Sunday, October 22, 2006

Making Frontpage News in Norway

A story partly based on a recent piece on Borat and Kazakhstan published on this weblog, today made the frontpage of the Norwegian daily Aftenposten - Norway's second largest newspaper with a circulation of about 300,000 copies.

The real argument of the Aftenposten story is that the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has to periodically invent new role characters. Once roles such as Ali G or now Borat become publicly known, Cohen can no longer use them, as people know that their legs are being pulled. The absurd and very politically incorrect ideas that he expresses, provoke either support or confusion, but very seldom dissent. Politicians, businessmen or ordinary people are thus made out as fools or spineless.

As for the Aftenposten story, it ends with the argument on this blog, that Borat may actually be doing Kazakhstan a favour, by belittlement of problems with the oppressive and corrupt Nazarbayev regime. Can really a country with people as funny as Borat be all that bad when even the most despicable dictator appears to be a mere clown? Well, only the western public can judge, as "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is not likely to hit the cinemas of Astana and Almaty.


ChrisM said...

Re. the Borat film (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), BBC World have just broadcast a news report on the film's premiere in London. Check out for a video clip of it...

Anonymous said...

Building a Better Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen's bully behavior will hit the screen shortly. True, this cultural comedian has made a career out of carpet bombing, not sharp shooting. However, given his disapproval rating, he still can be a positive force.

What do the filthy rich Genghis Khans on the Eurasian Street share with the ethnocentric Cartmans on both sides of the Atlantic? They all need a cultural education.

Of course, Sacha’s career is his to make. But, hypothetically speaking, if he ever chooses to venture beyond his spicier replica of South Park — for “make benefit” of humanity — he needs to do several things. And here's the roadmap:

• enhance his CQ (cultural intelligence)
• eliminate grossly inaccurate, inconsistent, and offensive content
• equip his character with traits that would reposition him from an agent provocateur to an agent of change
• enrage the regimes, not the rank and file
• entertain, engage, educate

These add-ons would help him strike a balance between his provocative value and, let’s say, his “perestroika 2” value. (By all means, his character could do better culturally than Rambo!)

I'm not talking about outright clientitis, such as that found in the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship. I'm talking about creative cultural ambassadorship — building bridges, not burning them.

With globalization on the march, the West often takes too many things for granted. The truth is, different cultures still react to humor differently, especially if it’s black humor. Take the case of the Danish cartoons and the Vatican’s pontifications on Islam. Stereotyped, culturally irresponsible depictions of the developing world create humor on one side and hostility on the other. They entertain Western audiences only at the expense of fuelling extremism and alienating the cultures depicted. On neither side of the twisted window do good things really happen. And one can’t get away with cultural murder in the global village.

By now, it appears that Astana’s angry backlash, followed by a public relations mobilization, has softened to a cooperative approach. Concerned with its image among Western investors and policy makers, the Nazarbayev regime has made moves to befriend the comedian, inviting him on a see-for-yourself trip to Kazakhstan. Because anger amounts to an acceptance of fault, the Nazarbayev regime has put on a smile, essentially telling Sacha that he is barking up the wrong tree.

Once again, the idea is not to have Borat castrated in politically correct terms. The idea is to have a character like Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) from the Naked Gun series, or a culturally-savvy performer like Weird al Yankovic. The idea is to spread democracy through a principle immortalized in Aesop's fable “The Wind and the Sun.”

That’s the only way the sun of Westernization can rise over Eurasia, extending the blessings of civilization not just to the post-Soviet sultans but to the subjects as well.

Lastly, of the 15,300,000 people that make up Kazakhstan’s population, an estimated 550,000 are of Ukrainian descent:)

lilfeathers2000 said...

I could care less about Borat. Oh well write me off to a fickle American
Have A God Blessed Week!!!!

Megan Case said...

So have you seen the film yet? It's not playing in Falun! :-(

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Yes, I saw the film on Friday, on its opening night in Stockholm. Even if it mainly puts the US in a bad light, I cannot say there is reason to review my opinion on the effects of the film.

Lifeinside Reincarnated said...

Hi there. I had changed my site link from blogspot to wordpress. Thanks for linking me :) Have a good day.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Lifeinside,

My pleasure, though your blog now seems to have vanished from my blogroll. That usually happens for either of three reasons:

1) A blog goes into hiatus;
2) A blog stops dealing with aspects of Eurasia;
3) A simple mistake has been made while meddling with the template.