The Rise of the Guardians (of Morality)

Shahana Shah 

I got a text message from a former student informing me that he had started a campaign against “vulgarity in Pakistani media” and that it would be nice if I joined this well-intended movement. His method to bring about this “positive and attractive(!)” change? Getting a thousand people to sign a declaration that they didn’t want obscenity on television. As my usual reaction to tableeghi messages is, ironically enough, expressed in the form of a muttered obscenity immediately followed by deleting the message, I regret to say that I am unable to quote the whole thing word for word.

There were several things that disturbed me about the whole idea. For one, the misuse of the word vulgarity got my critical teacher radar spinning madly. I completely agree that a lot of content on Pakistani television is vulgar, but for me it is exemplified by hyper-commercialized Ramzan transmissions, live witch-hunting of idea-starved couples on date in drought-stricken parks, and Indian film award shows on Eid. I have spent hours explaining myself hoarse to youngsters in my academic care the subtlety in the use of words which may seem like synonyms. No, vulgar and obscene do not always mean the same thing. And, for the last time, these things are not exclusively related to women and their clothes in commercials. Finally, as any media student knows, subjectivity in interpretation is the most difficult issue when it comes to agreement over censorship of media content. I believe that advertisements for fairness creams are objectionable but apparently a great part of the audience finds them quite convincing.

Now, the desire in our youth to make a positive change in their surroundings is highly commendable. It would be great if they stopped to think a little before deciding on the worthiness of the cause chosen and then, the means that would be effective to get their point across. Suppose this student gets one thousand people to sign a declaration saying, “On with the burqas!” What will it change? Does it do anything about the objectification of women in media, the perversion of the real message of fasting or the incongruous playing of songs in the middle of the news hour?

My next problem with this kind of moral crusades is that they are about such a trivial matter that graver issues are sidelined. So, the Lux Style Awards put on too much skin on display on our TV screens. Too bad. But I am sure most pious people unwilling to watch badly choreographed dances are also aware of the invention of the remote control.  Alternately, it is also called the concept of free will. On the same note, even though it is a very complicated issue at the intersection of various industries, no one is forced to watch pornography. Or for that matter, Pashto films.

The real error occurs when one bases the definition of obscenity on the single and biased aspect of gender. Has anyone seen the red-beards on the Madani channel? I find the rose stuck in the turban of their televangelist vulgar, but I can’t complain of that content being objectionable because it is a man making a fool of himself.  It is time, after millennia of trial and error, that men stopped being the moral guardians of women and the whole of society. It would be much more heartening to see our youngsters doing something effective about prostitution, honor killing or the various forms of harassment rampant in the land of the pure. For starters, they could stop participating in it. Those media scholars who believe in the medium being the message would also advise proof reading the awareness leaflets before spreading them around so that fussy old teachers like me are not offended.

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One Comment

  1. i dont know why you have that much hatred for the religious people. ok, if you dnt agreed with your friends message then why you are hurting the majority feelings? you are also among those you look at the islamic people how they teached to look at them. had you ever urself studied quran and its interpretation? just gimme a reason on what basis you are giving such statements as freedom of expression is somewhat totally different in the perspective you have used. you dnt have any right to say anything wrong to the rituals and beliefs of muslims by nominating the beard of males as our prophet( S.A.W) had the same. the fault lies in us not in islam and its principles, we being the muslims aren’t good as our practices are totally our whims and innovations of our own. first study islam and then write columns on such topics as you have much to learn madam!!!!!!!!!!!!! and vulgarity and obscenity is totally prohibited in islam. do you have ever a look at the private channels? is this our custom, civilization or traditions? what our new generation is actually effected from such media practices? dnt we have our own cultural values or rich in culture? would it be enough to use remote control, pushed the button and change the channel? madam! the women isnt that worthless that men are always in full dress covered themselves and women are totally nude? being a women i dnt want to expose myself and dnt wanna do the same for others. i know prostitution , honour killing isnt acceptable but these are also not in islam, we also condemn the same and its the hour of the need to spread the awareness and abolish ignorance from our society.
    you the ability to write, kindly write that would be beneficial, fruitfull and positive for the people.

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