A Minor Bun Engine Made Benny Lava, May He Poop on My Knee: Cross-Cultural Translation Under Conditions of Contemporary Electronic Globalization

After an absence of more than three months, it is time for another installment of Monday Morning Madness.

The idea of “translating” another language into your own, by assuming that words that sound the same as words in your language are the same, is not a surprising one — the results can be disastrous, or comical. Christopher Columbus apparently believed that fundamentally there was one universal, natural human language, and that if he tried hard enough he could understand Taíno words by listening for similarities. Taíno mentions of what he heard as “Caniba” (later the basis for the word “cannibal”) was first interpreted by Columbus to mean “the people of the Great Khan.” He was so convinced that he could grasp the native language that he had never heard before, that he was reputed to have placed his hands on the mouths of Taíno speakers, to help them better shape their words to sound like Spanish words.

The two videos below do not advance themselves as formal attempts to translate the Hindi heard in Bollywood music videos, but the core of their “joke” is that they notice that some Hindi words, or parts of them, sound like English words — different words with different meanings, but similar sound units. This is either purely an accident, or some phonological echo of what numerous travelers, explorers, missionaries, and then philologists found: the linguistic strands that constitute the Indo-European family of languages.

The results of these particular video episodes of cross-cultural encounters and cross-cultural communication are often hilarious. The first video, titled “Crazy Indian Video” was subtitled by Buffalax in YouTube, someone from Dayton, Ohio, who seems to have made an art of subtitling Indian videos. As far as Internet celebrity status goes, Buffalax is either a star or close to one: this one video alone has been viewed nearly 12 million times over the past two years, and is rated as “awesome” by nearly 40,000 people who bothered to rate it. Almost 36,000 comments have been posted on the video, which inspired the beginnings of a new YouTube genre. “Benny Lava” now appears as a new word in the “Urban Dictionary.” And, someone decided to bring “Benny Lava” to life and turned him into a 33 year-old male in Washington DC, with his own MySpace page. Some are now speaking of a “Benny Lava Phenomenon” seeing that the video has been internationalized, remade, reworked, and reenacted by Brazilians, by Croatian college students, and turned into the basis for another spoof of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

A few months later, Ben174, from Modesto, California, subtitled the second video below, and retitled it, “May He Poop on My Knee.” It has been viewed over two million times so far. This appears to be one of the more popular videos in the Benny Lava Genre, rivaled perhaps by the “Indian Nipple Song.”

The cultural idiocy of globalization?

The cultural idiocy of globalization?

No longer remembering who the original critic was who made this argument, I recall reading an unforgiving critique of such phenomena, as signs of the cultural idiocy accompanying, facilitating, or inspired by globalization processes — no content, no meaning, just sounds and gestures remade to fit whatever framework. Actually, the target of the attack was a relatively mute figure, that of Mr. Bean, who I first “met” in Trinidad & Tobago, seeing him again in Australia, and finding him back in Canada, as well as on multiple long haul flights just before the featured film was shown, his appearance timed to go together with the free soda and peanuts. People of all sorts of nationalities and language backgrounds could and did laugh at him — he eluded the challenge of cross-cultural translation by basically never speaking, just making funny little gurgles and moans, and over-expressing himself with his face.  His overdone facial contortions resembled those of an adult trying to charm a baby in a crib. Do these two videos follow the same principle? To some extent, yes, in that they still render the object virtually mute, lest anything should hinder the supremacy of our individual agency, which the shopping mall ideology of cultural and neo-liberal globalization had us believe should tower above all obstacles to consumption. More than that, both Mr. Bean and the Benny Lava genre — good natured, humorous, to be sure — point to the shallowness of cross-cultural understanding in what was heralded as this wonderful new age of globalized consciousness and global self-awareness (if one listened to Anthony Giddens elegize the topic). A transformation in social ties there may have been, but a transformation in cross-cultural understanding is much more dubious (and I choose my words deliberately in speaking of globalization in the past tense). Instead we were treated to fare such as these, reduced to gestures, tunes, noises, laughing at others, and thanks to the neo-cons, a renewed fear of others. The globalization of electronic communication made hits of “lol cats” and viral videos of dancing teens — in a time of multiple genocides. One wonders then if in place of communication across cultures, what we have instead is heightened cultural dementia on a planetary scale.

