physical comedy while Cohen remains in character as Borat. Sadly, the subverted plot was to humiliate unwitting participants by capturing their off-color comments to perpetuate stereotypes of anything to the right of lockstep progressive ideology.
A second Borat movie was released during the run-up to the 2020 election. Here again, the comedic target was all things conservative -- especially political figures who do not conform to leftist talking points. All of this is a prologue to the Amazon & Cohen collaboration released this week that once again mocks “backward” Americans.
The insidious premise of each Borat production is that unadulterated pride in America is dangerous and wrongheaded. Of course, it takes an Englishman to tell Americans how “wrong” they are in their patriotism.
It’s become chic to express ambivalence towards America and all things patriotic. Near daily op-eds from legacy media types result in handwringing over how the Left should interact with primitive Americana -- should a righteous progressive choose to debase himself by doing so. Wildly biased stories from places like CNN or the Huffington Post might confuse readers into believing that America is a Third-World cesspool and not a bastion of freedom for the very people who decry having no freedoms. Don’t waste too much time worrying about it, though. It’s all been said before -- patriotic Americans are racist. In fact, patriotism is “code” for racism.
Trump supporters -- whether public officials or private citizens -- are often belittled and parodied as dog-whistling racists despite President Trump gaining more votes than any incumbent running for re-election and the highest share of nonwhite votes for any Republican since 1960. Much like the caricatures in Borat’s films, it quashes any attempt at reaching consensus by delegitimizing unwanted beliefs. Moreover, it elevates the seedier side of journalism by never letting the facts stand in the way of a good story.
A cringe-worthy example comes from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. She offered an official declaration that she will not grant one-on-one interviews to white journalists. Were the roles reversed, it would be national news. As it is, one must frequent conservative news outlets to even learn of the story. Like the multitude of Cohen’s references via Borat, patriotic Americans mocked as racists are, in fact, being treated with racism.
With pearls clutched tightly to his chest, Cohen ramps up the rhetoric by beginning each episode of his latest anti-American vehicle reminding viewers that he spent five treacherous days during the COVID lockdown with two “conspiracy theorists.” No doubt, a handful of the comments made by Jim and Jerry -- the two friendly southerners who took in Borat during the lockdown -- contain wild and unsubstantiated claims. Including these unfiltered comments in the movie presents the two as uneducated and stereotypical of the rural South. Their accents provide the finishing touch for what effete urbanites imagine all country people must be like.
It’s interesting to note the newest release from Amazon includes forty minutes of previously unseen footage. Jim and Jerry accounted well for themselves with numerous evidence-based arguments to counter Borat’s absurd claims. Naturally, these comments didn’t make the second movie because it would destroy the narrative that rural folks are bumpkins, misogynists, and racists.
Still, Amazon and Cohen press on to debunk the dangerous “conspiracy theories” offered by the “alt-right,” which might as well include anyone falling short of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s vision of America. To accomplish this, the producers enlisted smug and condescending experts to further embarrass Jim and Jerry -- and anyone who thinks like them -- with short video lectures about why the two are “wrong.” The episodes focus on vaccine microchips, mail-in ballots, George Soros, the China virus, Bill Gates and ACME bricks, and Hilary Clinton’s blood libel.
Oddly, each episode ends up spinning Jim and Jerry as anti-Semitic to rationalize their skepticism. No direct evidence of anti-Semitism is provided. Instead, vague straw-man generalizations are lobbed at the two despite never claiming that Jewish people are responsible for their highlighted concerns. Curiously, the irony of leftist activists rushing to the defense of ethnic Jews mere days after Democrats in Congress called Israel an apartheid state was not lost on this author. Nevertheless, there is some truth in the concerns expressed by Cohen’s victims.
Mail-in balloting is part of a larger voting audit in Arizona. Other states -- namely Wisconsin -- may soon follow suit. The origins of the COVID virus are still under investigation. A report released today suggests that scientists are now pursuing the possibility that it came from a lab in Wuhan after all. The Clintons, the Gates, and Soros have sordid histories shrouded in competing narratives. The truth for each individual probably lies somewhere in between the versions of events each side would prefer to believe. Ultimately, neither Amazon nor Cohen has enough factual evidence to verifiably debunk most of the concerns presented.
And the agitprop train rolls on. The term is rooted in Soviet Russia, where the diffusion of ideas across various media presents an explicitly political message. If Sacha Baron Cohen wants to continue to make over-the-top humiliation movies, so be it. He has every right to do so. Some of his scenes are even quite funny. If Amazon wants to get into the political scene by narrowing the market for views they don’t share while broadening the base for preferred ideas; such is life. None of these productions would gain any traction without the underlying trend that traditional and patriotic values are passé and racist.
Cohen and Amazon are counting on American ambivalence. It provides the space for them to further a narrative expressed across countless media outlets and by numerous public figures. As long as patriotic Americans fear being openly labeled what many progressives privately think, more hit-pieces will be launched in a barrage to tear down a once-proud and free country in a vain attempt to Build [Communism] Back Better.
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