Fiona McCade: Where Tony Blair failed, Borat has succeeded

There is only one joke, and that is in watching those he is offending
Click to follow
The Independent Online

He's an embarrassment. The embodiment of all that is bad about the country he represents. He's a gross caricature of a proud nation and not only gives a false impression of his homeland, he's made it a worldwide laughing stock.

No, not President George Bush. Thankfully for US citizens, there are enough of them about to reassure the rest of us they aren't all like their president, but Kazakhstan doesn't have the same advantage. Since British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen released a film - Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan - about the exploits of his outrageous Kazakh character Borat Sagdiyev, the ruling elite of that country has become very upset, to the extent of Baron Cohen being a talking point at the recent meeting in Washington between Mr Bush and Kazakh premier Nursultan Nazarbayev, as predicted in The Independent on Sunday last week.

You can see why the Kazakhs are annoyed. Borat's wit ("Democracy is different in America. For example, woman can vote, but horse cannot!") and wisdom ("We have many hobbies: disco-dancing, archery, rape and tennis") has reached an audience that the fledgling ex-Soviet republic can only dream about. Hardly anybody knows anything about them, but here's some irritating comedian with access to the world media making them look like a bunch of dog-shooting, Jew-baiting, child molesters whose favourite tipple is horse urine.

But when it comes to presenting a distorted view of the beliefs, traditions and the true nature of a country, there is one slight difference between Borat and Mr Bush: Borat isn't real. He is the invention of a well-known character actor and comedian.

Watching Baron Cohen as Borat, there really is only one joke, and that is the reaction of the people he's offending. Because they don't know he's bogus, the way his appalling behaviour affects them is the beginning and end of the fun. As even Mr Nazarbayev must understand, if you're watching this film and you haven't grasped that Borat is pretend, you're wasting your time. Everybody who sees it will know Borat's just a joke.

So, it's OK to embarrass your country if you are a native of that country (please step forward Mr Bush, oh, and you too, John Prescott) but if you're a foreigner pretending to be someone who isn't real, but who is supposed to be from another country, you'd better stop it right now.

How wonderfully surreal, with war, poverty, third-world debt and global warming up for grabs, to think of two presidents discussing someone who doesn't exist. Sport and politics have collided for decades, but now comedy could become a new bargaining tool on the world stage. The only reason Mr Bush and the president of the world's 10th-largest oil producing nation could be talking about this film is because they want it stopped, so I'm now wondering how long it'll be before an Amnesty International flyer drops through my door asking me for a donation to Get Sacha Baron Cohen Out Of Guantanamo Bay. The Kazakh government has not ruled out legal action against him and I bet Mr Bush won't be pleased if some two-bit British joker's freedom of speech comes between America and more oil.

But I'm proud of Baron Cohen for more than simply forcing two immensely powerful men to put a fictional character on their agenda. After years of Britain being perceived as America's poodle, a Briton has actually made some impact on Mr Bush's political strategy. The US might have done little but pat us on the head lately, but at least now, by even vaguely endangering America's oil supply, the poodle can honestly say that it influences US foreign policy - even if it is by crapping on the White House lawn. Where Tony Blair has failed, Borat has succeeded.