Tag Archives: communism

The patriot’s pop

1378895_orig.jpgThe pop culture machinery has always been generating alternative viewpoints that the state has been unable to successfully repress, whether it was Junoon’s banned Ehtisab in the 90s or Beghairat Brigade’s Aloo Anday in 2011. Through the presence of mass acceptance and love for Junoon, Ali Azmat today has modeled himself as a spokesperson for a political youth. Similarly Ali Aftab Saeed of Aloo Anday fame has been writing about media and national politics in national newspapers and has quite a readership.

Power and national/community culture create a symbiotic relationship over time where they both reinforce the status quo. Pop culture is the only element of culture that can resist the status quo, especially in traditional conservative societies were views on religion, social relationship and political power are deeply entrenched. Most of our counters to the status quo come from pop culture.

Examples of resistance to the state narrative are abound. They include Laal, the band formed by two academics with a common interest in Marxist theory. Osman Khalid Butt in his YouTube commentaries constantly critiques dominant social norms. And then we have a massive corpus of Pakistani meme’s hosted on Facebook pages like The Sarrialist Movement and Sarcasmistan, providing us with a daily changing commentary on Pakistani life and culture with humour and wit to boot.

Indian culture and it’s influence in Pakistan cannot be understated… what with Veena Malik marketing herself as the nation’s Malika Sherawat (with added masala), and Amitabh Bachan being a household name. Our parents and grandparents grew up on Kishore Kumar’s music and Rajesh Khanaa’s acting. There is a long history of shared stardom with Muhammad Rafi, Nusrat Fateh Ali and Adnan Sami Khan.

This connection is sometimes lamented as the pollution of a Pakistani-Islamic culture with pagan Indian influence. In conservative discussions, the influence of Hinduism and India is ignored when it comes to our customs and traditions, but this concern is irrelevant to pop culture. It just isn’t something that can be nationally or ideologically controlled.

What it is, is a collection of actions and influences that creates something instantly recognisable. Nadeem and Waheed Murad would always have stiff competition from across the border. Much of our urban youth looked to Shahrukh Khan and Kajol for entertainment in the 90’s and Imran Khan and Katrina Kaif today, rather than Pakistani actors like Moammar Rana or Saima who seem to have graced the silver screen since time immemorial. The neighbourly influence is natural.

Cultures have regional and national characteristics, so for the subcontinent that has a shared history of centuries, it is natural that Pakistani would be part of the cultural influence of a much bigger and louder neighbour. A decade ago, Kyun Ke Saas Bhee Kabhi Bahu Thee had a monopoly over the hearts and minds of housewives everywhere. Only recently did shows like Humsafar take this territory back. But not completely. Within culture’s own struggle for identity, whether through an agenda, or for want to identify with something non-Indian and “Islamic”, the broadcasting and watching of Turkish soaps dubbed in Urdu has become a favourite national pastime.

Across the border, Prime Minster Modi has made Smriti Irani, aka Tulsi, the actress of Kyun-Ke-Saas-Bhee-Kabhi-Bahu-Thee fame, his Human Resource Minister— a move that would fit well in an Indian soap. The influence that popularity has on political power cannot be understated. There is no other way to explain why the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger could have such political success as to become the Governor of California. Or the mass appeal Imran Khan has and his success in Pakistani politics. His status as a national cricket icon has reaped him great dividends in his political ambition. What is familiar is easier to trust, and the nostalgia his cricketing days produce in our hearts and minds help us feel better about him as a leader.

There is huge support in political and cultural theory for popular culture as an untapped source for mass empowerment. Traditions from Gramsci (the Italian Marxist philosopher) see pop culture as a space of struggle between subordinated groups and the forces of ‘incorporation’ operating in the interests of dominant groups in society. Post-modern theory even goes so far as to reject the distinction between dominant or ‘high’ culture (fine art, architecture etc.) and pop culture, giving as much importance to the phenomenon of crass Punjabi films as one would to high brow films like Ramchand Pakistani.

The Nation,  July 9 2014.

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Propaganda Sunday

Instead of preparing for a class on Monday, I am back to my prior obsession of staring at moldy yellow posters…

Oh yes, China is verily a paradise. I totally buy it (no sarcasm intended). I am dying to visit Beijing and see for myself why it’s becoming the new centre of the world.

Li Zhenhua, 1973- The brigade’s ducks

This is an example of a painting by a peasant from the rural Huxian district. The Huxian peasant painters are propagated in China as examples of the innate genius of the people. But in reality it is alleged that these amateur artists were helped by professionals  sent to the countryside to “learn from the peasants”, which is why this comes under the classification of “propaganda.”

