May 7, 2010
Borat, the Blogosphere and the Law:
Panda Kroll ('00)
writes on Humor in the Court
When Panda Kroll (’00) first saw the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, she didn’t realize that the vast majority of people with whom Borat interacts were unaware of the filmmaker's intentions. After hearing that many of the lawsuits which duped participants filed were dismissed in the pleading stage based on First Amendment defenses, Kroll decided to investigate further.
Kroll’s curiosity in the subject was piqued, and she began working to find and compile the pleadings. With her research, she decided to create a blog, Humor in the Court, following the Borat litigation and tracking each case as it developed.
“I am interested in how ‘mischief’ can serve a public interest in exposing ignorance and racism, and how First Amendment protection can lead to unexpected and perhaps unintended results,” Kroll said. “If for no other reason, the film is interesting for how it portrays the clash of Western and post-Soviet cultures.”
Kroll also attributes her interest in the Borat litigation to a mix between the two sides of her family. Her brother produces prank and reality TV shows, her father-in-law serves as a foreign consultant to the State Department, and her husband’s family are of Central Asian ethnicity, “like the fictional Borat character."
The lawsuits filed against the Borat movie are many and varied, providing practical lessons about the law.
“The most interesting practical ruling is that you can be bound by a contract you signed without reading even if you are told outright lies about the terms, as long as the alleged lie is specifically waived in the contract,” Kroll said.
One of the more bizarre rulings that came out of litigation concerns the producer's motivations in creating the film.
“The most esoteric ruling is that the producers were justified in (albeit gently) exploiting, deceiving and humiliating those featured in the film because Borat teaches us about ‘otherness,’ which is a philosophical concept about alienation,” she said.
Bruno, another Sacha Baron Cohen film exploring similar themes, has prompted Kroll to start following the litigation and controversy that surrounds it. A Palestinian national who claims he is portrayed as a terrorist and did not sign a release form filed the most notable case against Bruno producers.
“Interestingly, the first motion by the producers argues that the case should be dismissed because Palestine is not recognized by the U.S. State Department,” said Kroll, who will track the case on her blog as it develops.
Kroll, who teaches classes in business law and critical thinking at California State University Channel Island, uses the Borat litigation as a practical component to her class.
“The film is not only entertaining to students, it also triggers discussions about racism, privacy, and human nature, especially our vulnerability to fraud when our vanity is stroked,” Kroll said. “The litigation is exciting for my 18-year-old students because they find that even judges admit that mischief serves a purpose.”
For more information on the Borat and Bruno litigation, read Kroll’s blog, Humor in the Court.
Reported by Christine Lindberg
Photo courtesy of Panda Kroll