Others might find the charm in these videos to be in their simple, child-like humour prompted by difference and lack of understanding, harmless and happy. It certainly did remind me of cases where, for example, a certain relative who heard that the two main Amerindian language groups in the Andes are the Quechua and Aymara, shouted: “Quechua later! Aymara here!” Or that little fellow Italian-Canadian friend of mine from when we were six, who had something rudely taken from him by another boy in the schoolyard, and who in his “broken” English threatened: “Antonio my mother on you!” (In case anyone does not get these examples: the first sounds like “Catch you later, I’m outta here,” and the second was intended by the boy to mean, “I’m tellin’ my mother on you.”)

Still others might say this is harmless stuff, and if anything one way to bridge a divide. Buffalax certainly devoted considerable time to finding this video, watching it repeatedly, listening, imagining, then subtitling. It does not show a complete lack of interest, for certain.

People don’t often post their thoughts here, usually because by this point I have bored them to death. So, after the video, if it is faster and easier than commenting, perhaps you can enter your vote in the poll that follows — not a scientific poll to be sure, but the precision and objectivity of the questions more than make up for any methodological deficit, not to mention the allowance for repeat votes by the same person, which takes into account the recursiveness of social life.

Benny Lava

May he poop on my knee

Your opinions matter!
(Which is I went to the trouble of forming some of them in advance for you):

43 thoughts on “A Minor Bun Engine Made Benny Lava, May He Poop on My Knee: Cross-Cultural Translation Under Conditions of Contemporary Electronic Globalization

  1. Terry

    This is a great article.
    As a kid, I used to read newspapers in other languages and try to figure out the article by the few words that really were similar, but also by words that seemed similar. I had my friends rolling on the floor a few times.

    I also tried to use an early language translator on my computer “Speaking Naturally” I believe and my friends would write back and say they were all on the floor holding their sides.

    I did put my “translating” ability to good use in my early dating years. I stumled onto it by mistake. My date and I were listening to a song in another language and I made a comment that she made her think I knew the language, so I went with it. It made up a story as the singer sang. I had her laughing, until my translation got too silly and her BS dectector went off.
    However, in the years since, I call upon my “ability” from time to time and it is always a good time.

    I’m amazed Columbus did this. I had assumed he was an educated man in all regards.

  2. tali

    Oh my side hurts :D
    Whatever you think of it, that’s funny, unless you’re an Indian, who happens to speak that dialect- then it might be lost on you and possibly offensive, I don’t know.

    The second one seems a bit contrived, which gives me reason to believe that Buffalax may be talented. The way he plays with the text is quite creative, would have made my typography teacher proud. I’d even go so far as calling it a Pastiche.

    The fact that he named it “Crazy Indian Video” indicates a shallow understanding of the culture. As far as most Westerners are concerned, all of Bollywood is That Crazy Indian Video. However, I disagree that this is a bad thing. The internet sparks a lot of creation. High or low is irrelevant, as culture mirrors the society. It’s not the culture that’s the problem, it’s the society.

    On the other hand, look at how respectful he was, stating the disclaimer in the beginning, and how that instigated a tradition of respect, as his copy cats did the same- quite heartening really.

    I don’t think Mr. Bean fits the category of low, as you stated, he was saying something about communication. In your poll you mention Borat, yet another phenomenal example of linguistic nonsense: When he’s supposedly speaking Kazakh, he’s actually speaking Hebrew, but the average Anglo- the target audience- wouldn’t know that. Some people call him low, I think he uses low in a way that creates high… wait! that sounds familiar… I think we call that “satire”.

    Maybe the important thing is to have anthropologists identify these phenomena and write boring blog posts about them ;) Thus creating debate over culture, which is in effect another facet of culture. The more the merrier!

