Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Idiot Abroad

No, this post isn't about me - though there really is no shortage of superbly stupid moments from my travels. I'm just not interested in making it a matter of public record just yet. An Idiot Abroad is latest endeavor of The Office co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, a travel show in which they send one of their more "unworldly" friends, Karl Pilkington, around the globe to see the Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World just for the sheer fun of seeing him struggle with it all.  Really, that is the entire premise of the show.  While Merchant expressed his hope that traveling will help broaden Pilkington's horizons and change his outlook on the world, Gervais cackled that he hopes Karl will hate it, adding: "This is one of the funniest, most expensive practical jokes I've ever done."

Indeed, when Karl heads off to Jordan to see Petra, along with a side trip to Israel, there are plenty of moments when he appears to be hating his life. But overall he is good sport, and is open to learning. In many ways, watching an "idiot" such as Pilkington is refreshing - he isn't a pretentious know-it-all showing off how knowledgeable and worldly he is. Viewers are able to watch him take everything in, process it, and begin to form his own opinions.

For example, within the first few minutes of the episode Karl is ambushed and kidnapped by "terrorists" in a paranoid Israeli-run "Extreme Scenario" training session...because, you know, sight-seeing in Jerusalem is extremely dangerous and everyone should be prepared to be held for ransom by Palestinian militants. Riiiiight. Pilkington caught on to this, however, commenting when he was in the Old City: "It can't be that dodgy, can it? Look at all the tourists...You don't queue up to go to a danger zone...is it all part of it, though, do they do that for the tourists? Make them feel like ooooh it's a bit edgy when really it's not going to kick off." Pilkington also heads off to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, where he his impacted more by the Separation Wall than he is by the birthplace of Jesus: "I got more of a feeling from that wall than from where Jesus was born...go over there, that's where you can have a tear, it's depressing." So, even an "idiot" such as Pilkington can see through some of the performances that are put on for tourists in a "hot spot" like the Holy Land and form his own opinions.

As can be expected, the episode wasn't without its fair share of cringeworthy/facepalm moments. After a detour to the Dead Sea, Karl reaches Jordan where he trades in the car for a camel, and begins the trek to Petra. He's relieved when, after eight hours, the camels tucker out and won't walk any further, and they have to load them onto trucks and drive to a Bedouin camp for the evening. This is perhaps the most awkward scene of the episode - Karl and the Bedouin - as you can tell he really has no idea what to think of it all and, given the fact that he'd spent eight hours on a camel that day, his patience and graciousness are lacking (more in the video below). After nearly throwing a temper tantrum the next morning when they try to make him ride a camel the rest of the way to Petra, Pilkington is driven to site where he actually ends up enjoying himself. After spending the night in a cave, he later remarked: "I think being a caveman would have suited me down to the ground. I think my brain would have suited that time more as it can't keep up with stuff these days. I think I was born too late."

I found it odd that throughout the Jordan portion of the episode, you don't see Karl in Amman or any other Jordanian city for that matter, giving the impression that Jordan is just all desert and camels. Though Karl felt well suited to a "caveman" lifestyle, I'm sure he would have spent at least one day in Amman if only for the sole purpose of catching a flight back to England, and I think that it wouldn't have been so terrible to include some footage of Jordan's capital city in the episode. Still, I suppose the "Petra Experience" is what most people are looking for when they travel to Jordan, and Amman wouldn't have been as "challenging" of a place for Karl - so there would have been fewer uncomfortable moments to get Ricky Gervais cackling.

Below are some of the episode's "Best Bits" - which, in my opinion, aren't actually the highlights. It seems like these are these scenes when Karl is the most annoyed and not enjoying himself (which, in Gervais's view, ARE the highlights):

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