Borat a Bad Influence?

ByMarcus Baram

Nov. 14, 2006 — -- Stephanie Serrano recently saw the hit movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

She didn't like it in the movie theater. And she didn't like it in the streets when teenagers inspired by the movie's offensive leading man made her a target.

"Some guys have been more disrespectful [to me]," said Serrano, a 17-year-old student at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "They go around repeating that line, 'Very nice. How much?' to some of the girls. I think it's disgraceful."

Call it the Borat effect.

The top-rated comedy is making thousands of high school and college students laugh -- and inspiring some of them to imitate the eponymous character's offensive behavior to women and Jews.

Since "Borat's" Nov. 3 release, the movie about a hapless Kazakh journalist who thinks that women have smaller brains and that Jews were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has ruled the box office.

It has raked in $68 million, and it's managed to offend a cross-section of groups, from the Anti-Defamation League and feminists to the Kazakh government and fraternity brothers at the University of South Carolina.

With its coarse behavior and offensive statements, "Borat" has also infiltrated the youth culture -- for better or worse. Although most students recognize the humor behind the hateful dialogue, some of them say that they've experienced harassment inspired by the movie.

Jonathan Melendez, a 17-year-old high school student from the Bronx, N.Y., says that he's heard teens repeat some of the more misogynistic lines from the movie.

"They talk about women being b-- and prostitutes," he said. "And I asked my friends who are Jewish if they were going to the movie and they said that their parents wouldn't let them go."

Many teens, from Georgia to California, Rhode Island to Canada, have heard fellow students repeating some of the movie's more offensive lines such as, "Throw the Jew down the well," and "We make sexy time?"

As a result, some parents are outraged at the movie and are actively discouraging their children from seeing it.

"Our family and friends will not watch 'Borat,' and we'll certainly encourage other parents to boycott as well," said Michelle Arnold, a parent from Cobb County, Ga.

Calling the movie a "disgrace and an insult," she said that "Borat" was reversing some of the progress her community had made teaching its teens to be respectful and ethical.

"My two teenagers have better things to do than watch garbage and encourage Hollywood to produce more of it," she said.

Some parents have seen the movie and have discussed its humor with their teenage children.

Diana Prokopovich, the president of the PTA at Kennesaw Mountain High in Kennesaw, Ga., talked about "Borat's" offensiveness with her 15-year-old son.

Although she and her husband see the humor in the movie's broad caricatures, she worries that some teenagers don't recognize the offensiveness behind some of the lines.

"I don't think they get it," Prokopovich said. "Are they desensitized to it? If they see an immigrant, would they think he or she is dumb? I don't know."

She doesn't think "Borat" will inspire as many imitators as 2002's "Jackass" movie.

That film, which involved dangerous stunts, inspired copycat incidents that resulted in death and injury to dozens of fans.

Most of the teenagers interviewed said they were aware of "Borat's" sarcastic nature.

"People repeat the lines because they made them laugh, not because they're identifying with those values, which are offensive or anti-Semitic," said Brian Haack, an 18-year-old student at the University of Southern California.

Colin McCarey, a 16-year-old high school student from Chicago, saw the movie last Friday, and said that some of his classmates had been repeating lines in the cafeteria more out of humor than any desire to offend.

"I don't think anyone is going to change the way people are going to be acting," he said. "They would already be doing it before they saw the movie."

Indeed, spokesmen for the Anti-Defamation League, the National Organization for Women, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights say that they were not aware of any increase in incidents of anti-Semitism, sexual harassment or racism inspired by "Borat."

And as befits teenagers, some of the copycat incidents seem less offensive than simply juvenile.

Melendez, the Bronx student, says that some of his neighbors were inspired by a scene in which Borat gives a plastic bag containing his feces to the hostess of a dinner party.

"Someone on my block took a dump and put it in a bag and threw it at people," he said. "Can you believe that?"

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