    Thanks for the space :)

  3. frenchguy

    I would like to have a comment from Arjun Appadurai on the video…
    More seriously, as you noted Max, this is nothing new. As my masters said, that kind of use of a decontextualized stranger’s artifact to fit in one’s cultural scheme happens in a lot of situations. In my view, the technological part of the phenomena doesn’t change its nature. I’d say it is average cultural idiocy (if such a thing exist). No sign of a brave new world.

    It also makes me think that professional anthropologists, as far as I know, do not write about laughter, while some philosophers do.

    One could watch this for a vietnamese variation on the theme :

  4. Maximilian Forte

    Frenchguy, thanks for that video link, I actually found the singing was quite beautiful, though the audience was in pieces with laughter since I am assuming because they are amused to hear a traditional art form being used to sing a Western song. Laughter is something that can be very challenging for anthropologists, especially where “laughing at” might be concerned. However, no one has ever objected to us laughing at ourselves, which is one of the great things of being in a discipline with a long tradition of internal self-criticism.

    Tali, thanks very much, as usual much appreciated. Afterwards, I was worried about whether I might have unintentionally reinforced the low culture-high culture dichotomy. In addition, “low” itself is difficult to interpret — much “low brow” stuff is actually produced by elites, who are normally aligned with “high.” From that point of view, I understand Frenchguy’s point that this is nothing new, but I sense that the polarization between heightened inter-cultural consciousness, and heightened vacuity, seems to have become more extreme with the Internet.

    By the way, I did not know Borat was speaking Hebrew (not knowing Hebrew). Also, funny that you heard Borat in the poll — the “so is you saying that…” answer was actually meant to be an echo of Ali G, who almost always “misunderstood” the people he was interviewing, and of course his special grammar — but it’s the same actor.

    Thanks as well Terry, I think this phenomenon might be really more common than we might realize (until we each collect and share our own stories about this)…and then that reinforces Frenchguy’s point that there is nothing new about this, and of course brings the Columbus example back to life. I have not read any book length treatment on Columbus and language, though I imagine one could have enough to say to fill a book, especially his selection of an on board translator who should have proved useless had they gone anywhere other than the Mediterranean, the Middle East or East Africa.

    Having studied just a bit of linguistics at the graduate level (one of my undergraduate majors was actually in “language, literature, and linguistics” but there was only one course that really could be called a linguistics course), I was convinced that in sociolinguistics there was a precise term/concept for referring to this kind of direct “translation” — after days of searching, I could not find it. I am hoping a linguist will eventually see this post and enlighten me as to whether there actually is a precise term for referring to this phenomenon, or any linguistic theory that accompanies it.

    1. frenchguy

      Yes, you’re right Max, it is exactly what happens in the video. And I assume you did not laugh at all. I know only a bit of vietnamese and very little about traditionnal songs, but I laughed a lot watching this, maybe because it reminds me of some vietnamese people who speak english using almost exclusively the sounds of vietnamese language. As the people watching the show are living in Western countries, it is indeed, in some way, laughing at the other, mockery, with certainly a bit of unconscious racism (against the vietnamese “peasant”). I assume U.S people might laugh a lot imitating french people speaking english as i do.

      It seems that kind of games with languages, voluntary idiocy, in pretending to hear/read one’s own language in another language, or pretending to speak another language using one’s own language ‘s sounds, is a strong tool to provoke laughter. I’ve also rolled on the floor a few times with online translations tools. But I can’t clearly see why, (exactly as i can’t clearly see why talking about poop is sometimes so efficient). But i can clearly see that i’m talking about too much unrelated topics in a very messy manner.

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  6. tali

    Max, ha! my Freudian slip showing, but then Baron Cohen is a communications expert, isn’t he? ;)

    I deal with a lot of low-brow/porn in my every day life and I find that value is truly in the eye of the beholder. I tend to try and put an intellectual spin (it’s a spin, I admit it) on it and it’s a fascinating experiment. Never conclusive and proves that each case must be examined individually, in its specific context, and has high dependency on the examiner.

    French guy, that’s a great question, why we instinctively laugh at other languages or someone who’s not native to the language, trying to speak it. It’s a very childish reaction, in children I understand it- “how can he not do something that comes naturally to me?” But I’ve noticed that once you pass that stage (if you do), fascination comes in. Living in Israel- a country of immigrants and varied locals, one of my favorite pass-times is to guess people’s origins.

