Just as the jester uses his inherent silliness to make fun of the king, so does Sacha Baron Cohen to reveal the absurdity of the philosophy of many Americans toward COVID-19. Borat, the alter ego Cohen has become synonymous with, has proven with his second official outing that the character’s original film was not just lightning in a bottle. The crude, vulgar and, to many people, off-putting, exterior is a vessel for surprisingly deep social commentary. So why has this iconic Kazakh reporter remained relevant 14 years later? The stupidity and ignorance that has defined his existence is still, against all odds, not immediately apparent to many people in the United States. The events leading up to the global pandemic in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" (2020) make the reaction of the American people feel believable and tragically inevitable.
The movie follows the titular Borat along with his daughter, Tutar, on a mission across America to deliver her as a bride to Vice President Mike Pence. The outlandishness only continues from there. Through his inventive disguises, Cohen’sBorat is able to infiltrate the public through the lives of many different people, and reveal the ignorance or downright vileness that lies within each of them.
When Boratorders a chocolate cake to give to Mike Pence, he asks for an incredibly antisemitic message to be written atop it. His commitment to the character and the almost earnest demeanor with which he plays it relaxes the person he’s attempting to fool. The woman seems confused at first, but then goes about writing the message with what seems to be a smile on her face. There’s a seemingly embarrassing pride in her expression when she displays the finished product.
Similar to almost everything else in 2020, the filming of the new Borat movie was briefly interrupted by COVID-19. While for most television shows and movies this meant halting production indefinitely, there was something perfectly fitting about the ensuing environment for Cohen’s showcase of Trump’s America. A stand-out moment comes as he attempts to blend in at a conservative rally. Borat sings about former President Barack Obama and how he should be in jail, and refers to COVID-19 by offensive names that Donald Trump himself has uttered. The song’s many lies and hateful things only excite the crowd more as the falsehoods increase in severity. Borat is able to bring out the sides of people that they may not outright admit; if someone’s performing it to a crowd, it can’t hurt to sing along, right? They allow any semblance of a filter that they have to come off, untethered by social concern. The reason that a character as outrageous as Borat is able to induce this false sense of security is pretty depressing: They’re as ignorant as he. If someone with absolutely no awareness is able to bring out someone else’s darkest side, then that really is just their natural state.
The problem is that COVID-19 has amplified the negative effects of this kind of behavior. While damaging and hurtful to many people before, the lack of regard for others now has the potential to kill over one thousand people a day. With stakes heightened to such an extreme, there is an imperative to hold one’s fellow citizens accountable.
To expect anything other than misinformation, hate and resentment as a response to COVID-19 would be to ignore what the country was like before it. Movements like theanti-mask movement were bound to happen during the pandemic. But as long as there are ill-informed people hurting the well-being of the country, Sacha Baron Cohen will be there to expose them.