Inspiration — 22 October 2016
The dark side of the media behind the Chaiwala hype




“We also don’t  realize that, apart from sheer objectification of people, there is a great deal of harassment of the individual involved. We become a part of the mindset that maintains the rigid status quo of class discrimination”

By Waqas  Ali Muluk

Fate is capricious. One never knows what it will bring to one’s life. This seems to be true in case of Arshad Khan, dubbed as ChaiWala, a young boy with blue eyes from KPK province, who earned instant fame when a random photographer shared her click on social media.  Arshad Khan is a tea seller working in the Islamabad city. His casual photograph became viral on social media in a matter of a few hours. He got attention of  TV and social media and was interviewed by almost every news channel, and he remained on the top news trend for days to follow. Good for the young boy as eventually he was offered modeling contracts by many companies.  He wouldn’t have fathomed it in his wildest dreams, but good on him, his stars were exceptionally lucky.

But other chaiwala are not as lucky as him.

Examining the story, one can see where our media stands in terms of its priorities. Media nowadays is the most powerful tool in spreading news and creating public opinions. Media compels people to think about different issues and feeds them with their  analysis. We must appreciate the  social media is good platform to mobilize people on different issues, but it is very rare to see in societies, where people  instead use this platform for their vested public interests and propaganda. The role of media in this particular Chaiwala story tells us that the Pakistani media is just concerned about ratings and profit maximization. Surely media worked as a magic bullet for the boy, but it  raises some genuine questions about its professionalism. Instead of having diverse commentaries on his good looks, the media seemed less eager to highlight the issues that have compelled this young man to abandon education for cheap labour. No one was bothered to show concern over his economic situation or the everyday hardships which many tea sellers like him have to go through.  Instead, it would have been more meaningful if  media had  interviewed public officials and elected representatives about the lack of opportunities and their inefficiencies that have added to this problem . But why, one must ponder, the media has to forgo professionalism for commercial ratings by focusing on non-issues. Any hype created may  bring in  huge profits to them, but they don’t care that it comes at the cost of their credibility.

The debate is never ending whether it is the media that feeds the public, or if it goes the other way around. If the latter, then the reaction of Pakistani society towards this hype  is also despicable.  In a society  where people have a low literacy rate and abject poverty, a general  lack of empathy towards them is deplorable

All the sensationalism about the Chaiwala aside, we  cannot ignore the way the Arshad Khan has been grossly objectified. Indeed, it is sad to notice that this has  become quite a trend in our society to look at a person’s appearance rather than his or hers inner qualities.  Just for the record, the Chaiwala phenomenon has  not occurred for the first time. Recently,  Coke Studio featured Momina Mustehsen, whose features and attractiveness got people’s attention more than her talent of singing with  exceptional vocals, a very rare thing to see in our young generation. The objectification is not with the case of Momina alone, over the past few years the social media was busy in discussing looks and fashion of Gul Panra, Fawad Ali Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi and many more. Instead of giving a genuine critique on their art and talents, they have been overtly objectified. Let us also not ignore that a huge fan base  following of our stars; the youth is fast losing their humanness and originality when they  try imitate their favorite celebrities.

We also don’t  realize that, apart from sheer objectification of people, there is a great deal of harassment of the individual involved. We become a part of the mindset that maintains the rigid status quo of class discrimination, as we have seen a trend on “Kamwali “(maid),  as if it’s something cool.  We are also not aware of the discrimination we have created along ethnic and linguistic lines, as we witness today how many Arshad Khans are being  jokingly ridiculed about their accent and his Pathan identity. It is  subtle, but it is a very disturbing form of harassment with damaging implications in our social discourse.

Indeed, this phenomenon has opened up a genuine question of dilemma for the  media, which hungrily fests on public attention. The basic conscientious question for us is what kind of society is our media constructing.

Our society will  never stand up or acknowledge  thousands of Arshad Khans with those charming blue eyes who are working hard for meager wages. We are also insulting ourselves with the constrictive minds that is merely concerned with petty things about which  we get hyped up. It is sad to see how non-constructive  and stale has our mindset become, and while people globally are looking for life on Mars, we are here getting crazy over color of eyes.

The author is a freelance writer.




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