    There’s no doubt that this wasn’t appreciative of the culture. It wasn’t appreciative of Anglo/Western/American culture either- it went as low as it can go. And as most bad art, it tells more about the artist than anything else. On the other hand it’s just one example of what can be done with the medium.

    I think there is something new brought in by the medium- this guy did something we all do instinctively, the difference is, he had the [not so] bright idea to make something of it. He’s created an artifact- this is new. Before youtube, there weren’t so many people making videos. Since the amounts of creators is growing then you’re going to exponentially have more crap out there.

    Last thing, the video you linked to, doesn’t seem to qualify as cultural idiocy, as the audience is apparently Vietnamese. I don’t know the context, but it looks more like cultural commentary to me- “satire”. Anybody know the background of this show?

    1. frenchguy

      Hi Tali,

      About the video, I am not absolutely sure about it, but i believe the show was done in the US (my idea is based on the way it is edited, the photography, and the way people are dressed), then the public is of vietnamese origin, yes, but living in the US. But i may be wrong.
      I know that the young man is a professional singer, who usually sings viet pop music, but this time he is playing : singing an english song using “cai luong” form (a form of folk opera)
      You mean “satire” of what ?

      1. tali

        Well if I’m correct and this is a Vietnamese production (using American methods of editing is a common phenomena as American TV has been imported all around the world+ they are talking Vietnamese, no?), they’re playing on cultural contexts to expose cultural gaps. The result, of course, funny.

      2. frenchguy

        Hi again,

        My friend is telling me that the singer lives and work in the US, but you may be right however.

        But I want to be sure about one thing, you’ve heard that the singer is singing in English right ?

        The lyrics are :

        Honey, do you know i love you and miss you so much ?
        Night after night i can’t sleep (so ?) well.
        You’re leaving me because of money,
        I do know I (who ?) have nothing,
        I just love you by my heart, my soul,
        I don’t know what to do,
        No car, no job, no moneeeyyyy, no home.
        I will die very soon,
        Honey, come back, you can save my life.

        A youtuber timid08) has transcribed it using vietnamese writing system, here is the result (the following has no meaning, but it is a transcription of sounds) :

        hờ ni….đu du nô ai lớp du en mít-s du sô mất-ch…. nai áp-tờ nai ai khen sì-líp sô quèo…. du líp bìn mi bì cớt ớp mơ-nì .. ai đu nô ai hù hép nót thing… ai chất lớp du bài mai “hót”(heart) mai sô…. ai đôn nô quách tu đu.. nô kha nô chóp nô mơ-nì nô hôm… ai quìu đai vé ri sun .. hớ ni cơm bát du ken sệp mai lai


        No doubt, this is very funny.

  7. Bob Bateman

    My wife, who speaks Hindi and Urdu (among others), will be passing the Benny Lava video around at State tomorrow. Will keep you posted on the feedback from those who speak the languages.

    Bob Bateman

  8. Hawkeye


    (didn’t want to jump in as the comments are interesting.)

    The original language of Benny Lava is Thamizh (or) Tamil (to be easy on the tongue). Not Hindi. Not Urdu.

    1. tali

      Don’t mean to speak for Max, but I believe that in this specific debate those details are important enough to make a jump-in ;)

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Sorry, I had meant to say thanks to Hawkeye. I had simply assumed that both videos were in Hindi, and even though I have spent a fair amount of time among Tamil-speaking colleagues and friends many years ago, I did not recognize it.

  9. Bob Bateman

    Yea, what I got from her when I forwarded the video was that she didn’t understand the language herself. (She did one tour at US EMB Colombo, and indeed I visited her there at about this time last year, but she never had the time to pick up Indi-Tamil or Sri Lankan Tamil.) (Though she did not discount the possibility that it was Hindi and she just couldn’t understand it due to a combination of her tinnitus and the way it was being sung.)

