Sunday, November 05, 2006


I'm eagerly awaiting a bootleg copy of the Borat movie. We Peace Corps volunteers appreciate it on a much different level than most Americans, since this is stuff we see every day. Obviously, Borat is highly highly highly exaggerated; I'm not saying any Moldovan thinks women have smaller brains than men, nor is Moldova an incestuous breeding ground that prides itself on its prostitutes, as is Borat's version of Kazakhstan. But the little things, like how Borat will shake every man's hand in the room and kiss him on the cheeks and not even acknowledge the women in the room, or how Borat offers his driving instructor a drink, or how his suitcase falls open on the subway to let several chickens loose, remind me of things that I see in Moldova nearly every day.

Borat's "Kazakh village" was in fact filmed in Romania, so it was fun to watch the first four minutes of the film on YouTube and know what all these villagers were saying to Borat. His "wife," Oxana, didn't say what the sub-titles say, but she did say some incredibly dirty stuff.

When I was in Bucharest the other day, I talked to a college student who said she was ashamed that Borat filmed in her country. This is one of the problems with the Borat character: he's picked an easy target. American audiences are bound to laugh at how "strange" traditions are in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but they easily forget that some of the backward views held by Borat were widely held in America as little as 50 years ago, and are held by some in America even today. Sascha Baron Cohen has the chance to take his characters into the realm that Andy Kaufman did with his, but right now there is a major difference; Kaufman didn't think twice about insulting and offending his audience, whereas Baron Cohen plays it safe and exploits people that few Americans will ever come into contact with.

So yes, I think Borat has a step or two to go developmentally before he reaches comic genius. But without a doubt, the movie is funny, and I, along with practically every volunteer I talk to in Moldova, can't wait to see more than what we've caught on YouTube.


P.S. Borat's usage of the Cyrillic alphabet has no connection with the actual usage of the letters. I was very disappointed when I knew the alphabet well enough to realize it was all a sham. Not even the spelling of Borat's name on posters is correct. The Cyrillic letter used in place of an "A" is in fact a Cyrillic "D".



At 4:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insights -- and it's good to have you back.
Aunt Paula

At 4:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

weeks away from us, and that's the best you've got?! The Cyrillic is wrong?! I expected more from you Peter.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
thanks for your email btw. I was out travelling and was not able to answer in time! I hope are doing ok and not freezing in Meseni! Do you have your own cuptor/soba?

Anyway, regarding Borat, I have seen him so many times on YouTube that when I saw the move I kinda expected a bit more from him. But it is really funny for us Europeans to watch Borats' adventures in US and A! Where can you see the movie?
Best wishes from Sweden,

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

To Claire, my dear sister:

1. Read my October 5th entry.
2. Shut up.
3. Where's your blog? Oh yeah, you last updated it about a year ago.
4. Yeah, yeah, I'm writing more.... How many hours a week do you teach?

Yeah, I've got my own soba, and my raion finally got a shipment of coal. I didn't know we had coal until I opened the soba door and coal came spilling out. Live and learn.
- Peter

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe this film is pure rubbish. No wonder Russia banned it from their cinemas. Good for them! It is offensive to people's nationality, culture and religion.
I really don't understand why people choose to watch foolish things and moreover enjoy them, but this might be the reason for so many "celebrities" out there.
BTW, i can't remember seeing suitcases falling open to let several chicken loose on the streets of Moldova. Nor can i remember men kissing on the cheeks.

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Tom said...

I think the point of Borat is not to make fun of his character, but to use it as a vehicle to have fun with or bring out hidden sides of the people he interacts with.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh lighten up!!! First, Borat is making as much fun of Americans as he is of Kazakhs (or Eastern Europeans more generally). The part that makes him so funny, at least to me, is not so much how he describes where he lives, as the reactions he gets from his audience -- ranging from discomfort, to uneasy acceptance. It's the same reason people laugh at his Ali G character when he interviews heads of state, or his Bruno character, a flaming homosexual from Sweden, gets when interviewing Alabama football players. Borat is just as much a comment on American's stereotypes of anyone who doesn't live in the "1st world," as it is of Kazakhstan or anywhere else.

Second, banning of the movie in Russia and Kazakhstan is just making a mountain out of a molehill. I was in Kazakhstan when they accused him of "working for a foreign power to defame Kazakhstan" and when they threatened to sue him (until finding out that no international court would hear a case involving satire). Ironically, almost none of the students I worked with had ever heard of him until this happened. And the Kazakh press, which is tightly controlled by Nazarbayev's family and close political allies, never mentioned him until the government denounced his performance at the MTV Europe music awards. Even more ironically, as an article in CACI Analyst pointed out, the press has actually been able to use Borat as an indirect way to criticize their government's excesses in controlling media expression.

