Thursday, January 11, 2007

The 2006 Armond Year in Review: "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. This aphorism has been reconfirmed for us while still in the nascent stages of Armond Dangerous, as evidenced by recent readers' comments -- when we take our man to task we're charged with malicious intent (including "hijacking") and when we agree with him every once in a while we're accused of letting Armond White off the hook. Which leads us to think of another aphorism -- you can't please everybody -- and the sense that our inability to pander maybe, just maybe, means we're on the right path.
But what of the suggestion that we must pick Armond apart even when we like what he has to say? That's a fair criticism, and we'll try harder in the future to look at "good" reviews as thoroughly as we do for the ones with which we have problems. But in our defense, things usually aren't as clear cut for us they were with the Dreamgirls review. Take what will surely one day be considered classic Armond -- his enraged review of the gargantuan smash comedy Borat. Read it? Okay. Now, after taking a moment to digest the humorless invective ("Borat is not funny -- except, perhaps, to 13-year-olds or people who imagine Cohen’s targets (that is, other Americans) as mortal enemies") and the childish name-calling that places him on an equal level, at least according to his own standards, with his object of derision (“'Ethnic-Cleansing' humor," classy), recognize the validity of what Armond's trying -- and we emphasize the word "trying" -- to say. Like his prose or not -- we personally detest the rant-style -- he's one of the few film critics in America to wonder at (via railing at) the political one-sidedness of Borat. That doesn't make the film any less funny, nor does it excuse Armond's starchy attitude toward satire that can't be redeemed by sickly-sweetness a la Napoleon Dynamite (that he can roll with Bunuel shooting the Pope in The Milky Way but not the broad-side-of-the-barn torchings of Borat we can only figure as a product of Armond's "real movies = old movies" equation that plays it safe regarding the Canon; his love of recent Solondz we're still working on); but it does make for a polemical questioning of what exactly audiences and critics alike found so affirming in Borat. Of course, Armond's ungenerous slant has Borat pegged as "divisive," even though people offended or turned off by the film are clearly not culturally marginalized or split apart from fellow Americans by its success. If that's the case, where was White for the Larry the Cable Guy movie? Nonetheless, Armond's criticism is that the Borat phenomenon reveals a strand of deep-rooted condescension and superiority among American liberals who lapped up the film's hi-jinks. Buried somewhere beneath his frothing vitriol, Armond's point may very well be valid. But we wish White could see how the film's nastiness might very well come from a healthy, collective feeling of resentment and exasperation of one political persuasion toward another. No rule states that pop culture -- or, for that matter, humor -- must be a "unifying force."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well done.
-Marg

Stephen Baraban said...

A.W.'s criticism is certainly confounding--I absolutely cannot stand his (or Ms. Kael's) "those who do not agree with my latest quirky opinion are quite morally corrupt" stance. But I've recently discovered the print publication and website
http://www.firstofthemonth.org First of the Month, a political/cultural review that's a forum for a refreshingly wide range of "liberal" & "left" voices--from Paul Berman to Amiri Baraka (and the Firsters boast praiseful blurbs from both Nat Hentoff and Noam Chomsky, among many others). And who but Mr. Armond White is a major moving force behind this: he's part of the four person (well, actually, four man) editorial collective. This journal (existent since 1998--& you can pick up a copy of the print edition at NYC's Labyrinth Books) is for me an inspiring breath of fresh air, as much so as have been my two viewings of Children of Men. So go figure.



http://www.firstofthemonth.org/

Jake Cremins said...

Admittedly, he does have a point about how 'Borat' is funny, except for the part where it's funny. But I was distracted completely by this:

"Avoid the trap of calling Borat polarizing; that’s a code-word of media-hipsters who long for social divisiveness. They’ve given up on the idea that pop culture can be a unifying force and so praise movies that make them feel superior to others."

AAAAAAAAAAH! Is he serious? Doctor, heal thyself.

He also manages to accidentally (?) describe the feminists seen in 'Borat' as one of the "group[s] that might be perceived as voting conservative." Excellent work.

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