Broadsheet, The Blog

Two Lady Artists with Bees in Their Bonnets

13 November 2006

Q: How many Feminists does it take to Screw in a Light Bulb? (A: That's not Funny!)

I will admit at the outset that I haven't yet had the cringe-filled pleasure of viewing the Borat movie, and have been looking forward to doing so. But I think I've seen enough of Borat on Da Ali G Show to understand and comment on his modus operandi. When Sacha Baron Cohen (or Stephen Colbert, for that matter) exposes the stupidity and hypocrisy of bizarrely unwitting politicians or other public officials by baiting them and selectively editing the results, it is obviously unfair to the participants but in the end I have little sympathy for them. This is partly because I share most of Baron Cohen's and Colbert's political biases, partly because these people clearly have so much more power than they deserve, and partly because public figures should know better.

But though I think Baron Cohen is truly hilarious, and one of our generation's sharpest cultural critics, I am very ambivalent about what seem like some misplaced targets within the admittedly target-rich environment of the USA. In particular, I was surprised by the story of artist and member of Veteran Feminists of America Linda Stein, who writes her account of their encounter in Downtown Express. Stein, by the way, has an exhibition of her work up at Flomenhaft Gallery on 27th Street in Chelsea until December 20th.

Stein on her fatal mistake:

I finally agreed, although I admit that I failed to read the fine detail on the “Standard Consent Agreement.” Since I thought this was a documentary, I probably would have signed it anyway. When I did study it later, I realized that it’s anything but “standard.” Buried are statements asserting that I waive claims for “offensive behavior” and “misleading portrayal” and “fraud (such as any alleged deception or surprise about the film or this consent agreement).” While I’m no legal expert, I can’t believe that you can agree to be defrauded — or wouldn’t every used car dealer use the same clause?

On the process, and what it all means:

But it wasn’t long before the fake journalist started switching and baiting, performing like a Howard Stern wannabe. Women in his country must walk behind men, he said. Condoleezza Rice is the “chocolate lady,” he claimed, implying that she beds foreign diplomats. He gestured his interest in large-breasted women. His goading produced predictable results. Right before I kicked him out, he declared — as the clip shows — that women have smaller brains than men.

In humor or art theory, you could argue that his statement is so ridiculous that the very utterance of it proves the reverse, and therefore is an unmasking of his character’s small mindedness. Some of Borat’s most famous segments do just that, such as when the comic, who is Jewish, cajoles patrons in a country-western bar to sing “Throw the Jew down the well” to expose covert anti-Semitism. But what exactly is he trying to unmask when he ridicules women?

Borat could cause a sensation by pressing his “small brain” commentary on people like Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard who resigned after saying that women can’t be scientists. Instead, for the sake of a cheap laugh, he chooses to reinforce the stereotype of women as the inferior sex, at the expense of women. How funny is that?

Her last point is a good one: it would make more sense, within Baron Cohen's own oeuvre, for him to go after sexists than to go after feminists, and the fact that he chose the latter displays laziness and willingness to go for the cheaper laugh. I suspect his point with this scene of the movie, unhelpful as it is, may be that feminists are humorless and artists are out-of-touch weirdos. Once again, we prove to be easy targets.


Anonymous ml said...

Artists are easy targets. Proof - Jon Stewart's skits on art. Love him to death but the art jokes are tired. Makes me wonder if his political jokes seem as tired to politicians.

4:35 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

I've seen a lot of jon stewart and haven't noticed the art "critique." That would piss me off!

It's true that artists are easy targets tho. It's a bummer.

BTW this post got partially deleted yesterday when we were trying to add the picture, so it looks a tiny bit different today.

9:09 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...

did he even deal with her as an artist? isn't the issue that the crass over-the-top sexism, intended to be a critique, is accepted at face value by a majority of the audience? I didn't see the movie either, but it sounds like it's female bashing, not artist bashing ('cause I'd be all over it, if it was that too!!)

9:44 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Stewart has actually done several art skits. The last one was about the sale of the Klimt for mega-millions. He broke it down to sections - this patch of green is worth $$$, etc. My objection was that I've never heard him do a similar piece about the value of athletes or even a division of Iraq into sectors for Halliburton. It was an easy skit, no stretching or thinking required.

11:07 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...

I've seen what you're referring to with Stewart, which I find totally annoying and don't even get me started on John Stossel, who did an OUTRAGEOUSLY offensive piece on art and artists on his inane "Give me a Break" segment on 20/20, but This Broad is addressing, I think, that Baron Cohen is trying to critique sexism by being an over-the-top sexist pig and it's just not working

11:28 AM  
Blogger onesock said...

I dont think the skit ( i saw it on youtube) doesnt portray the women as dumb or humorless. In fact, just the opposite! You are glad to see someone act accordingly to this guy, He is saying sexist things and the women are stickin it to him like they should.
If he had said these things in front of some dudes at the bar and they agreed with im and looked stupid, that would not have been funnier. I think the joke is that Borat gets booted finally and it is good to see who does it.

4:08 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

Ax the double negative up there!--geez!

4:09 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

wow, someone with a brain! why didn't I think of looking for it on youtube?

I just watched all I could find and the video clips don't quite match up with Stein's description. But based on the clips, I don't think the women come off badly at all.

I would still be mad at being duped and used if I were them, tho.

7:32 AM  
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