My wife has always said that irony is what doesn't play outside New York, and "Borat" is probably the best example in ages of the truth of that insight. What are we to make, after all, of the moment when a tall, skinny man in an ill-fitting suit and a bizarre accent walks into a Texas gun shop and asks, "What is the best gun to defend from a Jew?" and the proprietor, without missing a beat, shows him a gold-plated pistol. "Die, Jew!" says Borat, waving the pistol around.
Or the RV carrying some University of South Carolina frat boys to Los Angeles, busy telling Borat about the advantages of a slave society. Or Borat's singalong of the Kazakhstan national anthem at a Virginia rodeo, to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner but with a few key changes to the lyrics, followed by Borat leading the crowd in a call-and-response: "We Support Your War of Terror!" "We Will Kill All The Terrorists!" and finally, "Let George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq!" At which point, for the first time, some people stop shouting and start wondering. By then, of course, it's much too late for apologies.
There's a lot more to both Borat and "Borat," including our first meeting with him and his family in his home village, where he introduces his sister ("Number 4 prostitute in Kazakhstan") and gives us a look at the Running of the Jew. In New York, he manages to shit on Trump Tower and masturbate in front of the Victoria's Secret window. The chicken he keeps in his suitcase somehow gets free in the subway. "Watch out - it bites!" he announces to the scurrying crowd.
Where do I stop? With Bob Barr eating cheese "made from breast milk?" With the bear in the back of Borat's ice-cream van? With the black hooker he brings to the Mississippi dinner party, along with his bag of poop? And his mistaking a retired guest with a southern accent (Ahh'm retahr'd) for a retard? Enough, already. Of course Borat is actually Sacha Baron Cohen, the British - Jewish - comedian who's made a fine career of exposing stupidity and gullibility wherever he goes.
But here's my question: I watched the film in Spokane, Washington, a little piece of middle America set down between the Rockies and the Cascades. The theatre was filled with fans laughing themselves sick - as I was, to a point. But I'm Jewish, and as they laughed at every new moment of anti-Semitic shtick I began to wonder if they might just as easily join Borat's bandwagon and turn on me. Did they get the irony or did they just love hearing all their hidden fantasies spoken out loud? And I don't know how to find out the answer.