    With something like 20 major (and hundreds of minor, and it’s anybody’s guess which fall in which catagories) languages in India, it’s really not that surprising that their unitary language is English. (All of their military academies, for example, use English as the main language of instruction for officers.)

    Now that you’ve nailed the specifics, I’ll ask her to forward to US EMB Colombo and see if there are any Tamil speakers there who want to comment. (Realizing, of course, that the odds are long against it. Sinhalese is the majority language in SL, that is the language of the government so that is what US EMB is prepared for. Indeed, it was the government’s “Sinhalese Only” language law that was the proximate cause for the beginning of that Civil War almost 30 years ago.)

    Bob Bateman

  10. Hawkeye


    Thanks. Its a common mistake. For many reasons all of Indian cinema is associated with Bollywood when in reality about 60% of Indian cinema is produced outside of bollywood.

    The actor you see here with a bear is a Dance Choreographer turned actor (now he is a director) called Prabhu Deva. It was a flop movie and the song went by unnoticed until Benny Lava happened.


    The song, although is in Tamil, is sung by a hindi singer (I am guessing a little here as I don’t know the details) who does not know/speak the language. Which is why your friend might have had difficulty hearing it.

    /* it was the government’s “Sinhalese Only” language law that was the proximate cause for the beginning of that Civil War almost 30 years ago */

    Interesting the way history of nations work – this is approxiately in the same time period when Indian government prevented such a civil unrest (which was developing fast) when they abandoned their “hindi only” plans.

  11. Elizabeth

    I consider these hilarious, actually. If you search diligently, you can also find white guys and girls gormlessly attempting to sing in Hindi or other Indian languages, with commentary by subcontinentals on how funny/cringingly pathetic/not-bad-considering-not-desi/WTFbizarre the performances are.

    White guy does his impression of what Bollywood movies look like, this one is a real pisser:

    Heino gets wig blown off while singing horrible Wigwam song:
    “Komm’ in meinen Wigwam” spoof… Heino is kind of like our Jerry Lewis to the Germans…that is, “why in the world do the French like our horrible Jerry Lewis” – the Germans feel like that about Heino:

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I thought that “White Guy” was terribly convincing, thanks for that link. I wish I had known about it before. This is actually the very first time that I am seeing that particular comedian.

      There definitely is a pattern here — I think of one of the skits of Dario Fo, that consisted entirely of his speaking gibberish that sounded, to Italian ears, like American English — no actual words, lots of sounds and gestures, that to Italians produced a facsimile of what many saw as the “typical American tourist.” White Guy is not making up words of course, but he is mimicking what he sees in Bollywood (minus the finger puppet), and I suppose that much of the audience laughs, just for seeing a “white guy” do something that “white guys” ordinarily do not do.

      The second one was harder for me to understand, and not just because it was in German (although, that, and the fact that I was not raised in the right context and have had little exposure to what might be called German pop culture, must have a significant impact). I was not sure about how you would fit it in with the first video.

      1. Elizabeth

        Yes! I think WG was making just as much fun of himself and of WGs in general as he was of Bollywood movies, as in, “WGs don’t…”. (fill in the blank – play basketball, dance with passion and grace, use wrists so flexibly in a manner we associate with hand puppeting, emote quite so facially and cartoonishly …). That’s why it’s so funny – because you don’t expect him to act like that.
        Re: Heino, I didn’t intend to continue commenting and was just offering up a distantly related crumb in a sort of “hit and run”, panning out (without sufficient ceremony) to a broader area of cross-cultural meme translation of the “Japanese Elvis impersonators” type. My mental connections can be overly fluid sometimes. Apologies!
        Where I live now, I have not found “camp” and “kitsch” to exist in the rather evolved forms I have experienced the appreciation of such in my own culture, and it is strange to live among people with that lack of cultural self-awareness (a self-awareness that, if you read the comments to the WG’s spoof, Indians do appear to have, so I am attributing this to the fact that they are an ancient civilization and therefore secure in themselves?). Humor, language and culture are perennially fascinating to me.
        I actually feel rather hopeful when I see things like Benny Lava on the Net. Societies who can laugh at one another and at themselves are less likely to abuse one another perhaps, than two who cannot.
        The French interpreting the Russian anthem:

        Ce soir: Sardaigne!


