The America 'Borat' didn't show
EAST LANSING, MICH. — After watching "Borat," we're considering going back to the editing booth and recutting our indie documentary feature film "10 MPH" ... NOT!
Borat, a "journalist from Kazakhstan," (really British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen) travels from New York to Los Angeles via ice-cream truck in search of America's "cultural learnings" – and blonde bombshell Pamela Anderson. We traveled from Seattle to Boston via Segway in search of the American Dream.
What we discovered – scenes of America's authentic goodness – looked distinctly different from the cherry-picked bigotry portrayed in the recent smash comedy hit.
That's to be expected, of course, from two films with such divergent purposes.
We're concerned, though, because at a time when America's global image is already suffering, "Borat" promotes a grotesque caricature of American culture and attitudes. (Kazakstan doesn't fare well, either.)
"Borat" is undeniably funny, but we left the theater wondering why the major film studios choose not to put their marketing muscle behind films that are politely funny and offer uplifting insight about America.
On our journey across the country, we were overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. We received countless invitations to stay in their homes. People were excited to share their stories with us, and they were eager to hear our tales of life cruising the nation's asphalt on a Segway scooter ... at 10 m.p.h.
The bulk of our journey occurred just prior to the 2004 presidential elections. We stayed in homes proudly displaying photos of President Bush and in households that couldn't stand him. But the so-called red-blue divide proved to be a superficial stereotype; the political preferences of our hosts didn't affect their hospitality.
The abundant kindheartedness we saw helped us to regain our love for America, which had been severely tainted by modern media. The entertainment they sell is conditioned to incite conflict, challenge, and sensational response. It celebrates perversity, ugliness, and fear. "Borat" fits this model perfectly. This trend can cause us to lose sight of what really is.
From our experience, "what really is" is Dickie, a 60-something scraggy farmer finishing up his job outside of a grain silo in Norcatur, Kan. He talked about going to dinner and seeing if he could find "a lady ... or two," appropriately followed by his sonorous laugh. It was funny, but also humbling, because his youthful spirit was alive and well.
Or better yet, it's the cop just outside of Chicago who pulled us over for causing a major backup on LaGrange Road. He's a modern day Barney Fife and because of his trifling antics, many have asked us if the scene was staged (it wasn't).
One of our favorite moments of all was in Dubois, Wyo. We were there in that small, dusty town the same night as a group of bikers en route to a 9/11 anniversary event in New York to honor firefighters who perished in the terrorist attacks. They rode our Segways, we shared stories, and they let us crash on the shag carpet floor of their motel rooms. Moments like these show America better than Borat's experience in an RV of drunk frat guys.
Perhaps what's most disturbing to us is not how the United States is defined in Borat's cross-country trip, but how the US continues to define itself by what Americans embrace and consume, by what ultimately makes the dollars and drives the ratings. "Borat" has grossed more than $90 million so far. If a film like "10 MPH" could have that impact, we'd all be reminded of what America really is ... and still get a good chuckle.
• Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell are currently filming "10 Yards," a documentary about fantasy football.