As we continue to be inundated with media coverage of restrictions and caseloads of COVID, the economy continues to suffer.
Being a global pandemic, it’s had a devastating effect on nearly every economy in the world, particularly those that depend on tourism for their survival.
In response, tourism boards have adopted unique ways to draw in visitors. But one nation has done an about-face when it comes to a particular personality that put them on the map.
Once so offended by the manner in which they were depicted by the internationally-popular film personality, Borat, the country of Kazakhstan has decided they might as well get a piece of the action and use it to their advantage.
After all, if the film pokes fun at them, they can poke fun at themselves, right? And the release of a Borat sequel provides the perfect opportunity.
But first, how did a character as stupid as Borat become so popular in the first place?
There’s a reason they’re called “Dad Jokes”
Now, between my family and friends, I’ve got a lot of great men in my life. And they all have one thing in common… they like stupid stuff.
These otherwise highly intelligent and hardworking men suddenly turn into giggling little boys when they find something completely stupid on TV.
Take, for example, The Three Stooges. They’re pop-culture icons because generations of men cannot get enough of them running into walls and smacking each other on the head. Flipping through channels, my husband will always stop when he finds a Stooges movie, his eyes lighting up with glee.
And I always give him the side-eye, wondering how on earth a grown man finds stuff like this so entertaining. “Come on, it’s hilarious!” he says. Did I really marry this guy?
Then there’s wrestling and sci-fi B movies, Jackass and Ridiculousness, and the inevitable Dad Jokes.
My husband thinks he’s hilarious when he asks the waitress for a wheelbarrow because he ate too much – every single time we eat out. And when we pre-empt his jokes and say his 20-year-old lines for him, he looks like a crestfallen kid.
Yep, I believe the demographic for stupid comedy is men ages 20 through 60 or so. They love to watch stupid stunts, they love pranks, and they especially love when someone gets hurt in the process.
They’re also the likely audience who made the idiot character of Borat an international success. Because I’m sure as heck not watching these films.
So, I’ll introduce this buffoon to my fellow ladies because if you’re familiar with this guy, I’m sure it’s the fault of a man in your life.
English comedian (I use “comedian” loosely) Sacha Baron Cohen has built his career on satirical comedy, mostly by pranking real, unsuspecting people on the street and filming their reactions.
His most famous character is Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev who travels to America to make a documentary on American culture.
Borat’s first trip to the U.S. takes place in the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
The plot involves Borat falling in love with the show Baywatch and stereotypical all-American girl Pamela Anderson (none of it’s real, guys, but I know you don’t care) and pursuing her to become his wife after he suddenly, and happily, becomes a widower.
He’s able to get away with a lot because he’s perceived as a naïve foreigner who understands nothing about American customs, and he got lots of interesting reactions from real Americans on the streets who weren’t aware of who this guy was.
The film premiered in 2006 when Kazakhstan was still recovering from being under Soviet control and working to brand their nation in a new way.
Borat portrayed Kazakhs as bumbling, primitive, naïve idiots and offended its countrymen at every opportunity, especially with his catchphrase of “Very nice!” in response to everything the rest of us may find offensive.
He characterized Kazakhs as uncivilized and unworldly, portraying them as drinking horse urine, being anti-Semitic, and viewing women as property.
Not surprisingly, real Kazakhs, both citizens and government officials, lambasted the film’s portrayal of their people and the movie was actually banned in the country.
The Kazakhstani government even threatened to sue Sacha Baron Cohen and released a four-page ad in the newspaper to slam the film and defend their nation’s honor.
But the movie was a huge hit everywhere else, garnering Cohen awards and accolades that shot him into stardom.
And, ironically, it made tourists want to flock to Kazakhstan to experience the culture of Borat’s homeland.
Now, Cohen’s second film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (or Borat 2), has been released in which the “journalist” returns to the U.S. to bring gifts to Mike Pence and ask Donald Trump for help in escaping a death sentence back home, presumably for the embarrassment he’s caused his people by being such an idiot.
Not everyone is thrilled by the movie’s release, however. In fact, movie posters have been removed from public transportation in Paris because the character allegedly mocks Muslims (who comprise a large portion of Paris’ population).
But in a complete 360, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Tourism is now embracing the Borat – the film, his bumbling and offensive personality, and his “Very nice!” catchphrase – in order to draw visitors back after the damage caused by COVID.
They’re hoping that by turning these sour lemons into lemonade, they’ll bring in more tourists than ever just as people begin to travel again.
And much of the credit for this change of heart is owed to an American man who, of course, saw the beauty and potential of Borat.
When the first movie premiered, Dennis Keen was a high school student looking to participate in a foreign exchange student program. Forget the typical trip to western Europe – Keen had seen Borat and decided on Kazakhstan.
He came back home to study at Stanford and formed a relationship with a professor from Kazakhstan while completing his education.
He loved the country so much, he moved there permanently, settled down, and now has a travel show on a state television channel. And he wanted to give back.
Keen partnered with a friend, Yermek Utemissov, who works in the film industry doing shoots in Kazakhstan, to pitch an idea to the Board of Tourism – use Borat to their advantage.
In a complete turnaround from their reaction to the first film, the Ministry of Tourism in Kazakhstan decided to adopt Borat as one of their own, and Keen and Utemissov got to work producing four online shorts that make “Very nice!” the new national motto.
In the shorts, real Kazakhs proudly walk the streets of their communities, pointing out local landmarks and declaring “Very nice!”
They want tourists to visit and see that there is much more to Kazakhstan than what Borat portrays.
After the furious reaction he got from the Kazakhstani government to the first film, Sacha Baron Cohen was steeling himself for more of the same – but was pleasantly surprised.
They now say they’d like to work with the comedian to bring more media attention to the nation, even inviting him to film there.
After all, negative attention is still attention. Ask any preschooler.
For his part, Cohen has praised Kazakhstan and made it clear that his films are comedic fiction, not fact, and appears happy to help the nation succeed in its endeavors to encourage tourism.
And this new tourism campaign seems to be working on this American. I’m actually considering checking out the Borat movies, at least to see what all the hype is about.
Maybe I’ll watch them with my husband. From what I can tell, their stupid content is right up his alley.