Ali G at Harvard; or How Sacha Baron Cohen Got Blessed by America’s Cultural Establishment

Oodles of print have been writ­ten about Sacha Baron Cohen’s film, “Borat: Cul­tur­al Learn­ings of Amer­i­ca for Make Ben­e­fit Glo­ri­ous Nation of Kaza­khstan.” And there’s per­haps not a great deal more to say about it, oth­er than it’s remark­able how well the film has been received by Amer­i­ca’s cul­tur­al estab­lish­ment. Edgy, shock com­e­dy that uses racial and gen­der stereo­types to sub­vert racial and gen­der stereo­types usu­al­ly does­n’t go down so well with high­brow crit­ics. But, in this case it did. The Wash­ing­ton Post called the film “a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of slap­stick and satire, a Pla­ton­ic ide­al of high- and low­brow that man­ages to appeal to our basest com­mon denom­i­na­tors while bril­liant­ly skew­er­ing racism, anti-Semi­tism, … [and] sex­ism.” (Pla­ton­ic ide­al? Borat?) Of the film, The New York Times said “The bril­liance of ‘Borat’ is that its com­e­dy is as piti­less as its social satire, and as brainy.” Then, we heard Ter­ry Gross, of NPR’s Fresh Air, gush over the com­ic in her amus­ing inter­view with Baron Cohen. And last­ly, the British com­ic has been nom­i­nat­ed for an Oscar by Hol­ly­wood’s film elite.

If any fur­ther proof was need­ed that Baron Cohen has been embraced by the cul­tur­al van­guard, then let this video serve as final wit­ness. In 2004, Har­vard invit­ed Baron Cohen to speak at “Class Day,” the big tra­di­tion­al event that takes place the day before com­mence­ment. And here you get him speak­ing to stu­dents and par­ents not as Baron Cohen, but as Ali G., all in a light-heart­ed way. (For more on this vis­it, see the arti­cle in the Har­vard Gazette.)


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  • […] Ali G at Har­vard; or How Sacha Baron Cohen Got Blessed by America’s Cul­tur­al Estab­lish­ment […]

  • I don’t know how Ali G got his foot in the door to this event. You can almost feel the unease of some of the oth­er peo­ple seat­ed at the back that were putting a voice to this event. Even in the UK some of his stuff was a lit­tle like, “How did he do that!” I haven’t watched any of his recent stuff but one of my favourites has to be his par­o­dy of ‘Who wants to be a mil­lion­aire?’ renamed as ‘Who wants to win an ounce?’ The ounce refer­ring to drugs of course! Clas­sic!!

  • Bob says:

    15 years lat­er. Ali G is the man! His com­e­dy is dead but his voice will nev­er be.

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