Monday, October 16, 2006

Playing with humor

Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" character from "The Ali G Show" took his characteristic deflation of pompous windbags to a new level this week, when he hosted a "press conference" outside of the Kazakhstani embassy in Washington Sept. 28. The conference was staged as a response to the "disgusting fabrications" made by Kazakhstan's press secretary in an earlier conference. Among them, that "we do NOT drink fermented horse urine, give death penalty for baking bagels, or export over 300 tons of human pubis per year."

While Borat has managed to provoke outrage in the Kazakhstani government, the citizens of Kazakhstan apparently could care less. Meanwhile, the government of the former Soviet bloc country has attempted several times to correct the misinformation about Kazakhstan propagated by Borat on the "Ali G Show" and, starting in November, by Borat's new movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." As prices soar, however, it seems the unknown but oil-rich country is positioning itself as a "destination," and is actively trying to promote its prestige, political influence, and economic development.

Seen by the Bush administration as a rare, pro-western version of other predominantly Muslim countries with substantial oil reserves, the Kazakhs are being courted despite their questionable record on democracy and human rights, illustrated most recently by the government's expulsion of two pro-democracy NGOs based in the U.S. It seems that the humor of Borat, which is predicated on his status as a "generic foreign guy," could be subject to some qualification in the future.

DI columnist Tyler Bleau

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