By Farooq Sulehria
‘Veena Malik posed naked for a magazine with ISI tattoo on her arms. In retaliation, Zaid Hamid will feature naked with a Mohammad bin Qasim tattoo in the next issue of ISPR’s monthly Hilal magazine’
On the ‘Memogate’ sidelines, Veena Malik figuratively wormed her way back into recent headlines. Her tattooed arm on the title of Indian magazine FHM made a Facebook friend spontaneously quip: ‘Veena Malik posed naked for a magazine with ISI tattoo on her arms. In retaliation, Zaid Hamid will feature naked with a Mohammad bin Qasim tattoo in the next issue of ISPR’s monthly Hilal magazine’. Another Facebook friend counterposed Veena Malik’s bare-it-all picture with images of Bombay massacre wrought by Ajmal-Kasab Eleven and posed the question: ‘What disturbs us more?’
Answer, at least in view of hysterical media reaction, was obvious. A social pornography began to clog the airwaves as was the case after Veena Malik appearance in ‘Big Boss’. Her Big Boss performance was judged by our mullahs. She was censured by televangelists. Her patriotism was questioned by ultra-nationalists. Lollywood Czar Syed Noor was frustrated that Veena Malik neither offered Namaz (prayers) nor recited Quran during her Big Boss performance. Nobody debated the logic of reality show formats imported from the West because any such debate would strip the corporate media with PROFIT tattooed all over. Neither anybody answered very valid questions raised by a defiant Veena Malik. During a TV duel, she asked a mullah why moralising beards did not bother about child abuse at mosque and madrasa. She wanted Lollywood Czar to answer why his heroines were not modestly dressed on screen and playing the ‘Naik Parveen’.
Similarly, Veena’s tattooed arm has inadvertently highlighted our collective hypocrisy as well as cultural asphyxiation. While media moralists were busy dressing Veena Malik up and down, her offensive image was lustfully shared on Facebook and massively mailed to intimate friends. Only FHM knows how many pious hits its obscene website has got from Pakistan ever since Veena Malik title was posted there. The Land of Pure is, after all, rated as world’s number one online pornography consumer (http://tribune.com.pk/story/313169/pakistan-maintains-top-slot-in-google-search-for-sex/).
By the time these lines will go to the press, media kerfuffle over tattooed arm would have completely subsided. The media will be busy in an even thrilling social pornography or a political striptease. Pleasure-hungry audiences will also be flipping channels. President Zardari’s fluctuating-heartbeat-great-escape-great-return is already a ‘breaking news’. Airtime/newspaper columns will never find spare space to waste on trivial debates mourning our cultural suicide and intellectual bankruptcy. Nobody among our cultural commissars will ever bother as to why an Indian magazine was able to scorn at Pakistan but in response our press and its electronic cousin were cutting a sorry figure.
Not that this author considers FHM’s mischief a piece of art. Commodifying women bodies as saleable images to seek profit is a disgusting characteristic of the corporatist media world over. Commodifying women bodies for profit drive is perhaps more repulsive than objectifying women bodies through Burkas. Also, art should promote peace and understanding. It should cultivate liberation and bring us civility. However, we in Pakistan also need to dare ask as to why, for instance, our kneejerk reaction to racist Danish caricatures was a bonfire of our cultural heritage on Lahore’s The Mall. Not merely Shehzan, a gathering place for city’s intelligentsia and political activists, was vandalized by arsonists, the Punjab Assembly also came under an arson attack. Or perhaps we already know the answer. On Eid ul Adha recently, Lollywood was not able to release a single film. When members of a student body would plant bombs at cinema houses and theatres, Lollywood would naturally become a cultural desert. Similarly, when televangelists will rule the public sphere the cultural spectacle would be reduced to the images of either Ajmal Kasab’s saffron wrist band or Veena Malik’s tattooed arm.
Farooq Sulehria is working with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen (www.internationalen.se). Before joining Internationalen, he worked for one year, 2006-07 at daily The News, Rawalpindi. Also, in Pakistan, he has worked with Lahore-based dailies, The Nation, The Frontier Post and Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from Punjab University, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications in Europe and Australia.