Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At least this guy is British

Other than the midterm elections, the biggest story of the past week or so has been the debut of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan , the story of a befuddled, ignorant Kazakh journalist.

To most of the American media, the film's opening seemed to be the symbol for a great news trip, so dozens of journalists packed up and went to Kazakhstan in search of real Borats. Or Boratias.

In a Nov. 2 story in Slate, Ilan Greenberg, a journalist based in Kazakhstan--not just a Borat trend-chaser--made note of the annoying infestation of Western media into the country that they have traditionally ignored. In particular, he follows a British tabloid journalist who is weirdly excited to chase down real Kazakhs who live like Borat. He's giddy in his excitement to find locals who eat dog meat, beat their wives for fun, and speak in broken American slang.

But the joke is on this guy. It turns out that Kazakhstan is not as backward as he--and most of the Western world--seems to think. In fact, it turns out that he's the Borat-in-reverse, making a fool of himself among people who think he's ridiculous in every conceiveable way.

The question this creates is bigger than Borat, however. Why is it that journalists wait for a major disaster (or British comedian) to made the long journey to places less traveled. How can we fix our limited view of the news landscape? Do we need to fix it? Is it wrong to just drop in with misguided ideas and leave with a quickly-produced story?



At Wednesday, November 08, 2006, Anonymous AJ said...

I think the biggest problem is that when journalists venture out without taking the time to understand the culture they're writing about, they often make sweeping generalizations and fall into cliched reporting.

Case in point:

In Editing we read a Tribune letter about "African funeral practices" by a correspondent in Soweto, South Africa. My Nigerian classmate was angered by the fact that after going to one funeral, the reporter generalized her experience to all of Africa. The student raised good points, but no one else was sensitive to the issues, which is the problem in newsrooms--without an appreciation of other culture's we can't begin to check ourselves.

At Friday, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Killer picture...

At Friday, November 10, 2006, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

I think the media went to far on the Borat criticisms. I saw no problem with the movie nor its characterization of Kazakhstan.

First off, the majority of the film takes place in America. Secondly, the film is more so about its lead character, Borat, than the people of the country from which he is born.

More importantly, people going to see this movie are not tricked into believing its a fictional piece. From the very beginning, it's clear that this is a spoof.

Borat even pokes fun at Jews (and yes, Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish himself). I understand to a certain extent why Kazakhstans may be upset that their homeland is not as backward as it is portrayed in the motion picture, but at the same time you don't hear Jews revolting that they don't have horns as it is depicted in one scene.

Personally, I think audiences need to lighten up and learn how to laugh.



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