Watching TV in Kazakhstan

Watching TV in Kazakhstan

I don’t normally watch TV much, but house-sitting for a friend recently, I found the blur of channels, sports and American dramas to be completely engrossing. Below are some rough notes of what you can expect to find if you visit me, and, being the good guest you are… spend the entire time watching Kazakh TV:

1. Aitys competitions

As Eva-Marie Dubuisson has written so well, Aitys is a competition between two singers who play the dombira, a Kazakh two-stringed instrument. Popular in live competitions, poet-singers battle each other for witty saying, come-backs, and social commentary, all delivered in Kazakh rhyme. Or, as pictured below, the dombira is used for beautiful folk-singing.


2. Bollywood! 

Surely a close second, you can buy copied DVDs of Indian movies for pennies at the bazaar, or watch the constant stream on TV. Usually involving love, loss, synchronized singing, and dramatic family moments, as below:


 3.  Advertising

“As Seen on TV” is not just for America (although I’ve seen the stuff selling in local shops). Below we have Scratch-Free! (skreych fri) which will make your beautiful red car as glossy as new. See also: Samsung advertisements, Minute Maid, anti-arthritic medications, religious information, new Nokia cell phones.

The car was followed by a Garnier ad (not shown), in which really beautiful blond woman speak, dubbed over in soft Kazakh, as they lovingly fondle smooth surfaces. An authoritative male Kazakh voice assures us that “eyeldin 10nan tandadi 8,” as the words flash on the screen: 8 out of 10 Kazakh women choose Garnier.


4. Soviet Nostalgia

If all this capitalism gets to be too much, flip over to the soviet-era footage on the appropriately-named nostal’giya channel. Although there’s a red hammer and sickle in the logo, the rest of the screen is appropriately black, white, and flickery all over, to bring back that old-TV feeling.


5. How Many Boards Could the Mongols Horde? 

Kazakhs, like Mongols, have a strong identity as former nomads. The cartoon below showed warriors sauntering into their palace, and fighting wars in suitably child-safe fashion. Megafilms like the recent Myn Bala (English trailer here!) take it a step further — $10mil movies shot on the steppe!

6. Russian Talk Shows

American talk show guests may find themselves harangued by the host, their ex-fiance’s sister, or other participants. But Russian shows seem to take it a step further. My quiet, genteel host mother deeply appreciates and watches these every evening, but last time I sat down with her, it involved the whole audience yelling at and insulting the guests on stage for their poor life skills!


 7. America’s Next Top Models

The evening I spent watching TV, it was time for the ladies to all express what it feels like to have intense menstrual cramps. Dressed in the finest red bodysuits and hair extensions, they twisted and groaned. I can only imagine what worldwide audiences thought of our expressive/narcissistic cultural exports. Why, America, why?????


…If that’s not enough for you, and you’d like to, say, make your own personal BINGO game of things to see on Kazakh television, no worries. Check out more on the Flickr album here!


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