      2. Maximilian Forte

        “Societies who can laugh at one another and at themselves are less likely to abuse one another perhaps, than two who cannot.”

        I am hopeful about this and would like to agree. It’s absolutely vital really. However, I am afraid that there are too many persons and organizations that erect themselves in a position of cultural vigilance, and who make a career over sanctioning inappropriate remarks about one’s culture.

      3. Elizabeth

        I don’t personally see these as mutually exclusive.
        Cultural vigilance is necessary to preserve culture, or we’ll have one big multiculti Coca-Cola world with no distinctive flavors to make life interesting. Purists perform a valuable service. Staunch is good.
        Being nasty about it is quite another thing though.

  12. Elizabeth

    It’s just this in the New Media, but due to the effects of the Internet, this art is not only available to a wider audience, but also creation itself and the profession of “artist”, in the broad sense, are no longer the territory of the elite. So Buffalax from Dayton can Create…and the People can enjoy his oeuvre.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks very much Elizabeth, I was trying to remember that very story that you linked to! Certainly, an encounter is far better than ignoring the other, and the idea of humour as laughing about our cultures is certainly a healthy one since it reminds us of its arbitariness. I like your point about cultural vigilance — in fact, I like many of the points you are raising here.

      It was just Heino who for some reason went right over my head.

  13. Erik Johnson

    That Buffalax’s video is popular enough and can even be taken seriously enough to be deconstructed in an anthropological / linguistic context is somewhat interesting and probably a strong indication that many people simply have way too much time on their hands (myself included).

    But if the general gist of your article is that this ideal of globalization and cross cultural understanding has been a horrible failure and Buffalax’s video is a case in point of how such cultural exposure can backfire and represents the worst of human nature, and can actually be an agent for the opposite effect (hightening paranoia and prejudice), then I would say that that that premise is a much much too hasty view of things.

    As you point out, it is not for lack of interest that Buffalax has gone to all this trouble. It is my own belief that a great deal of the popularity of that video is the music and choreography itself. That is, people enjoy the tune and they enjoy watching the dance, and they are probably singing along to Buffalax’s translation out of sheer musical interest. The fact that we are laughing at the “translation” is because people enjoy a good laugh, and if anyone is “laughing at” more than “laughing with”, it is surely as much at Buffalax himself as anything derogatory towards Indians.

    Was Buffalax’s intention to get himself culturally educated? I think you can answer that for yourself. Had this video been introduced at the right place and time with an actual English translation, it might also have been quite popular, though not likely *as* popular as what we have because it would be lacking the humor. Some people are going to poke childish fun at things that are different and things they don’t understand and, again, it would be wrong to assume we know the overall net effect of such things.

    Some of the “translation” may be offensive to Indians and the singers /choreographers involved, but at the same time it would be wrong to assume that no cross-cultural understanding and/or respect has taken place. If, after seeing Buffalax’s video, some people think “Oh, that was kinda cool” and go off to “The Google” and search “Bollywood”, or “Indian Music Video” or whatever, and find other related material and come to build a respect and appreciation for Indian modern art, then perhaps Buffalax has been an agent for that ideal of cross cultural globalization after all.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Yes, those are very good points.

      I would not say that we need to have too much time on our hands in order to delve into issues of cross-cultural communication in a context of alleged “globalization,” these are pretty important issues, even if the case in question was put forth as part of my “Monday Morning Madness” series.

      I acknowledge the humour, the potential for a further deepening of interest and understanding. As I said, you made very good points. However, I think there is also ample evidence to suggest that if “globalization” was the heightening of global self-awareness and global consciousness and the creation of global cultural flows…then that is the hasty argument, that remains largely unproven, and my post was a reaction to that.

      I personally do not see that there is much more cross-cultural understanding than there was in 1492. In fact, even within these entities we call cultures, there seems to be much less understanding.