On the point of it being insulting to a country's nationality, culture and religion... Are we really going to support the argument that government's can ban things which insult "Russianness," "Romanianness," or, as has been in the press recently, "Turkishness." I'm sure Yakoff Smirnov was banned in the Soviet Union for similar reasons. What about jokes about rednecks, blondes, "Polacks," Jews, or any other group for that matter. Should Lisa Lamponelli be banned from everywhere because she insults every nationality, race and religion equally? Actually, most stand-up comedy acts on some type of stereotype and tends to insult groups based on, often ignorant, generalizations...maybe we should just get rid of the trade altogether...

Ok, it's late, I've had little sleep, and am beginning to exaggerate. I guess my point is this. If some people find it funny, it's not up to me to decide what is "rubbish" or not for others. If the film is truly insulting to Russians, Romanians and Kazakhs, then they should have the choice not to go see it. If they are worried about how it affects the view of their country by others, then they should do exactly what the Kazakh government is doing now and present a different image (witness their ads on CNN and The New York Times). The first person to throw an insult instead of a stone started civilization. In the same way, it is the people who are willing to stand up and argue against a point they think is "rubbish" rather than those who ban it that contribute to the development of society.

I for one agree with Peter and can't wait to see it. :)

At 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS...There has been at least one incidence of a Moldovan bringing baby chickens onto a crowded marshrutka (shuttle bus) in Chisinau, the largest city in Moldova, that I am aware of. Come to think of it, the anonymous post is right, they weren't in a suitcase, they were in a wooden box.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

Reuters proves my point:
Stand-in village for Borat's hometown furious

Also, oddly enough, the Romanian village, Glod, means "mud" in Romanian. Speaking of which, the roads in my village are starting to get really really muddy. Luckily, they'll all be under several inches of ice and snow in a month.

- Peter

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that initially Borat was moldovan reporter, then albanin and after a while sasha cohen decided to become kazakhi? it would be interesting to see those earlir versions where borat was from moldova...

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Alexander Culiuc said...

Anonymous above said: Did you know that initially Borat was moldovan reporter, then albanin and after a while sasha cohen decided to become kazakhi?

That's interesting. I was actually wondering why Borat was not Moldovan. The smaller the country you belittle, the easier to avoid any repercussions. But I guess that's exactly why Cohen chose Kazakhstan -- small enough not to cause any trouble, but big enough to be known. :)

The movie itself... I don't regret watching it -- I had a good laugh during the movie, but it left me with an unpleasant aftertaste. Definitely don't plan a good dinner after watching it.

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Alexander Culiuc said...

P.S. On the subject of Borat picking on a small enough country. On the other hand, Borat did have enough balls to ridicule USA in the most "in your face" manner. So good for him. It remains to be seen if he overestimated his/his studio's powers -- quite a number of court suits against Cohen.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from the uk and I think that people are forgeting the point of the film.

From the the early beggings of ali g the point of his characters are to present people with the unexpected in order to embarrass any form of establishment to show and present to people just how stupid peoples cultures and preconceptions are when faced with the simpleist of problems.

The film in my view was a direct poke at how stupid american culture is, espesily when presented with difficult situations and they remain polite instead of actly ingageing in the issues directly, they always smile and go along with it. That to me is the point of the humor in the film.

The issue of kazactstan is that no one would of herd of it and thats the position he needs in order to show his point, with his alg g caracter he took off the uk hip hop secene for the spesific point of repesenting how dissconnected older people are with the youth, and when presented with them, just how stupid they where and could act in order to apeal to the "youth" who actuly dont care what happens. I'm pretty sure its been put togther almost as a politcal film and with the decission to take the piss out of america its aim.

Altough there will always be some americans who dont get it, I'm sure the rest of the world does, and thats the point. :)

I'm pretty sure its been put togther almost as a politcal film and the decission to take the piss out of america was its aim.

At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Aaron Silberstein said...

In the movie I was surprised to see that all things written in Cyrillic are actually in correct Russian/Belorussian (it's something at the very least very similar to correct Russian, and a friend guesses it might be Belorussian...)

Cu bine,

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's clearly making fun of Americans. People just hate (or don't understand) his genius, and they assume he's mocking Kazakhstan, the "little guy." He's not. He's insulting God-crazy bigoted Americans who think they're the kings of the world. And THAT is humor. I'm American; I should know.


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