Here’s another one of a family “enjoying” political slogans and speeches on the village PA system. Notice the shrine to Mao.

Huang Entao (still draws posters and comics), 1972

Get a grip, Rabbit!

Published in the Friday Times, July 9th issue

Good advice for hard times…

The words on the back of rickshaws are magical, in Punjabi they sound ribald, but once translated into Urdu or English, they instantly attain a deeper gravity. For instance, “Ajj aggay waikh, pichaay na waikh” (don’t look back, look ahead today) and when times get hard, “Lag gai te Rozi, na lagi te Roza”, (If I make money, I’ll feast, if not I’ll fast).

The point is not to sugarcoat adversity, but be sane and simple about it. On the desi front, the best advice on offer does not come from my great grandmother, from a legendary poet, or from a charismatic leader of yore, but from the rickshaw driver. He is a cultural phenomenon in his own right and wants to tell you, “Hosh Ker Kherghosh” (Get a grip, Rabbit!).

On the issue of no-nonsense common sense, the British take the cake. The British are excellent at mincing their words (stiff upper lip and all that) with an inability to match the touch-feely, self-help, motivational sloganeering of America. Thus when Brits find themselves in a tight spot, like the occasional World War, they resort to more restrained and formal modes of address as in
Winston Churchill stoutly saying;“I am an optimist. It doesn’t seem much use being anything else.”

In 1939 on the eve of war, the British government’s Ministry of Information produced three posters, with simple reassuring instructions on how to conduct life during war time. They each said blatantly “Your Freedom is in Peril”; reassuringly “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution, Will Bring Us Victory”; and nonchalantly “Keep Calm and Carry On”; all topped with the comforting seal of King George VI’s crown.

The last poster entered popular culture with the BBC calling it the greatest motivational poster of all time. The two and a half million posters with the “Keep Calm and Carry On” message would only have seen the light of day if Germany had invaded Britain. As it was, the need never arose and they were pulped, much to the delight of the Ministry of Information, except that a box went missing and was discovered in 2008 in a house in Northumbria. The discoverers, Mr and Mrs Manley, put the poster up in their bookshop and it became a national treasure. Continue reading Get a grip, Rabbit!

Propaganda Sunday

More  on propaganda art…

As opposed to more “inspiring” and nationalistic attempts at garnering support for the Soviet cause (like the one on the side about “A Mighty Sports Power”) this poster aims at being simple and therefore effective.

Other posters are usually in Russian but this one in English obviously aims at a more international audience. The Soviet Union wanted to promote a positive image of itself throughout the early 1970s against a backdrop of the Vietnam War and a highly volatile relationship with the USA.

Prayer to Karl Marx

A specter is haunting the space between my ears. The specter is chewing on my brain cells. Please listen to my plea, while the specter chews and gnaws on my brain tissues and I momentarily spasm and drool.

I know you think that Capitalism is dead labor, and vampire like, and sucks on living labor etc. But the thing is firstly, I love buying new stuff Mr. Marx. Really, makes me happy. Like opium. And secondly, though you are sexy, vampires are more so. Were their vampires in your time?? I cant find any. I’m supposing that since you talked of vampires you probably read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So in my book you are a cool dude no matter what the pope says about you. I would check if you and Mr. Stoker were alive at the same time but I am too lazy to Google it.
I sometimes wonder what you would say about Google.

Karl my man, I am bummed out. I know you were a real hippie cool cat with your communist party and all, so if my property isn’t private no more, can I still keep my posters?? Pretty please.

Getting to the point, I am writing an essay saying that you did nothing for the International Relations discipline. Please forgive. I do love you. But its business you know. I will however to quell your wrath write about how amazing historical materialism has been for the Neo’s. Even though Waltz points at them and laughs.

I pray to you, reveal to me the awsomeness of hysterical and diabolical mysterialism so I can curse the other students with it and get an A+. I never quite got the hang of it. Also reveal to me you theory of surplus value, I am too dumb to understand Kapital. I have been trying ever since I was a wee freshman half a decade ago.

I oxymoronically pray to you, with a sickel in my left hand and a hammer in my right (or should i hold them the other way around??). If you didn’t go to hell for giving Lenin his crazy ideas, please bless my essay. Bless my mom, and dad. Bless my commie friends back home. Don’t bless Zardari. And please shave.