  14. Caleb

    I feel a little uneducated compared to the Author of this article and most of the other people that have left comments but as a 17 year old I still feel i have a lot to learn. I for one am astounded by the insensitivity of most of my fellow westerners. I think this Bufflax is totally out of line. I feel like people like him mar our society. We should be open to other cultures and not do things that are so racist. i say racist because i have been on youtube trying to find the real name of the “may he poop on my knee” song, i found a slew of derogatory videos and nearly none that didn’t contain “Hot Indian pussy” or “*insert bollywood star’s name* gets naked” or other atrocious and down right disgusting things. My wife to be is of Arabic heritage and I have had enough people saying things like “Rag-heads”, “Sand Nigger” and “A-rab”. She deals with it on a daily basis, and I am appalled that now our disdain for anyone different or or of another culture has now sparked a internet Phenomenon!

    P.S. could anyone tell me the real name of “May he poop on my knee” i love this song and cant stand giving Bufflax and his ilk any more views….

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I very much sympathize with your comments. Unfortunately, I personally don’t know the real names of the songs. The only thing I can think of, and it may prove to be very time consuming, is to search web pages in India, especially forums, where people might be discussing the songs (they might reveal the real names…but they might also not be writing in English). The other option — not that I have tried this — is to join Orkut (a social networking site popular with Indians), and ask around for help.

      1. Caleb

        Thank you, i am surprised i was replied to so promptly. I will just swallow my disgust and continue to watch the video. I am far to lazy to spend any more time on this quest for the real name of this song. I live in “The South” and comments like the ones i mentioned before are common place. I have been sent to the Administrators more than once after getting in a fight with the “Rednecks” at my school who call my fiancée these names. I am truly sickened by the degradation of our civilization. We seem to slip farther and farther into the clutches of total idiocy every day. I am “graced” with the privilege to grow up in a society that considers the muscle bound sports players to be “cool” and desirable. The artists and scholars like my self are “weird” or “Devil worshipers” because of my musical taste or the fact my hair is long. The girl i love is considered trash and a terrorist.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Now I very much sympathize, because these are the kinds of emotions that I often get as well, and growing up in Canada was not all that different from what you describe, despite the pleasant little veneer that has been cultivated abroad about Canada (rest assured, much of it is nonsense). Incidentally, you might be interested in knowing that there have been “race riots” in recent years in some of the large cities of Australia, like Sydney and Melbourne, and recently the favourite targets of rednecks there are students from India, with one killed (stabbed to death with screwdrivers). I think you are right on target with the view of the degradation of our civilization. The Arab-hatred and Islamophobia has reached a screaming pitch, regardless of whatever people thought would change with Obama. There are countless examples of this, most recently the airing of assumptions that all detainees at Guantanamo are “terrorists” — when the vast majority were totally innocent, and yet abused and tortured, they get absolutely no sympathy.

        I should have said, “don’t get me started,” but really this is the kind of thing that preoccupies me most on this blog. I am very thankful for your visits and I hope you will be back.

  15. Elizabeth

    Language: Tamil
    Original title of song:”Kalluri Vaanil”
    Singer/actor name: Prabhu Deva
    Movie’s name: Pennin Manathai Thottu
    From the Wikipedia entry on Mr. Deva:
    “The name Benny Lava comes from Sutton’s subtitling of the Tamil lead line “Kalluri vaanil kaayndha nilaavo?” as “My loony bun is fine, Benny Lava!” (original meaning: The moon (metaphor for ‘babe’) that scorched the college campus”). The video led other Youtube users to refer to Prabhu Deva as “Benny Lava”.”
    So I don’t know how “highbrow” the original movie would actually have been considered in their own culture. When I think South Indian highbrow I think more…Manickam Yogeswaran(?) Correct me if I am

    Contrast for instance, in the case of Great Britain, “Little Britain” and A Midsummer Night’s Dream…

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks very much Elizabeth, much appreciated, and I think at least two of us are very happy that you found this information and the translations.

