Public Relations 101


ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Sayat Tour, a leading Kazakh tour operator, announced today several new tours for Americans and others who are willing to travel to Kazakhstan and see for themselves what the real country, not the Borat’s version, is really like.

The tours, called “Kazakhstan vs. Boratistan” and “Jagzhemash!!! See the Real Kazakhstan”, include visits to the cosmopolitan Almaty and its beautiful surroundings, tours of ancient sites such as the Hodja Akhmed Yassaui Mausoleum in Turkestan, as well as plentiful opportunities to meet and interact with the real Kazakhs. In addition to sightseeing, tours also include visits to local colorful bazaars, artifact shops and high fashion boutiques, as well as trying kumyss, the deliciously tasting Kazakh traditional drink made from fermented horse milk.

Marianna Tolekenova, Sayat’s Executive Director, said: “With the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, we are hoping many Americans will want to engage in ‘cultural learnings’ of that unknown ‘glorious nation’ for their own ‘make benefit.’ That is why we are launching these new tours and hoping the Americans will come visit us.”

Earlier in October 2006, a high ranking Kazakh official said the creator of Borat, British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, would be welcome in Kazakhstan. First Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliyev said, “His trip could yield a lot of discoveries — that women not only travel inside buses but also drive their own cars, that we make wine from grapes, that Jews can freely attend synagogues and so on.”

Update (11/13): In response to a comment by Greg Kuperberg, I’ve now reached a halakhic ruling on the morality of Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics. Go to the comments section if you want to read it.

10 Responses to “Public Relations 101”

  1. Anonymous Says:


  2. Anonymous Says:

    This is a refreshingly sane reaction to the mischaracterization of a nation. (Even if you take into account that that mischaracterization was only done in jest anyway).

  3. Anonymous Says:

    What’s the point of this post?

  4. Scott Says:

    What’s the point of this post?

    I dunno — what’s the point of this entire blog?

    (I’m assuming, of course, that all my readers have seen the Borat movie by now…)

  5. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I did see the Borat movie, as I suppose “everyone” did. It was funny, but I have to say that I agree with John Tierney’s column.

  6. Scott Says:

    OK, I’ve reached a halakhic ruling on the morality of Borat, one that balances the number of innocent lives ruined with the funniness of the jokes.

    My ruling?

    1. Obviously, Cohen could just as easily be picking on Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. But it has to be a country that Americans vaguely know exists but don’t anything about; otherwise the joke wouldn’t work.

    2. The reason the movie is unfair to Kazakhs is that Kazakhs have more-or-less adopted Western values. But crucially, Americans don’t know that they have. From Americans’ perspective, Borat might as well have arrived in a time machine from the 14th century — and that is exactly how Cohen wants it.

    3. On the casual misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc. of those who haven’t adopted Western values, Borat gets it completely right and Tierney gets it completely wrong. Borat is showing us something we all instinctively know: that equal rights, feminism, democracy, toilet training, etc. are incredibly modern inventions on the timescale of human civilization. They’re not things that come at all naturally to people; they’re things that need to be explicitly taught and then regularly enforced. (Well, maybe not the toilet training.)

    4. One thing Cohen can be rightly criticized for is the vast amount of deception that goes into setting up the interviews — not just the obvious deception you see onscreen, but the bigger deceptions beforehand, including a misleading consent form signed under rushed circumstances. (Apparently Borat himself only shows up at the last minute.)

    5. Cohen can also be criticized for showing only those segments of interviews that are maximally embarrassing to the subject — apparently, any clip where the subject gets the better of him is ruthlessly edited out. This is one of the many things that make Borat’s antics useless as sociology experiments.

    6. Apparently several people’s lives have been ruined as a result of being interviewed by Borat — and except for arrogant public figures like James Broadwater, I don’t think any of them deserved it. It’s a sad fact of human nature that almost any of us can be goaded into doing idiotic things or agreeing with barbaric sentiments. And yet, instead of making the audience see that universal truth, Borat makes them laugh at the particular people he’s chosen to illustrate it. I’m sure that’s not the outcome Cohen wants.

    7. So, weighing 1-3 against 4-6, can we reach a verdict? Yes, we can. Borat was too funny a movie not to make. However, Sacha Baron Cohen now has an ethical obligation to share some of the movie’s profits with the people whose lives were unjustly ruined in its making. If he doesn’t do that voluntarily, I hope those people win the inevitable lawsuits that are already starting to be filed against him.

  7. RubeRad Says:

    I haven’t seen the movie (yet), but Re #5, I think it would be funnier if such scenes were left in (as long as his victims get the better of him without actually unmasking him as a fake — that would ruin the joke). Vicious comedy is always funnier with some self-deprecation thrown in.

    I remember seeing an interview with the Farrelly bros (Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, Something About Mary, etc.) where they described how in all of their movies they include a scene to make their main idiots sympathetic (like in Dumb & Dumber when Jim Carrey emotes about not wanting to be stuck in their pathetic little lives) — otherwise the whole movie looks mean-spirited.

    Same principle here, I think.

  8. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Cohen can also be criticized for showing only those segments of interviews that are maximally embarrassing to the subject — apparently, any clip where the subject gets the better of him is ruthlessly edited out.

    But the problem is that Cohen often doesn’t even win on those terms. Some of the victims that he portrayed as bigots never actually said or did anything bigoted. The rodeo manager and the frat boys got caught with their pants down, but the others didn’t.

    For example, there was the dinner listed at the “Magnolia Mansion Dining Society” in Birmingham, actually at Magnolia Springs Mansion. It was depicted as being on “Secession Drive”. But that part was fake. There are Secession Drives in a few places in the South, but the rented mansion for that dinner is not one of them. It is also true that they threw “Borat” out after the black prostitute showed up. But that was because she was dressed as a prostitute and because he had been awful all evening, not because she was black. They supposed, correctly as it turns out, that if they had not thrown him out, he would have moved onto sexual provocations. (That is what he and the actress did at another similar dinner in Mississippi.)

    It isn’t fair or constructive to falsely accuse people of racism. If Cohen is going to pull pranks to make a point, he should first be right.

  9. John Sidles Says:

    “Sarcasm is the language of the devil, for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.” — Thomas Carlyle

    But my wife says it even better: “It is not enough to be right, one must also be kind.”

    But, is it really possible to be both kind and funny? To achieve this state of ultimate enlightenment, we must seek the wisdom of the master.

  10. Killjoy Says:

    Meanwhile, the prospect of two—make that three—civil wars, with wider repercussions, looms ever larger in the Middle East. In such a context Cohen’s/Borat’s brand of humor strikes me as a worthless distraction.