When you prick a Central Asian Republic, does it not bleed? No. It takes down a website and threatens to sue. And then, for the second time in 10 months, it takes out a four-page ad in The New York Times.
Perhaps in response to Borat: Cultural Learnings of American For to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the government of the former Soviet satellite is embarking on an all-out PR rampage. The nation’s leaders are unhappy with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and his alter ego, an earnest Kazakh reporter named Borat, and they’re possessed of enough oil to bring our president’s attention to the subject. Which means there is an excellent chance that George W. Bush will actually watch Borat — and, in doing so, witness one of the most protracted naked-manfights ever put on film. (This gives me untold delight.)
Now, the Kazakhstan of Borat is about as reality-based as the Transylvania of Bela Lugosi. Even some Kazakhs (at least, those not in government jobs) think Cohen’s spoof is funny. But their well-traveled leaders know how thick and literal-minded Americans are. So they’ve provided us with something we can understand: puff pieces, accompanied by neatly-laid out facts and figures.
The ad (starting on page A-11 of yesterday’s issue) is one of thefaux-article jobbies, designed to blend with adjacent news stories. InKZ’s defense, the section’s ”stories” quote (among others) a ”wellknown Turkish architect” who swears that ”nothing disturbing happens tome here.” A German travel agent recommends the country to businesstravelers and blurrily avers that ”the trend for combining work andplay is up, but you can’t go anywhere but up when you start from zero.”OK!
The ad is trying to address Western concerns about KZ head-on.There’s an insistence on religious tolerance and gender equality, alongwith a hard look at the nation’s history-bequeathed liabilities. ”Aninheritance isn’t always a blessing,” one piece begins,conversationally. ”What do you do if you inherit over a thousandnuclear warheads and a nuclear test bomb site?” At one point, the adnotes, with Borat-like candor, that KZ has ”more babies with birthdefects than elsewhere in the world.”
This sort of hard-sell has the lightly absurd side-effect ofmimicking Borat’s Kazakh National Anthem. (”Kazakhstan is number one /Exporter of potassium / All other Central Asian Nations / Have inferiorpotassium.”)
When the movie actually opens, and people figure out that Cohen’s Borat isn’t Kazakh-derived at all, but a clear descendant of Turkish Internet icon Mahir, and that the movie is an epic evisceration of the U.S., not Kazakhstan, will the American government take out its own 4-page horn-tooter? And will Mahir still be in a kissing mood?