It’s fine to share some funny deleted scenes, but if your aim is to combat misinformation, you don’t address an audience that already agrees with you.
Following the success of 2020’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Amazon has released Borat Supplemental Reportings Retrieved from Floor of Stable Containing Editing Machine. This multi-part special is divided into three parts: Borat: VHS Cassette of Material Deemed “Sub-acceptable” By Kazahkstan Ministry of Censorship and Circumcision, which is a collection of deleted scenes interspersed with introductions from Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen); a 36-minute reality show called Borat’s American Lockdown, which focuses specifically on Borat’s time with Jim and Jerry; and then a series of documentary shorts titled Debunking Borat that’s designed to specifically address misinformation presented by Jim and Jerry and trying to reason with these two right-wingers.
Of the supplemental material, this is probably the best stuff as you can see that they had some really great bits that didn’t make it to the final cut. Surprisingly, most of these scenes focus solely on Borat rather than Tutar (Maria Bakalova), which means Cohen decided his own scenes were worthier of the cutting room floor than his unknown co-star, a huge boost not only to her career, but to the film overall. Thankfully, these scenes are now available, and there’s some painfully funny stuff in here that should please fans of Borat. That being said, there’s not a scene where you’re left wondering why it wasn’t left in the final cut. It’s kind of what you expect from deleted scenes where you’re left thinking, “Ah, that was good, but not essential.”
Borat’s American Lockdown
This is more in line with an extended scene since it expands Borat’s time with Jim and Jerry. That being said, it’s still kind of more of the same where Jim and Jerry espouse conspiracy theories (the short even puts up a little Illuminati symbol to denote whenever Jim and Jerry say untrue things just to further stress that these ideas should not go out into the world sans commentary) and Borat tests the limits of how much they’re willing to accept him as a roommate while also pointing out that he believes ridiculous things that Jim and Jerry refuse to accept. It is kind of fascinating to see this kind of friction where Jim and Jerry are so certain in their own conspiracy theories but also believe there are objective truths where they can push back against Borat’s ludicrous beliefs. Of course, what this is all dancing around is that belief is frequently tied to identity rather than fact, so Jim and Jerry’s beliefs are more about political identity rather than simply buying into misinformation that could easily be fact-checked, which leads us to…
This is the strangest of the supplemental features. This part isn’t played for comedy. It’s straightforwardly addressing right-wing conspiracy theories, notably those shared by Jim and Jerry, and confronting them head-on. At first glance, this seems useful. If someone claims that the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to implant people with microchips to track them, then why not use your platform to explain why this is wrong?
The problem here is two-fold. The first problem is a matter of platform. If you’re someone who enjoys Borat to the point where you’re going to watch the supplemental material, then you probably don’t need an explanation of why those being mocked believe things are silly. You haven’t sat through all of Borat being like, “I don’t get why people think this is funny when this Borat guy is on to some things.” And yet the only people who can watch Debunking Borat are people who have subscribed to Amazon and likely those who are already fans of Borat. So why not simply put this material out on YouTube where it would reach a wider audience and people could attempt to share it with those who believe misinformation?
However, that leads us to our second, trickier problem that I mentioned above, which is that belief is a part of identity. You don’t believe things because you’re a completely rational human being who always follows the evidence. You believe things because those things reinforce your worldview. So, for instance, if you’ve spent decades already believing that there’s a cabal of elites secretly running the world to the point where they harvest human children and drink their blood, pointing out that microchips are too big for syringes isn’t going to undo all that damage. It’s comforting to think that a better world is only a fact-check away because truth is such an important value, but we also have to accept that people vigilantly protect their identities, and given the choice between truth and identity, there are strong incentives to choose identity, especially when the truth can damage that identity.
It’s very nice that Amazon chose to make these documentary shorts available to further combat misinformation, but its most effective element seems to be playing up the fact that Amazon owns the Borat sequel and wouldn’t you like to watch the Borat sequel again on Amazon Prime Video.
Marvel Animation got a superpowered boost with this short-lived series.
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