Sunday, October 29, 2006
Oh, to be in Boratstan (Kazakhstan)
Reading Carole Cadwalladr's delightful account of her trip to Kazakhstan in The Guardian helped to lighten up this morning's surfing in cyberspace.
"Oh, Borat has got it all wrong. Everyone I meet is in agreement on this. Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is not a totalitarian dictator; he is only moderately repressive: banning and intimidating opposition parties, jailing the odd journalist, etc. The country's national drink is not horse piss; it is fermented horse milk that merely tastes of piss. And Jew-baiting is not, actually, a national sport. It's more of a hobby, as in the phrase 'You're as tight as a Jew' or the practice of making 'a Jewish phone call' (when you get the other party to call you back on your landline).
Dilyara, a fresh-faced student of economics in the city of Karaganda, who's showing us around the place and has lived in the States, is quite clear on this. 'There's an image of Jewish people being mean and crafty and good with money but I don't think many people have actually met them. We have Jews but they tend not to announce themselves.'
And then she takes us - Steve, my travelling companion, and me - into a cafe where we have a bit of cake.
'What's it called?' I ask.
'The cake? It is known as "nigger in the foam".'
So, you see, wrong, wrong, wrong. Or, perhaps, just a little bit right. And although the sequences in Sacha Baron Cohen's new film, Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan, that purport to be in Kazakhstan were filmed in Romania, he didn't pick Romania, or Belarus, or Uzbekistan. He picked Kazakhstan.
Poor Kazakhstan. First Stalin, now Borat. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the government and its blundering attempts to first sue Cohen and then hire a Western PR firm and launch a debunking marketing offensive - although the fact that Nazarbayev is alleged to have stashed $80m in an offshore account goes some way to mitigating my feelings in this."
No pause even on Sunday. In fact the tempo is increasing. Not a tv watcher, I miss most of them -- the slanderous ads, messages full of innuendos and spin. Just reading about them makes me sick. Among the many items to be found about this very American practice, Bob Hill's column in The Courier Journal (Louisville, KY) stands out. This is what he wrote about the impressions of children in a grade school:
- Campaign ads are resonating out of the mud
- Memo To: Anne Northup, John Yarmuth, Mike Sodrel, Baron Hill, and, OK, since you're coming to town, President Bush.
- Subject: America's children.
- It's also so important in this era of declining family values that we teach our children to respect one another, to always tell the truth. That's why I carefully taped several of your political messages and took them to a local grade school to show the kids.
- You would have been pleased. Your messages are getting out. One of the children said the commercials made him sad because it reminded him of the way Mommy and Daddy behaved just before they got divorced.
- Another child said she wanted to work in politics when she grew up because people got to tell lots of lies and make fun of each other and didn't even have to go to their rooms.
- Thank you for being such role models to our future generations. I know that's just one reason why you devote so much time and money to achieve higher office.
- Commercial controversy
- I don't mean to give you full credit for helping America's children in these confused and troubled times. In fact, one of the more precocious children mentioned he had heard his Mommy talking about Rush Limbaugh criticizing Michael J. Fox for shaking so much during a commercial.
- Limbaugh had said Fox was either faking his Parkinson's disease symptoms or had not been taking his drugs. The child wondered why Mr. Limbaugh would want to make fun of a sick man -- even if he did apologize later.
- Maybe one of you could answer that? I couldn't. All I could say was maybe Mr. Limbaugh already knew quite a bit about drugs and was willing to share his expertise.
- What I do know for certain is that your thoughtful words and campaign strategies have finally united our bitterly divided country. It's hard to go anywhere and not find somebody wanting to borrow an old 7-iron.
- Some of our most angry citizens have even suggested that the best way to cure Iraqis of wanting democracy is to ship over a few hours of our political commercials.
- I won't go that far. I still believe in politics -- and the Tooth Fairy. I know when all the mud clears you'll go back to talking about honesty, integrity, the need for good role models, always doing the right thing.
- You'll be more than willing to go into schools to explain to children that sometimes you just have to tell lies and have your friends make fun of sick people to get to be a role model. They'll understand. Please don't forget your Bibles or other religious text for the swearing-in ceremonies.
- I'm Bob Hill, and I approve this memo.
Bob Hill's column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at (502) 582-4646 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column, and read his blog and previous columns, at www.courier-journal.com/bobhill.