So, it finally happened. Borat came to my hometown. Folks were a little upset. Let me explain.
I grew up in Macon, Ga. Naturally, we lived next door to a professional wrestler. While you may not have spent much time in Georgia, you are likely familiar with our chief exports: Hip Hop, casual racism, and airplane parts.
For those unfamiliar with the Peach State, I like to describe it as America’s Australia. Both began as prison colonies. Both are populated by people with fun accents. And both are crawling with incredibly deadly snakes and spiders.
The only real difference is that in Australia, Burger Kings are called Hungry Jack’s due to trademark issues. I imagine that in Australia, Chick-fil-A’s would be called Church’s Chicken, which will lead to further confusion in the future.
Focusing on Macon, which is featured in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s debutante ball scene, we find some additional quirks. Our minor league baseball team is the Macon Bacon (with in-state rivals the Savannah Bananas). Children are warned not to handle the local armadillo population, as they carry leprosy. And there are more churches than people.
Of course, there’s the high crime rates and the blight problem (nature reclaiming abandoned houses), but the local Baptists manage to stay busy by keeping tabs on those squirrelly Presbyterians.
It’s important to remember that Macon was the host of Oprah’s 2007 “Favorite Things” episode after it was revealed that pretty much half the city tuned into Oprah each afternoon. Real talk, Oprah could easily hold office in middle Georgia.
Local landmark the Hay House plays host to the coming-out party for Borat’s daughter, Tutar, played impeccably by Maria Bakalova. According to an interview with Hay House’s operations manager, the building was rented and filming was conducted “under false pretenses.” They simply thought this would be nothing more than your usual debutante ball (whatever that means). That was not the case.
The scene begins with a disguised Borat and his daughter being introduced to a room of unknowing party guests decked out in tuxedos and ballgowns. You can tell this is a fancy occasion because many attendees are seen gripping cans of Budweiser Hard Seltzer in their elbow-length evening gloves.
As Borat mingles with the other fathers in attendance, one man looks at Tutar and proclaims, “That’s what we love in the South. Pretty girls: They’re fun.”
Keep in mind the original purpose behind debutante balls. These were events intended to present young women who have come of age to local wealthy bachelors. At one point, Borat asks another father how much he thinks his daughter is worth?
“$500,” the man replies as his own daughter tugs at his jacket, urging him to disengage. She chastises her father, who just assigned a monetary value to another person, saying, “That’s fucking gross.”
Yes. It is.
This is the point where the Hay House manager says things became “risqué,” and they rushed to shut down filming. Tutar tells her father that her period has arrived, which leads Borat to insist they perform their traditional fertility dance.
As guests clap along to the music, Borat and Tutar bounce and gyrate more aggressively. Whirling her skirt, Tutar reveals her underwear as they become more and more soaked through with menstrual fluid.
Guests look on dumbstruck and disgusted as the performance ends in a flourish, Borat gesturing down at his daughter’s area, while she lies on her back with legs akimbo, presenting to the crowd.
As gross-out comedy goes, this is great. But there’s something more to this scene. If you weren’t tipped off by the man quoting a dollar rate for Tutar, this scene showcases something sinister about our views on female sexuality and how young women are valued.
Here we have a formal occasion, but behind all the refinement and etiquette is a tradition based in presenting women who have reached maturity to young, wealthy suitors. It’s not subtle, but confronting these people with the actual, biological reality of being a woman is a great way to satirize the ugliness that sits just below the surface.
Speaking of looking a little deeper, I decided to look into the history of the Hay House. Since they were so aghast at Borat’s hijinks that they immediately shut down filming and commenced to pearl-clutching, let’s get to know more about this opulent estate.
The Hay House is one of those historical landmarks that lots of towns have. You recognize it by name. You probably went there on a field trip. You never, ever think about it.
Going off of the information provided on the Hay House website, the 18,000-square-foot mansion “was built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, a marked contrast to the Greek Revival architecture of the antebellum period.” OK. That’s interesting. But what about its original owner?
“William Butler Johnston was not the typical nineteenth-century Southerner,” the website explains. “He obtained his substantial wealth through investments in banking, railroads, and public utilities rather than from the agrarian cotton economy of the time.”
Of course, by “the agrarian cotton economy of the time,” they mean the thriving cotton industry made possible through the enslavement of human beings. They make a real effort to not mention slavery, while also taking an extra step to assure you that this William Butler Johnson guy wasn’t one of those evil slaveowners, so you can feel comfortable walking around in his fancy, old mansion.
What they don’t mention is that while “Johnston was not the typical nineteenth-century Southerner,” he held a high position in the Confederate treasury. He didn’t make his fortune from a plantation, but he held the purse strings for those who did. Beneath all the pristine architecture and ornate furnishings, this is another ugly reality.
It’s hard to discuss gross-out satire like Borat without mentioning the work of Jonathan Swift. Swift is perhaps best well-known for writing Gulliver’s Travels and penning a satirical cookbook for Irish newborns. But he also wrote a poem examining the realities behind feminine beauty habits.
“The Lady’s Dressing Room” describes the sights and smells that a man encounters after sneaking into his beloved’s bathroom chamber. Inside he is shocked to find soiled linens, brushes caked with dandruff and powder, and a messy collection of ointments, salves, and other beauty products of the era. It’s the inelegant truth behind what it takes to meet high society’s strict beauty standards.
For its mentions of bodily fluids, the poem earned Swift a fair amount of criticism. The most memorable was a poem written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu titled “The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to Write a Poem Call’d The Lady’s Dressing Room.”
In the poem, Montagu imagines Swift enlisting the services of a prostitute, only to come down with an unfortunate case of impotence. After the sex worker refuses to provide Swift a refund, he threatens to describe her bathroom chamber in an effort to turn away any potential customers.
The quick-witted sex worker replies, “I’m glad you’ll write. You’ll furnish paper when I shite.” This is a killer verse, by the way.
Almost 300 years have passed since Swift and Montagu had their poetic beef over high society and ladies’ unmentionables, and still we find satirists revisiting the topic.
Satirists like Sacha Baron Cohen.
With that said, I grew up in Macon, raised by large-breasted Southern women who all speak loudly and at the same time. They don’t have filters and they never attended any debutante balls. They’re self-conscious, yet unapologetic.
Tennessee Williams once wrote, “Nothing human disgusts me… unless it is unkind or violent.” So with that in mind, I’m glad Borat came to Macon and his daughter perioded all over the Confederate treasurer’s floor.
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