I have less and less appetite for prankery and humiliation-as-entertainment as I get older. In college my friends and I held weekly watch parties to screen “Waiting for Guffman,” the Christopher Guest mockumentary about a community theater troupe in small town Missouri, quoting every stupid thing the movie’s buffoonish characters said, but when I re-watched it a few years ago the delight was markedly diminished. North of 40, I’m less amused by mockery of the earnest and unsuspecting than I was at 20.
Which is why I have no time for Borat. The brief clips of it I’ve seen trade in the humiliation of people who, though they represent reprehensible attitudes and behaviors, are being immortalized as the worst versions of themselves captured under false pretenses. It is the lowest form of cultural commentary. It makes us all meaner and less informed.
The way out of polarization is surely not Kumbaya fantasies of worldwide hand-holding, but neither is it gleeful disparagement of the worst tendencies of those we disagree with, even dislike. People need persuaded, and embarrassment is the absolute wrong tool for that.