Monday, November 06, 2006

Borat: Is that REALLY what Kazakhstan is like??

Many of you are aware of the new movie out, which was #1 at the box office this weekend, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It is a satire about a Kazakh reporter who visits America. I have not yet seen it but kept my eye on news reports on the internet about it.

Susan Saxon, Volunteer Administrative Executive Director of the Kazakh Aul of the U.S., Association for American & Kazakh Families recently sent out a press release on behalf of her organization that aptly sums up some parents feelings. In her press release she stated:

"We recognize that Sascha Baron Cohen's movie is a vehicle for satire and many people - including some of our own members enjoy his humor. Nonetheless, our members also comprise children who do not yet have the adult skills to understand and separate their young identities from those of the Kazakhstanis who are portrayed by Cohen.

For example, one mother reported that she and her 9-year-old daughter from Kazakhstan recently viewed a television interview with Mr. Cohen as Borat in which he described how one would not want to marry a Kazakh woman because they are ugly, and in the background a scene was panned with peasant women in a very poor village. Another adoptive mother described her children watching an announcer on VH1 segue from a story on Madonna's recent adoption of an African boy to a story on Borat, saying something along the lines of, 'And, now, a country you wouldn't want to adopt from, Kazakhstan'. The woman's 7-year-old Kazakh daughter burst into tears.

These two examples demonstrate what Kazakhstan adoptive families in the U.S. are dealing with in response to this movie. Given that the film will live on for years on DVD, its impact upon Kazakh adoptive families, their friends, and their school mates, may be felt for years to come.

We ask that viewers of 'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' understand that the portrayal of Kazakhs in the movie is not true to life, and to be sensitive to the very real feelings of Kazakh children here in the U.S."

I am not at all sure what my feelings are about this film, it's a mixed bag at best. Frankly, from the reviews I have read that describe some of the scenes it sounds quite funny to me, and perhaps that is because with satire it is a take off on something that is true or close to real life, but it is carried to the extreme. There were many things about Kazakhstan that struck us as funny, not because of a lack of cultural sensitivity but largely because of the incredible differences to our own life. I mean, going into a store and finding "Picante Pringles" was funny, seeing some game show on Kazakh TV that we couldn't understand but we eventually named "Wheel of Fish" because it was somehow vaguely similar to Wheel of Fortune but involved placing fish on a large wheel, well to us it was a crack up! Now I realize that those things are not necessarily offensive to most people, but perhaps laughing over eating horsemeat (true), drinking fermented horse milk (also true), or playing games with goat's heads (again, also true) IS offensive to some...but it is incredible different than our life here in America and most people DO find things that are extremely different to be funny. I am sure that if I want to, I will be able to find a million things in the movie to be offended about, both as an adoptive mother to Kazakh children AND as an American whose igorance and lack of multiculturalism is also poked fun at quite well in the movie, from what I understand. Would I be up in arms, so to speak, about the humor about Americans if I didn't also have the Kazakh bandwagon to jump on? Hmmm...not sure.

We live in an age that is a dual edged sword, our "political correctness" has helped in many arenas to increase awareness and create an appreciation for diversity that is unprecedented in modern times. And yet that political correctness also causes us to take ourselves and our strongly held beliefs so seriously that we can't see the humor in anything anymore, and we also are fearful of even stating the obvious when trying to make a point about something. Have we crossed a different line? One where we elect to live a life of weak-heartedness, of bristled backs due to imagined slights based upon innocent comments? A life where we work hard at rooting out any and all possible politically incorrect statements for the "joy" of making a public spectacle of something? And look at what has happened with this movie, Kazakhstan's government immediately expressed it's displeasure and all that happened was the media was fueled by the story and the movie opened to far larger audiences than ever expected.

I guess I take this to heart because it cuts to the chase of how I want our family to live, and our children to view themselves and their own adoptions. Every comment, even if not put in the "proper" format, is not meant to harm or offend. Innocent things can be said that come out wrong. Do I really want to spend the remainder of my life correcting every person who calls the boys' birth parents their "real mom and dad"? Do I want the boys to have their feelings hurt every time someone asks why they don't look like us? Do I want us as a family to walk around in this world assuming people think negative things about how we all came together, or that they even give us a second thought at all? Do I want my kids to worry what others will think because of a silly movie that will come and go? It is not that I don't see how this kind of humor can be totally offensive, hurtful and flat out obnoxious. I get it, I really do, and ocne I have seen the movie I may come away repulsed, angry and ready to go to war! Or I just may come out laughing...I am not really sure. But I choose how I handle it, what I project to the world about it, and in large part I also dictate through my own reactions how my children view their world and themselves. And I guess sometimes my glass is simply half-full. Instead of worrying about all the possible misperceptions that are created due to a movie, I will instead choose to point out that FINALLY maybe people will not ask us "Where is Kazakhstan? I have never even heard of that place!".


Anonymous said...

Well thought out and well said, Cindy!


Anonymous said...

I completely agree and absolutely could not have said it better myself!! :)