  16. Caleb Hitt

    Well i have book marked this site. So you may be seeing me around from time to time. I have lots of time on my hands and many thoughts and views that I could not share with even my own family. My grandparents(whom i live with) are even displeased with my choice of partners. They are not ones that approve of interracial relationships. I hope that things change and that the masses will become more accepting but i feel that hope will be in vane. I hate to quote a movie in such a serious place but “Every time i have seen the would change it has always been for the worst.” Eve-V for Vendetta. I have began to think that she may be right. The economy is hurting everyone I cant find a job to help my Grandparents, the hatred of Arabic people grows steadily worse, our children (*snicker* your children i am not even old enough to pretend to have children.) IQs seem to be dropping at a alarming rate, and world war could easily be a thing of the near future. but these are things for other blogs.

    I am not sure what time it is ware ever you are Max but it is very late here and so i will now attempt to defeat my insomnia! Good night.

    Caleb Hitt your friendly neighborhood political activist.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Great to see you again Caleb. Feel free any time to post, because all of those subjects are appropriate for this blog, and what isn’t appropriate for this blog can sometimes provoke a useful discussion on what ought to be appropriate, and so forth.

  17. Karthikeyan G

    I m from tamil speaking part of the world, i dont find anything funny on the buffalax version “kalloori vaanil..” song. Infact i feel irritating on some of the racial comment for “Benny lava..” Youtube post.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Yes, and I think that the audience that is intended to laugh is primarily a North American one. However, to be frank, as someone in North America I personally did not find it funny, and if there were to be subtitles I would have preferred for the actual words of the song to be translated.

  18. Elizabeth

    Tamils have had cracks at the Titanic and 300, among others…they’re out there spoofing with the rest of them. And a good job they’re doing, too. Erm, sometimes:


    That one’s so cheezy-bad it’s good (the key to not taking this stuff seriously, IMO – if it’s cheez, it’s fair game). One recent new vehicle I have observed for cross-cultural humor sharing is the overstream.net site, which facilitates home-dubbing.

    Here’s the Titanic in Tamil – dubbed in French!


    I noted that funny youtubes have gone internationally viral, with people doing their own home-dubbing of homemade youtubes into foreign languages. I found the “Unemployed Star Wars Stormtrooper” one dubbed into Russian there, for instance. It’s scary, watching those memes hopping like lemmings into a foreign cyberpsyche…not knowing how they’ll be treated and how they will morph. Ideally you want only the best of your culture being represented faithfully and respectfully in careful translation to another. But the elites no longer have control over transmission. The Net has allowed large numbers of people unsupervised access to an astounding amount of material. Now we have a global human experiment in the making. Frontier-watching in this area is an irresistible hobby.

  19. elne

    Some background on myself first :).

    nationality: Indian
    ethnicity: This’ll be fun…

    Father: a North Indian (from a city called Benaras) born and brought up in Mumbai (yes, the very same one in Slumdog Millionaire for those who need a reference point) in the Western region of India. His natural language is Hindi.

    Mother: a South Indian from Bangalore (natural language is called Kannada). She, however, spent most of her life in a city called Chennai (where everyone speaks Tamil, which happens to be the language in the Benny lava video, I think multiple people have already confirmed it).

    To top it all, I’ve been out of India for the first half of my life, living in Abu Dhabi (which is a city next to Dubai), so I do know a little Arabic.

    Of course, due to this happy mishmash, English ended up being the language of choice in our household.

    I’d like to think I have the benefit of straddling multiple cultures (though this very justifiably could just be hubris on my part. I am aware that cross-ethnicity alone does not make a multi-cultural man, it has a lot to do with general attitudes, tolerance, respect, etc.).

    I see nothing wrong with videos like this, as long as they’re taken in the right spirit. Note that such videos being MADE in the right spirit does count a lot, but its our responses to such events that are more important than the driving forces (i.e. I’ve heard that during the American war of Independence, “Yankee Doodle” was actually a derogatory rhyme penned by a British colonial, which become a badge of pride for the American revolutionaries). Being open-minded need not imply some sort of “surrender”… but more of a “limited assimilation” of other attitudes and cultures. Something that I feel my country is steadily moving away from, a slide that we must somehow arrest (if not reverse).

    By the way, the video made me painfully slip off my chair in the office, hit the plush carpeted floor in a moment of exquisite surrender, and writhe in agonized laughter.

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