To list my pet peeves
My first Sunday home I curl up with the Sunday paper. The magazine sections are reviewing a book-reading cum mime performance in Karachi. The reviews are mixed with some criticizing the very feature that was remarkable about the evening and surprisingly acclaiming all that was offensive. Mamun Adil, the reviewer from Dawn was alone in deploring the fact that during the evening even the audience present was more animated during the bawdy skits and was rather indifferent to what was ‘refreshingly different from the usual buffoonery’. Adil, like many of us questioned whether (after such a reaction from critics and audiences alike) imaginative minds in Pakistan would take the easy, read mediocre, way out rather than going the extra mile.
That recently certain creative artists in Pakistan have been meting out material, which is rather uninspired, has not escaped anyone’s attention. For instance a number of times while watching Pakistani dramas overseas, friends sitting next to me would recite the approaching story line or worse the next three lines for the central character’s forthcoming dialogues. “Have we watched this play before?” I would inquire reaching out for the next DVD. “No, but we have watched a lot of Pakistani dramas now and it is much the same.” When did we grow so tired that we just stopped making the effort? But what is sadder is that we as the audience have stopped caring and are rather unmoved about what is appearing on our screens.
I have had this conversation before with colleagues that doing away with most of the restrictions on the electronic media and allowing a relatively freethinking print media to emerge in Pakistan has just exposed how ‘mediocre’ our society has become. Twenty years of a media revolution and all this time what people were really waiting for was Shekhar Suman dancing on local TV screens.
We all welcomed the promise of the great Pakistani political debate courtesy a fresh line- up of television discussion programmes. Alas, none of the politicians appearing in these talk shows had much to say. Yes we were all exposed to the Pakistani political creature, warts and all. But most of these talk shows have ended up as a vulgar free for all; a crude struggle over who can deliver the coarsest sound bytes before the other rudely cuts him off. When the participants are allowed to speak they disappoint us as none of them can coherently phrase a logical string of arguments. Do any of them actually prepare for their on-screen debates? Do they really care for the audience who would really like to be informed about their political plan of action? Pakistani audiences, I heard quickly lost interest and tuned off. It might have been entertaining initially to see our political representatives scuffling with their political opponents on our television screens, but after some time even this loses its initial ‘voyeuristic’ appeal.
It is much the same on political talk shows every night. It is worrying that there is only one ‘moderate mind’ present on the panel for three right wing panelists. What is repeated every evening is the hapless representative of the relatively liberal section of civil society squirms in a corner as the right wing panelists and even the programme host puts him/her through the mill. The programme host of a weekly political talk show from Islamabad rather than being a moderator behaves more like a raucous fifth panelist as he constantly holds up the debate and through his rants and raves reveals his political agenda.
However, what is number one on my list of weekly grouses is the content of the recently introduced Voice of America. For half an hour I experienced an eerie feeling of de ja vu, didn’t we all outgrow all that was USIS only some years ago? I do know that at some stage I would be condemned to repeat the past but this seems all too soon. I think it is too early to cozy up to images of kindly Pakistani American families being poster children for the great American experience. The past two evenings we have been subjected to watching men with considerable facial hair making a case for Thanksgiving ‘hamein do do turkey dinner kee invitations hain’. Pakistani women in satin shalwar kamiz busying themselves in American kitchens mouthing inane dialogues on the merits of Thanksgiving. Once again there is an effort to recreate a feel good policy towards Washington by watching candy floss images dubbed in Urdu. I realise that I have to caution myself in my critique by not sounding horribly right wing. It is a challenge in recent times to criticize the mediocrity of television programme content, the paucity of political debate, and the prevalent apathy towards the reinstitution of the grand brain-washing project. How do we frame our disapproval of the dumbing down of Pakistani civil society without sounding at best as Qazi’s mouth piece?
It is maddening to watch the constant recycling of media images on my television screen, the same media clip being used for three news reports; to read clichéd ‘reprocessed’ news stories. Are their any rights for the reader as the consumer? I have been asking people whether there have been any efforts towards instituting a ‘Media Watch’ on the lines of a consumer watch group. Colleagues have told me about the efforts of the Green Press and certain non-governmental groups in Islamabad but their initial enthusiasm dwindled away after the initial few reports. Friday Times does print a weekly selection of the absurd and ridiculous from the Urdu media, but that just reminds how sad the Urdu press can be at times. What we really need at the moment is a weekly eye on the local media. To have some respected senior member of the Pakistani media possibly going on a sabbatical from his/her regular place of employment to ensure impartiality in their media critique. To have this person hopefully organising a television programme on this theme. Oh to have every week one soul on our TV screens reviewing objectively what is presented by our print and electronic media. That we can look forward every week to a critical political comment on our times. I can dream, can’t I?