It’s February 27th, 2020, and Mike Pence is blathering onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference about the low number of coronavirus cases in the US (only 15!). Pence promises that the administration is ready for anything, and he glances up smugly to ask for — and bask in — the applause. He is interrupted by (spoiler alert) Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in a Trump costume.
Borat is trying to give away his daughter Tutar (also only 15!) to the Vice President in an overly-contrived Kazakhstani deep state plot to influence/influenz the administration. Borat and Tutar (Maria Bakalova) must settle for a hidden-camera sting on America’s horniest Mayor, who coughs his way through a vigorous defense of the President’s coronavirus response. (As I am writing this, the news has broken that the US has reached 250,000 dead.)
If the first Borat movie was farce, then Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is surely tragedy. For some reason, watching a man pose as an outsider in order to rally a crowd in a racist chorus no longer works as satire. And yet as much as I found this new movie depressing, I’m not sure if Sacha Baron Cohen is fully to blame. This might just be a negative review of the world we live in, or of the incredibly shitty year we’ve had which the movie just happens to portray.
In fairness, between the “MY WIFE!” and “HIGH FIVE!” jokes, a younger Borat tried to warn us in 2006: asking a car salesman how much damage would be caused to a Hummer if he drove it into a group of gypsies (“It depends on how hard you hit ‘em and all that…”). We might have ignored these obvious signs, thinking — hoping — that they were the death rattle of the Bush era’s necropolitics. But it turns out American fascism was just clearing its throat.