[Marxism] Counterpunch critique of Borat

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 10 17:41:19 MST 2006

>Frankly, the entire thing strikes me as a kind of eastern European minstrel
>show.  Of course, the minstrel shows were never simple vilifications of
>African-Americans and often provided a vehicle for some humor transcending
>race, some telling social criticisms and even cultural observations.  On
>balance, though, I think the negatives far outweigh the positives.
>Mark L.

Not just Eastern European, but Turkman. 
Khazakstan is ethnically Turkish like Azerbaijan 
and Uzbekistan. Apparently a Turk from Izmir has 
plans to sue Sasha Cohen because he says that the 
Borat character is based on his website which is 
filled with malapropisms and macho posturing. 
Cohen has scoffed at this claim and insists that 
the character is based on a Russian doctor he 
met. Although I was a fan of Cohen's HBO show, I 
am feeling a bit wary because of my strong identification with things Turkish.


The real Borat

Guardian, Saturday October 28, 2006

Mahir Cagri's 'I Kiss You' website was one of the 
internet's first word-of-mouth phenomena and 
arguably a key influence on Borat. Johnny Dee 
celebrates an unlikely online hero
Johnny Dee

Several weeks go, as a feeble back-passed ball 
bobbled tantalisingly over the jelly like right 
limb of England's goalkeeper Paul Robinson, 
observant viewers may have noticed an advertising 
hoarding in the background featuring a familiar 
insanely grinning moustached man. It looked, 
rather surreally, as if this giant, cut-out head 
was mocking the hapless England football team 
much as he had once done to Lady Chelsea when he 
announced he had "a good shit" after returning 
from the toilet during a lesson on etiquette. 
Perhaps watching in some far away bar surrounded 
by several toothless women and a flatulent donkey 
was another man known for his insane grin, wild 
enthusiasm and stallion moustache. Perhaps he 
pondered as he watched Croatia win why the word 
that followed the head in the advert was "Borat" rather than his own - Mahir.

Borat Sagdiyev is of course the comic creation of 
Sacha Baron Cohen. Mahir Cagri meanwhile is a 
Turkish gentleman in his 40s who lives in the 
port of Izmir (population five million). Mahir 
became a word-of-mouth legend after putting up a 
homemade web page in 1999 featuring pictures of 
himself engaged in a game of ping pong and 
relaxing in some tight red Speedos alongside 
simple but effective pieces of information such as "I like sex".

Both men bear an uncanny resemblance. Indeed, in 
the opening titles of Borat's movie he is seen 
playing table tennis and wearing fetching tight 
red shorts just like Mahir. Both men are 
journalists and favour suits quite possibly 
stolen from the back of Frank Bough during 
Nationwide in 1975. Both men struggle with the 
English language and are wildly enthusiastic 
about the prospect of meeting women and sexing 
them. Despite claims that a Russian doctor Baron 
Cohen once met inspired Borat and that a Moldovan 
version of Borat existed as far back as 1996 the 
similarities are too strong to be coincidental. 
Yet, while Borat is set to become famous around 
the world - well, apart from Kazakhstan, where 
they are oddly offended by the possibly untrue 
information that wives are kept in cages there 
and throwing rocks at gypsies is a national sport 
- the man who helped inspire him has been largely 
forgotten. Time perhaps to remind us of the real 
Borat and his role as the internet's first famous non-famous person.

Back in the last century, when offi ce employees 
would huddle around their co-workerscomputer 
terminals and marvel in wonderment at an 
animation of some dancing hamsters, celebrity was 
a far rarer commodity than it is today. Then, it 
was unthoughtof that anyone could become famous 
without appearing on TV, just by being 
themselves, let alone someone from Turkey. But 
one look at Mahir's rudimentary exclamation mark 
packed page with its welcoming words "I kiss 
you!!!" caused internet users to do several 
things - laugh and pass the site on. He became a global in-joke.

Within weeks Mahir found himself an unlikely 
online hero. Where others may have been upset by 
parodies of his rudimentary grasp of web design 
and the English language, he welcomed the fun and 
embraced his fame. When people saw him and heard 
him speak they loved him all the more. He toured 
the US, appeared on chat shows, starred in TV 
commercials, recorded a pop single and listened 
to off ers of turning his life story into a movie.

Roseanne Barr, Bill Gates and Kenny G were among 
his fans and his original wish, that the web page 
attract available single women, allegedly came 
true. The Turkish media claimed that he had been 
besieged by marriage proposals. In a 2000 
interview he explained that he was looking for a 
wife who would stay at home with the children and 
"keep the house nice for me." He continued that 
it was also important that "She must be very 
clean and always wash before and after sex."

Then fame dried up and people stopped responding 
to his page's plea: "Who is want to come TURKEY I 
can invitate ...... She can stay my home." As 
success faded he did what any sensible person 
would do. He wrote a new pop song with a simple 
message: "Unimportant is colour, race, religion, 
anything. We are all brothers and sisters. Yes, 
we must do fun, we must sex, we must dance, but 
we must teach other people, care of poor kids, 
animals, environment, we can be same."

Despite his noble goal the song, much like his 
unpublished biography and unfilmed biopic, was never recorded.

Today the websites Mahir funded after he became 
famous no longer exist; instead they will take 
you to strange search engines with adverts for 
Viagra and debt consolidation. When the Guide 
contacted him for his opinions on Borat and his 
movie we received the enigmatic text reply "I on 
holiday 35 days." A mirror of his original site 
is still there though, frozen in time so one can forever marvel at its poetry.

"My tall 1.84 cm (6.2 feet) My weight 78 kg. My 
eyes green .. I live alone !!!!!! I have car."

Unfortunately no mention of enjoying drinking fermented horse urine.

· Mahir Cagri's original site www.istanbul.tc/mahir/mahir/

· Additional research by Matt Weiner

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