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December 28, 2006 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-12-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Editorials are posted and archived on JNonline.us.


Humor's Briar Patch


any Jewish moviego-
ers had a difficult
time with Borat,
the pseudo documentary about
a Kazakh television reporter's
journey through America. Some
thought the film was hilarious;
others laughed and felt guilty
about it and still others walked
out in anger.
By any measure, Borat is
fairly crude stuff, even though
it is obvious that the intent of
actor and writer, Sacha Baron
Cohen, was to mock anti-Semitic
attitudes. According to some
accounts, the British-born Cohen
is an observant Jew, although
that may be a bit hard to recon-
cile with some of the images that
appear on the screen.
What is clear, however, is that
this isn't your grandfather's
ethnic humor. It's a far cry from
Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor,
poking gentle fun at Jewish foi-
bles and accents. It's even a long
way from the comedy of Myron
Cohen and Jackie Mason.
Borat sets out to be offen-
sive and succeeds gloriously in
this endeavor, while racking up

record box-office grosses (an
appropriate word) for a docu-
mentary film.
On the other hand, there are
those among every ethnic and
religious group who exist to
be offended. Any slight, real or
imagined, or an inadvertent
remark is met with threats of
boycotts and lawsuits. Their
insistent calls for censorship
should be resisted.
But there is also a grow-
ing awareness that this highly
aggressive form of comedy
does not come damage-free.
Perceptions are often shaped
through show business values,
especially among the young, and
a negative stereotype remains
a negative stereotype no matter
how many laughs it gets.
The recent onstage implosion
of comedian Michael Richards
went well across any permissible
line. But in terms of offensive
language, it was no nastier than
the material used by black come-
dians, such as Chris Rock, on a
regular basis.
Some performers recognize
this and have agreed to dial it

down. They will drop the "N"
word and the "F" word as well as
a few more letters of the alphabet
from their acts. They have come
to recognize that it is just a cheap
way to get laughs and does little
to sharpen their comedic skills.
In the hands of a master, such
as Richard Pryor or Lenny Bruce,
such language can illuminate
the strange quirks of life in a
bewildering world. But countless
others have accomplished the
same end while working clean.
Groucho Marx's screen persona
told us volumes about the role of
the Jew as the perpetual outsider
in language that never had to be
bleeped, while Jack Benny took a
Jewish stereotype and made his
miserliness an endearing trait.
Borat was a unique comic
adventure. But we can hope that
Cohen will use his enormous
comic talents to take his audi-
ence in other directions, too. Not
defanged, perhaps, but less cor-
rosive. ❑

Dry Bones


lz.04 fbK 6 oval 1



Ow! eo n



E-mail letters of no more


than 150 words to:

letters@thejewishnews.com .

Reality Check

The Livable City


t's starting to look as if
Detroit finally got it right.
At least, where downtown
is concerned.
After decades of building
monuments — the RenCen, the
People Mover, the casinos — it
is the human scale that has
restored life to the city's core.
The skating rink at Campus
Martius Park. The bars and res-
taurants springing up around
the stadiums. The lofts. The
planned river walk between
the Ambassador and Belle Isle
After the first version of the
RenCen was bungled, walled
off from downtown and facing
away from the river, General
Motors has turned it around.
You can actually see people
enjoying themselves in the
Winter Garden and two first-
class restaurants have moved


December 28 - 2006

into the complex.
I still don't think the casinos
are much of a positive, except
for those who own them. But
the Greektown Casino seems,
at least, to have reinvigorated
its immediate area because it
is embedded in the heart of
downtown. The other two are
off on the edge, along a freeway
So much is coming together.
Except for retail. I know there
are several small businessmen
in this community who have
persevered down there, through
bad times and good, and they
should be applauded. But I will
really believe in the comeback
of downtown when I see a
Target or a Gap or a Banana
Republic opening there.
One of the stops on the
People Mover is called Cadillac
Mall. The name is the last

vestige of one of
Coleman Young's big
dreams: An indoor
mall anchored by
Hudson's at one end
and a national retailer
at the other. But
Hudson's wouldn't
commit without the
second anchor store,
and no one was inter-
ested in coming to
Detroit back then.
I always thought a mall was
unnecessary, a suburban intru-
sion on an urban space. Part of
the fun of a downtown is the
spontaneity and sense of sur-
prise in its streets, instead of
the controlled environment of
a mall. But the ultimate goal is
still good.
There is also the matter of
expanding and renovating
Cobo Hall to make it corn-

petitive with other
major convention
centers. It will
require continu-
ation of a tax on
hotels in the metro
area; an invisible
tax because most
residents won't
have to pay it.
Oakland County
Executive L.
Brooks Patterson won't sup-
port it, though. A tax is a tax
from his point of view, and one
that doesn't directly benefit
Oakland is a bad tax.
Patterson has done a ter-
rific job for the county and his
record of responsible govern-
ment is unassailable. But he
can be maddeningly short-
Turning Cobo into a national
player for major conventions

is another important link in
downtown renewal. These
conventions are not likely to
choose Novi as an alternative
so the metro area becomes the
overall loser in the game.
The benefits to Oakland
County seem clear to me.
Anything that adds to the
health and livability of down-
town Detroit strengthens the
entire region in terms of tour-
ism and attractiveness to busi-
nesses looking to relocate.
It also will be one more
argument for the children of
Oakland residents to remain
in this area instead of moving
to "a real city." For a lot of his
constituents, that may be the
best reason of all. Li

George Cantor's e-mail address is

gcantor614@aol.com .

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