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Thursday, November 02, 2006

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 fueling 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, effectively 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.

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