What is it with British media and incredibly condescending articles about Central Asia? Behold the first hundred and thirty words of this BBC article about a (very good) exhibit of Kazakh archaeological finds at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC:
In the 2006 spoof documentary Borat, the eponymous hero travels from Kazakhstan to the US to learn about the American way of life.
Given the subtitle Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the film is a sometimes funny and often discomforting send-up of American social values.
But many audiences remember more vividly its portrayal of Kazakhstan as a backward nation populated by peasants with little in the way of culture.
So indelible is that image that at a sporting event in Kuwait earlier this year, the film’s theme music was accidentally played during the award ceremony instead of the real national anthem of Kazakhstan.
But now that stereotype is being blown apart by an exhibition in Washington DC of ancient treasures that reveal the true “glorious nation of Kazakhstan”.
I can maybe understand a single reference to the film but this much dwelling on it (it’s even titled, “Kazakh US exhibition banishes country’s Borat image”) is just ridiculous and unnecessary.
For comparison, here’s the first few grafs from the New York Times’ coverage of the exhibit:
Ancient Greeks had a word for the people who lived on the wild, arid Eurasian steppes stretching from the Black Sea to the border of China. They were nomads, which meant “roaming about for pasture.” They were wanderers and, not infrequently, fierce mounted warriors. Essentially, they were “the other” to the agricultural and increasingly urban civilizations that emerged in the first millennium B.C.
As the nomads left no writing, no one knows what they called themselves. To their literate neighbors, they were the ubiquitous and mysterious Scythians or the Saka, perhaps one and the same people. In any case, these nomads were looked down on — the other often is — as an intermediate or an arrested stage in cultural evolution. They had taken a step beyond hunter-gatherers but were well short of settling down to planting and reaping, or the more socially and economically complex life in town.
But archaeologists in recent years have moved beyond this mind-set by breaking through some of the vast silences of the Central Asian past.
It’s night and day. Unbelievable.
Recently: see the Economist use a bunch of horse metaphors to describe Kyrgyz politics.