The 2016 Election and 'Borat'
Maybe this is who we really are. If the 2016 election cycle has uncovered a deep underlying fear and/or anxiety in most of the people I know, that's how I would summarize it generally. That leaves space for the reasonable people I know on both ends of the political spectrum and removes the focus from two historically unpopular candidates, which, honestly, is what matters more in the grand scheme of things. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are mere avatars for where we are as a country, after all, so to fixate on this pair of individuals specifically seems myopic once you start to look beyond Election Day.
And yes, assuming there is no violence or controversy about the outcome, it will be relief to have Election Day come and go even more than usual this time around. In two weeks' time, we'll know our next president and, in theory, can begin to move on collectively.
In theory ...
The thing about this election cycle is that it has felt more threatening to the assumptions that I have held dear for most of my adult life -- assumptions like overt racism, white nationalism and anti-semitism being on the outer fringes of American politics or the very idea that plain facts can be contested or even turned on their head with naked deception.
I might have long believed we as a nation were better than that, but, if nothing else, this election cycle has shaken that belief at its core. So what do I, humble movie blogger, keep coming back to? The easy answer is Mike Judge's eerily prophetic satire Idiocracy. But more and more it has become a particular scene in a movie from the same year, Borat.
In it, Sacha Baron Cohen stumbles on to an RV with three fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina. All four of them drink heavily together, and as more alcohol is consumed, Borat's friends for the day say progressively more horrifying things. They objectify women, decry political correctness and, in the most cringeworthy moment of all, contend that slavery isn't all that bad.
"Yes, it would be a better country," says one of the bros. "We should have slaves."
"Our country -- the minorities actually have more power," says another, piling on to the point.
"Anyone that is a minority has the upper hand," says the first. "We have the Jews. We have anyone that's against the mainstream."
You can watch the whole clip here. (Unfortunately, YouTube doesn't have the full scene or even anything from it in decent quality.)
A big part of the joke of Borat is that Cohen's character is a fake third-world bumpkin exposing the very real first-world bumpkins here in the United States. Looking back on it from the here and now, it's a joke with a little more sting. If this presidential race has done nothing else, it's proven that we haven't come as far as I liked to think. The RV scene -- even if it was actually much more contrived than it might seem -- blinks back at me now.
The signs weren't exactly hidden. It seems I was not looking as close as I should have been, perhaps because I didn't want to.