My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

03 November 2006

The most controversial film of the year?

Count on the Germans to have no sense of humor. I assume you've heard about the legal action filed against "Borat" on behalf of German Sinti and Roma (or, in less politically correct terms, gypsies).

First of all, I think the film looks terrible. It seems to fall into the realm of "stupid humor," (like SNL or Will Ferrell movies or anything associated with "Jackass"), and that's not my cup of tea. I also don't find racism and sexism funny, and I therefore don't find jokes about racism and sexism funny. I guess I'm just another feminist with no sense of humor. Still, I understand the film is satirical, so even though I would never go see it, I don't have any objections to it.

I must say, though, that the Germans really need to lighten up. Aren't there enough stereotypes about Germans out there? Did you really need to make your public perception worse?

In defense of Germans, this isn't about movies or lacking senses of humor. I think they simply feel helpless against the rise of right-wing extremism and the increasing amounts of violence against minorities. (Although I don't have a source and am too lazy to google, I did read that the number of attacks against minorities increased a whopping twenty percent last year.)

If any of my readers actually speak German, you should go read this article. It's from Berlin's most popular (and rather trashy) newspaper, and it's quite amusing.

The newspaper "invited Jews, Kazaks, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and women to a special presentation of the film and asked 'Did Borat injure you?'" Some of them defend the film, saying it's satirical and trying to expose racism and sexism, not promote it. Some say the film isn't about Germans at all. It's talking about America and they're the ones who should be offended.

The token representatives of the Sinti and Roma were offended and think the film is dangerous. Petra Rosenberg, chairperson of the National Association of Sinti and Roma, said the film "makes its name off the backs of minorities." The token Jewish persons were not as reactionary. Bella Zchwiraschwili of the "Jewish community" probably said it best: "The film can be shown because it's good, if shallow. It's senseless to have a detailed discussion of it." Leeor Engländer, also of the "Jewish community" said what was disturbing was not the film, but that it presents "the reality on the street." While I'm not sure I agree with him when he says the film shows how "normal Americans" act, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Racism and sexism still exist today and we should be upset about that, not about a film that lampoons that fact.

He did say something else worth noting. He said the film brings to light "resentment against Sinti and Roma, misogyny and homophobia (or, to use the German terms, "adverseness" to women and to gays), and hatred of Jews." While it's true to film reveals prejudices common to society, I wonder why he felt it necessary to build such a hierarchy: "resentment" toward gypsies, "adverseness" to women and gays, but "hatred" toward Jews.

Anybody seen the film? Were its portrayals of Jews so much worse than gypsies, gays and women?

The most interesting part of the article is that more than one person suggested the state should ban the film because not everyone will understand it or recognize the satire. Rosenberg said, most people "don't have enough background knowledge to categorize this film." If I were German, I would be absolutely insulted by that assertion. The film should be banned because Germans don't know any better not to be taken in by satirical images of racism and sexism?

What disturbs me, though, is how this fits into the trend already present in German politics to legislate and regulate public opinion (Look at Schröder's attempts to outlaw the NPD). Germans are known for being obedient. They only cross the street when the light is green and run public transit using the honor system. (It works, too.) They only do what is proper and legal and sanctioned by the state, but I simply don't believe Germans are so obedient they will give up their opinions because the state deems them unacceptable or illegal.

Hate speech is already illegal here, and so is Holocaust denial, and books like Mein Kampf are banned. Look at all the good its done. I doubt that the way to combat right-wing extremism is to outlaw their political party and reduce their rights to assemble, and the idea that you can actually outlaw a point of view is absurd.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous pat said...

Are the lights on there?

I'm going to "Borat" this afternoon. I laughed out loud at a trailer, and I did enjoy Ali G....

4:25 PM

 
Blogger Maureen said...

Luckily Berlin wasn't affected by the power outage.

Let me know what you think of "Borat." Even if everyone I know loves it, I wouldn't go see it here. Germans dub almost everything, and I can't imagine this film could survive the process and maintain any humor.

4:43 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to hear you weren't affected by the power outage.
I doubt that I see Borat even though I kind of enjoyed some of the Ali G. stuff I have seen. Parts of the trailer make me uncomfortable. I recently read a brief little thing about one of the people duped by Cohen and how it eventually led to the loss of his job. Not good. Pam

3:37 PM

 
Blogger LEEOR. said...

there was no intension to express a certain hierarchy with "resentment", "adverseness" and "hatred".

and as the people shown in the film are no actors but real people i think you can say that "BORAT" shows normal americans. as you can read on www.leeorbln.blogspot.com I am sure that you can find this kind of people all over the world - especially in germany.

Best LEEOR.

1:17 AM

 

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