The fun to be had in making fools of random people

This review of Bruno reminded me of one of the things that I found troubling about the Borat film, and what always troubled me about the Ali G show — the sense that at least some of the victims of the pranks didn’t really deserve the mockery. I remembered reading something about the hotel desk clerk scene in that film, and Googled around until I found the story:

I almost avoided the whole mess because I initially turned them down because we were very busy. But, they came back to me a couple of days later and said they really wanted us to be in this travel piece. The location scout came to the hotel and “interviewed” several people for the on-camera role.

I wasn’t keen on doing it myself, since my dad had died recently and my family was experiencing those horrible firsts: the first Father’s Day without him, his birthday, etc. In short, I wasn’t my usual perky self. After interviewing everyone, the location scout came back to me and said, “You’re the one that we want.” I turned them down, and, then, they came back, again – and I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my job. I agreed to do it on a Sunday night.

I pulled myself together to help them, only to find myself the subject of a practical joke from which I could not extricate myself. The producers of the film didn’t know me or my background, other than I fit the profile of someone they could picture looking ridiculous on screen. It wasn’t that they were unpleasant or unkind. It was that I wasn’t even a person to them.

Disclaimer: Baron Cohen’s stuff has made me double over in laughter at times. But as I say, it also bothers me, in the way that the Daily Show’s off-site sketches sometimes bother me, with the scattershot nature of the attacks, the sense that some of the people caught in the camera’s lens are not really fair targets. The Borat film poses as social commentary, but at its heart, it’s really just about making fools of people for a cheap laugh. As the author of the linked review puts it, “There is no larger cultural point to making someone flinch by giving them a chocolate truffle you’ve stuffed with anchovies.”

… reader JG sends a link to this related New Yorker piece about Borat.