Friday, September 29, 2006

Borat, Oil, and Democracy

Just when it looked like the Kazakhstan government had finessed the PR battle with Borat and had gained the upper hand, Mr. Sagdiyev is hitting back inside the beltway. The Kazakhstan Government’s PR firms have been working overtime. They have placed picturesque television advertising spots about Kazakhstan tourism on CNN (“Kazakhstan: Have you ever Wandered?”) and advertising spots of lesser production quality on ABC extolling the countries economic and democratic accomplishments. They have placed a four page insert in the New York Times entitled “Kazakhstan in the 21st Century: Looking Ahead.” Their allies in the U.S. academy have provided nicely timed op-ed pieces for the Washington Times (Ariel Cohen) and for the Washington Post (Fredrick Starr) . Yesterday, it was starting to look as if the Kazakhstan’s PR effort was working in its effort to put the country on the map in the minds of Americans (at least in DC) and doing so with a positive spin. Then, today after President Nazarbayev’s unveiling of DC’s Golden Man, the First and Only President of Kazkahstan’s nemesis showed up in front of the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington – Borat Sagdiev. Giving an impromptu press conference before the Embassy, Borat suggested that President Nazarbayev was indeed happy about his film and that notions to the contrary were being spread by an Uzbek infiltrator in the Kazakhstan Embassy, spokesperson Roman Vassilenko (yes, that is an unlikely Uzbek name).

(For a fuller version – see the video on the Washington Post site)

Borat also disputed the authenticity of the advertising spots on U.S. television that had appeared in the name of Kazakhstan, stating that they were yet another disinformation ploy. While it was all very funny, it occurred to me that perhaps Borat could also be on the payroll of the firms working for the Kazakhstan government. The Borat angle, afterall, was the only aspect of Nazarbayev’s visit to the U.S. to make it on Katie Couric’s “melbatoast” CBS news, quite masterfully putting the “democracy issue” on the back burner. Maybe we have underestimated Patton Boggs. Maybe both sides of the battle are just laughing together all the way to the bank.


Anonymous Bertrand said...

Interesting thought on whether Borat and the Kazak spinmeisters on in colusion. Given Nazarbayev's notable - and well noted - lack of a sense of humor, it's not very likely. There is a remarkable amount of symbiosis here, however. The Kazak's artless handling of this from the beginning has given Cohen millions of dollars worth of free publicity - I'm sure well beyond anyone's dreams. On the other hand, the Borat fuss is deflecting attention from what may have been some of the tougher questions that might be asked about Kazakhstan during Nazarbaye's U.S. visit, as well as opening the doors for a fair amount of positive publicity for KZ.

Truth, once again, is stranger than fiction.

4:00 AM  
Blogger Sean R. Roberts, PhD said...

Yes – while I am certainly employing sarcasm in suggesting that Borat is on the payroll of a PR firm working for the Kazakhstan government, the situation is a delightful “post-modern” moment in the clash of politics with our consumer culture. As with the Borat film itself, this situation tells us more about the American people than about Kazakhstan. The really important questions in Kazakhstan-U.S. relations are too difficult for network news to package in a way that can be consumed by the American TV dinner crowd. I was surprised to find, for example, that even National Public Radio in the U.S. had difficulty boiling down Nazarbayev’s visit into a story to fit the tastes of their supposedly “more sophisticated” audience. I spent a good twenty minutes talking with a person from NPR’s Morning Edition trying to explain what stories of national importance to the U.S. lie behind Nazarbayev’s visit. Borat, however, is a great diversion that goes down easy with dinner after work.

9:20 AM  
Blogger tish said...

did anyone hear Borat "will not rule out military intervention?" Doesn't this sound closer to the White house than to Kazakhstan?

PS I think NPR has long since been sold out to its sponsors.

10:39 AM  

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