Unlike vast numbers of Americans, I didn’t go see Borat this week. Neither is it on my schedule for the future. Now, considering that theatres would be out of business if they relied on my patronage, not going might seem to be a simple decision. But it wasn’t. People whose views I trust told me that they have never, ever laughed as hard as they did while watching this movie. And after a vicious election season and surrounded as we are in the Northwest by grey skies, escaping into laughter would be welcome indeed.
So, why didn’t I go? It seemed that everyone felt that they had to add an explanatory note to their laughter:
“You’ll love it. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.”
“My stomach hurt from laughing.”
was inevitably followed by:
“Of course, I had to cover my eyes at some points because it was so vulgar.” And
“It was way over the top sometimes.”
So, why did I decide not to go? Aside from the fact that I am highly intolerant of bad language, which in itself might have me cringing as much as laughing, I mostly didn’t go out of fear that I too would find myself laughing uncontrollably. The opening sentence of the very first Psalm in King David’s book starts with the words, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” continues with “nor stands in the way of sinners” and concludes with “nor sits in the seat of scorners.” There is clearly a progression here. In increasing order of involvement we have walking with –an almost casual connection, moving on to standing –stopping and paying attention, and then the most serious involvement – sitting down with someone. And who is the person whom we have to fear sitting with? In Hebrew, the word translated as scorner is “laytz”, from which comes the word “laytzan”, meaning a clown. King David is warning us that humor can be incredibly dangerous. Skilled people can get us to laugh at things we truly value and by laughing, we diminish those things. If we value purity of language, or our country, or relationships between men and women, or people treating a stranger hospitably, but are moved to laughter when they are abused or mocked, then we have tarnished those things.
So I’m not going to see Borat; not so much out of a fear that I won’t find it funny, but more out of a fear that I will.