Duluth News-Tribune, Minn., Robin Washington Column: ?Borat’ Ruse Leads to Texas Soul-Searching

By Robin Washington, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Nov. 29–I had no intention of writing about Borat a second time, and if you had decided against seeing his “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” don’t let this change your mind.

But this is less about Borat or his creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, or any of his other multiple personalities than it is about those targeted for his ruse.

Like Kathy Gordon.

“We got Borated,” she said from her Serengeti Ranch near Segovia, Texas, returning my call after the column ran with the story of her family’s encounter with the fake Kazakh.

As reported, her husband, Gene, the proprietor of the penned-in exotic animal hunting farm, was caught on camera sharing a conversation about how neat it would be to hunt Jews with the prodding imposter journalist. The footage didn’t make the movie or Cohen’s late-night HBO show but has been circulating on the ‘Net for years.

Gene Gordon never saw it.

“He died 2 1/2 years ago. He was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Kathy Gordon said, readily acknowledging a lot of people wouldn’t agree.

Unlike the South Carolina frat boys who filed suit against Cohen claiming they were too drunk to be held responsible for their on-camera racist remarks, she isn’t blaming anybody for setting up her husband.

“I’m a former model and I know to use your picture you have to sign a release,” she said, not disputing the one they signed was ironclad. “It was a foolish thing to do.”

And his remarks were his own.

“Gene’s daughter thinks that Borat cut and spliced it. I’m not so sure about that,” she said.

Not that Cohen didn’t pull any tricks of his own.

“Borat presented himself as a Jew-hating Muslim. I even made them lunch and he said, ‘Oh, I’m a Muslim,’ so I had to make him a separate meal,” she said of antics that don’t appear in the footage.

Attempting to salvage her late husband’s reputation, Gordon insists he really didn’t think that way.

“He had very many Jewish friends. He wasn’t prejudiced, but he was from that era when people thought those jokes were funny,” she said.

“Charles Barkley is his idol,” she continued, switching into the present tense as people do when speaking of those they love who have departed.

I was just about to lecture her on the offensiveness of the some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish and I-like-black-sports-figures defense when she said: “He still doesn’t believe that O.J. killed anybody.”

I offered instead to buy Gene’s spirit a copy of “If I Did It” off eBay.

We both laughed. Then she sobered to say to the world: “I apologize.”

Whether that will be enough to take back her husband’s outrageous remarks, who knows? By her own standards, Kathy Gordon is not so forgiving, allowing no absolution for similar rants from Michael Richards and Mel Gibson.

But there is some change at the Serengeti Ranch; the penned-in exotic animals are now for show, not for killing.

“I just love to look at them and I can’t imagine shooting one,” she said, explaining the place has evolved into a bed-and-breakfast animal sanctuary.

So if I said last week this black and Jewish writer wasn’t likely to visit a certain ranch in Texas, maybe that’s changed, too. It’s run by a woman who still loves a man who went to his grave needing to learn a lot about tolerance, even if she hasn’t fully accepted that.

But at least we got to talk about it. For that, we have Borat to thank.

Robin Washington is editorial page editor of the News Tribune and a commentator on National Public Radio’s “News & Notes.”


Copyright (c) 2006, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.