Tag Archives: marx

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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Poli-tickle theory

If I had a nickel for every time I told someone that I have a degree in political economy and was met by the response, “Oh, maybe you can fix Pakistan’s politics and economy!”… I probably could fix everything. Truth be told, Pakistan’s politics and economy baffle me. The tangled web of bureaucracy, MPA’s, local politics, corruption, Shahbaz Sharif’s edicts, the suo moto’s sitting in the courts, the pear-shaped police, Altaf Hussain’s rambles… my reaction is to place my fingers on my forehead and stare at my palms. And then Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi keep scratching and chewing cricket balls.

Though I might be dazed by Pakistan’s politics, the good thing is that everyone else is not. Everybody has a theory, and is kind enough to share it, and keeps sharing it.

It is good that I get to hear so much theoretical analysis of Pakistani politics. As luck would have it, I teach politics to wildly clueless third year students, who most of the time cannot tell their political left from right. They regularly ask me to revise my Weber and Waltz… they’ve absolutely got it wrong, all wrong. And truth be told, which of our current news pundits and analysts have ever tried to apply political theory to the events of Pakistan? Their own theories are enough, who cares about Chomsky and Foucault. Foo-who? Never mind.

So there I was, in the faculty lounge, trying to make out the handwriting of one of my students, when I was interrupted by the new Chief-Administrative-Manager-Head (or some combination of these words).

“Who are you?” he inquired very politely, to which I replied I was a teacher. Hoping he would leave it at that and just assume I taught advanced econometric analysis, I went back to my big red crosses (with a side of student gibberish).

“What do you teach?” he inquired extremely politely, to which I sighed… “Politics.”

Achaaaannnn … then you can tell me what the problem is with Pakistan, ehhh?” I had shot myself in the foot again.

“I am really very busy sir, gotta check these quizzes, clock is ticking,” I responded curtly.

Achaaaannnnn … then we should talk about politics when you are free sometime. But if you have a minute, let me tell you what I think we should do.”

I put my pen down, and stared at him blankly. Nothing would stop him from blurting out THE THEORY. Might as well try to get this over with.

“So once a long time ago I was on a train to Karachi from Lahore. And we were talking about politics the way friends do. And believe you me, Believe. You. Me. We came up with the perfect solution.”

And then the build-up began.

“First, you have elections. Then you form a parliament from those who win. And then… you shoot everybody!”

The punch line was like a wet fish thrown in my face. He smiled, very pleased. I thought it was over, but it wasn’t…

“You see, some corrupt politicos who lost the last election will be left. Also the chamchas andchailas and brethren of those we shot will also be enraged and motivated to do something. Democracy after all is the best revenge. So then you have another election and form a parliament with them. And then…” oh dear, it was coming again, “You shoot everybody!”

Not over yet.

“Then… have another election! But let those people live; the first two shootings will have rid the system of corruption.”

He had just trampled all over that thin line between dull humour and insanity tossed with absolute seriousness. I nodded my head, “Excellent, ha ha, excellent… let’s continue this later,” and hid behind my quiz.

There are so many ideas like this floating around. From meta-theories that say that the US is the Dajjal , to the highly common, insensitive and mindless, “You know what God is punishing people in our north for, don’t you?!”

Another howler has been making the rounds very successfully, brought to my attention through a colleague at an Ivy League institution (and here I thought the best education in the world can cure silliness). Gather round and listen closely friends, the US has a secret weapon called HAARP. It has been using this to cause natural disasters. In fact Hugo Chavez has been quoted saying that the US testing of this ‘tectonic weapon’ led to the Haiti earthquake. The US also caused our 2005 earthquake, and now the floods. Time is nigh. A tsunami is coming. Believe you me.

HAARP, theHigh Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme is apparently an ionosphericresearch programme jointly funded by the US military and the University of Alaska. The purpose, allegedly, is to develop better technology for radio communications and surveillance purposes (such as missile detection) based on the testing of the ionosphere 85km above the earth’s surface as it influences radio waves and transmissions. But I’m no physicist.

You’ve heard them all before. 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy. Faisal Shahzad’s botched plan was a Zionist conspiracy. The US is a Zionist conspiracy. And Altaf Bhai is an alien.

And rest assured, the Indian Cricket Board was behind the spot-fixing scandal. It was all RAW. We were framed. Believe you me.

Saadia Gardezi is not part of any ideological mafia, and is open to your theories. Do write and send your views to TFT.

The Friday Times, October 15-21, 2010, Vol. XXII, No. 35

British school international political economy (BS IPE?)

The British school of international political economy is where I have been “trained”. Why does this matter? Well I didn’t think it when I applied for my course, it seemed like a good degree to do after studying economics. Here’s my two cents for those of you asking what is wrong with me.

There are some things missing at the “British School” style of IPE education, that I realize now that my formal education is kinda over.

A) The acute focus on theory; theory that is itself “Brit-school”. This includes a lot of focus on epistemology and ontology, liberal trade theory as it applied to Europe, “Marxist” theory of the critical branch coming from Robert Cox from Canada and people like Rosenberg and Linklater in UK.

B) There is a lack of focus on methods, including statistics and economics. Thus data analysis takes a back seat.

C) Teaching isn’t as rigorous as I wanted it to be. What they called teaching, I called guidance to the right book in the library.

On the plus side, usually British teachers (in the politics field at least) are very open, and responsive.

British school IPE though good as a social science subject is probably good for politics, a little bit of media, and maybe even something like working for the European Commission or the UN (if you are white or extremely lucky). If you don’t want to cause a socialist revolution, want to do formal research, be able to rigorously handle numbers and get a good job in the underdeveloped country with massive figures of poverty get thyself to the US. Or just stick with the economists.

Look here if you’re interested:

Brit vs American IPE: http://ipeatups.blogspot.com/2007/01/british-versus-american-ipe.html

Old and New IPE-Keohane: http://pdfserve.informaworld.com/218504__909094975.pdf

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.