Borat versus Captain Kazakhstan – dueling images of a nation

Kazakhstan attempts to rebrand itself

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

It’s Saturday – not a hard news day, certainly not here at Latitude News. Instead, we bring you three quirky stories from the global press. If you ever click on an odd story, be sure to send it our way.

Borat versus Captain Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is on a PR push.

During an action movie festival this summer, 37 Kazakhs and 86 foreigners will compete to create a new superhero. The only parameters for the contest: the super Kazakh must be named Astana after the national capital. Quoting competition organizers, the Russian news site RiaNovosti says the superhero will be “a symbol of the young, energetic and rapidly developing capital.”

Really, is it any weirder than Captain America?

And if that isn’t enough, a state-controlled film studio will soon release “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe,” a sort of Kazakh “Braveheart.” The film, which depicts warriors overtaking the Mongolians, could serve a dual purpose. Among Kazakhs, the film should inspire patriotic fervor. Among foreigners, the scenery could inspire a tourism boom. Check out the trailer.

Of course, Kazakhstan might not mind superimposing an image of a proud nation over “Borat,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s unjust and unforgettable portrayal of a Kazakh abroad.

Good luck, Kazakhstan.

Make room for the “Fat Tax”

Can taxes on unhealthful foods make us healthier? Yes, but only if the tax is high enough. A new study says an effective tax would have to be at least 20 percent to reduce obesity and diet-related disease.

The UK is considering following Denmark, Hungary, France – and soon Peru and Ireland – by raising taxes on sugary drinks and fatty foods. Recognizing such taxes could disproportionately impact poorer families, the study indicates taxes should be rolled out with subsidies for fruits and vegetables.

Such taxes have been tried in the U.S.; Richmond, Virginia is currently considering placing a soda tax on the November ballot. And studies indicate big taxes yield results, according to the Guardian.

“Studies have estimated that a 20% levy on such drinks in the U.S. would cut obesity by 3.5% and that adding 17.5% to the cost of unhealthy food products in the UK could lead to 2,700 fewer deaths from heart disease.”

And a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture challenges a common belief that junk food is cheaper than healthful food. The study redefines the way we should value food, looking beyond the sticker price to the cost per calorie.

Whatever the price, food is catching up with everyone. The World Health Organization reports that, between 1980 and 2008, obesity levels doubled – in every corner of the globe.

Lady Gaga banned in Indonesia

A woman in Jakarta holds up an anti-Lady Gaga poster that reads, “Protect me from the temptation of devil Lady Gaga,” April 29, 2012. (Reuters/Supri)

Indonesia is home to 50,000 disappointed “little monsters,” as Lady Gaga fans are known. The American music and fashion legend was scheduled to perform on June 3rd, but the National Police are refusing to issue a permit.

Big Daddy Productions is pushing back, though, and still hopeful the show will go on. But it’s doubtful that Big Daddy is as influential in Indonesian politics as the hardline Islamic Defenders Front, who has promised that 30,000 of its supporters would physically block Gaga from leaving her plane. Seven other political and cultural institutions are up in arms about the concert, contending Lady Gaga’s “vulgar” concerts are in opposition with “national culture and traditional values.”

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Most Indonesian Muslims are moderate, but fundamentalist groups are politically powerful. That said, Asian concerns about Lady Gaga are ecumenical: the singer’s show was given an adult rating in South Korea, in part because evangelical Protestants are dismayed by her lyrics and dress, and Catholics protested against her in the Philippines. 

Lady Gaga isn’t the first American performer to cause controversy in Indonesia. Beyoncé and the Pussycat Dolls were only permitted to perform in Indonesia after agreeing to wear modest clothing. But with Gaga, who knows if she’ll show up in a bologna dress or transparent tights? Her show went on in Korea (a reviewer found her show “playful“), and looks like it will in the Philippines. But in Indonesia, the opposition seems adamant.