Glib, corrupt, or genuine
Most politicians just fit in the picture.
last laugh reserved for geeks and nerds
A dictionary may define a stereotype as a fixed idea but we are living in times where old stereotypes are being constantly evolved and new ones being constantly created. Is it then fair to call an evolving idea a stereotype? A little difficult, perhaps, and that is why we use the phrase "remaking stereotypes".
Basically we want to engage in a rethinking exercise in a world that stays similarly chaotic. Be it politics or culture or religion, we want to move away from the black and white descriptions into shades of grey. The instances we have picked up here are merely an excuse. Some of them may not exactly be stereotypes but we aim to initiate a different way of viewing them.
We don't exactly mean to say that the stereotype of a homosexual may not be true. What we mean to say is that here is something that we must learn to accept for what it is. We don't intend to ridicule those whom we think belong to the elite class. We want to bring out the complexity of elitism as a social class and how people point fingers at the other as elite. The hijab wearing women and the beard sporting men around us may not be the prototypes we like them to be and each one of them may be a different individual. The politicians may not always be the corrupt, lying cheats and the journalists may not exactly be the saviours or the opportunists that different people think they are.
We want to point out in this Special Report that this world needs the geeks and the nerds. So next time you think stereotypical, think twice!
Most politicians just fit in the picture.
If the stereotype is about starched clothes, pajeros, gun-toting security guards, speaking clichés, majority of them make no effort to break it. The list does not end here… Politicians are corrupt... Politicians don't practice what they preach… They are good liars... There is no democracy within their parties... Politics works on principles of bloodline…
And, more recently, the glib politicians are assumed to be running a mad race to get onto television talkshows to add to the body of lies. In their television performances, some of them carry an entertainment value as well – the Fauzia Wahabs or Sheikh Rashids or Dr Sher Afgans…
The dictionary says a stereotype may not be based on objective truth or it may reflect prejudice. Still the stereotype for a politician is fixed; also because Bollywood made it look like one for a majority of us. Nothing touched the common man's imagination more than the Bollywood's melodramatic presentation of neta juxtaposed to junta. One honest policeman may redeem the entire institution in a Bollywood film but not the politician who is always black – white and shades of grey being reserved for other characters. Talk about the local level politician and the land mafia, the underworld and the politician all roll into one.
What about the other side? What about the thin line between personal ambition and public service that defines so many other professions which are not projected as such like, for instance, the journalist or the doctor? What about the corruption of institutions that never gets headlines while the individual politician does? What about the hypocrisy of a nation that swears by a system but hates the people who are supposed to run that system? What about accepting political parties as the country's assets and rejecting politicians to keep those parties alive? What about the person who starts his day meeting ordinary people and tries to get things done for them and still carries the stigma of being a politician?
Our prototype of a politician is clearly distinct from that of a statesman. One fears with this prototype, we shall never get statesmen.
-- Farah Zia
Chashmaatoo, theta, keerha… whenever one hears these slurs, it is always the same image that springs to one's mind. A person with thick-framed glasses who buttons up his or her shirt all the way up (which by the way was always supposed to have weird colourful patterns) and tucks it, who is extremely dense and bookish while at school or college, always does his or her assignments on time and usually bags one of the top three positions in class.
The stereotypical geek or nerd has always been the butt of a lot of jokes that kept the rest of the class entertained from time to time. They usually sat in front of the class and jumped up and down at every opportunity to give an answer to a question. For the backbenchers, who are always assumed to be the scum of each class, it presented an excellent vantage point from which to jeer or use the nerd's head for target practice.
Even if the traditional nerd is endowed with some natural powers of intelligence, they are always downplayed by the rest. The nerdy chap's high achievement is claimed to be a result of intense ratification, doing all the homework come rain or shine and practicing with unassigned coursework over and over again. Hence, the nerdy lot is not expected to have any sense of humour or fun and listens to feel good, bubble gummy music such as that of Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton or Boyzone. No surprises that a presumed nerd is usually conveniently left out of birthday bash invite lists and is almost never invited to a party.
In later life, the school or college nerd/geek is assumed to be found crunching numbers in the financial, accounts or actuarial department or churning out long lines of complex code for a computer application. However it has been from amongst this very brain box lot that some of the world's richest and most successful people have arisen. Bill Gates, for instance, still adorns the nerdy and preppy look yet is reputedly the most loaded person in the world. Steve Jobs might not be that famous by his name (and still tucks his T-shirt/sweatshirt in his pants) yet is the creator of the coolest electronic products in the market, namely the Ipod and the newly introduced Ipad.
So the rest of us mainstream folk can make as much fun as we want of "nerds" but some of them just might end up having the last laugh.
-- Aziz Omar
You are sitting in an upscale cafe… you turn your head and spot a man wearing a slim-fit shirt, dark blue jeans, flaunting a Blackberry or an iphone, a slight stubble and hair gelled back… You look at him twice… Wow, now that's a burger!
Next afternoon you are at a committee party... You enter the host's plush drawing room and greet friends that all look alike -- with blond, streaked and straightened hair; clad in designer outfits masterly cut in flimsy fabric and of course over-sized Armani or Gucci or Prada handbag. Not to miss the glittering diamonds.
You make yourself comfortable on an upholstered velvet sofa, tuck a few cushions here and there and try to start a conversation on "Your bag… your shoes… your figure.... recession… -- to something more serious, loadshedding. Very elite!"
There is more to the term 'elite' than just the look. It's a state of mind. The belief that civil society should stand up to fight violence, liberate the society from extremism, say no to dictatorship, charity (in form of charity balls), a secular Pakistan, and of course drawing room discussions on TV talk shows. And how to escape the troubles: fly to New York, London, Paris to eat, drink and shop…
I recall when a friend said, "Look at these women they are just wasting their money". Another one contradicted, "Well, you envy them. You might want to be in their shoes".
-- Naila Inayat
Accent and accuracy
It was October of the year 2000 and the 2nd ODI between Pakistan and England at Lahore's Qaddafi Stadium had just ended. Pakistan won by 8 wickets levelling the 3-match series 1-1. Shahid Afridi took five wickets followed by a quick fire 61and was declared the man of the match.
My friends and I thought of congratulating the team and we called up at the hotel he was staying in. The receptionist of the five-star hotel in the city picked up the phone.
We: Hello! Asalamoliakum, ge yahan cricket team thehri hue hai?
Receptionist: Ge bilkul…
We: Shahid Afridi say baat kara dain
Receptionist: Mera nai khyal key woh kamray mein mojood hai [unenthusiastically]
He hangs up.
Five minutes later...
I: Hello! I've heard that the Pakistani team is staying in your hotel?
Receptionist: Yes madam! Who do you want to speak to?
Receptionist: Let me check [keeping us on hold for a few minutes) I'm afraid he just checked out. But I know which hotel he's moved to. [Giving us Afridi's extension, he even told us when to contact him].
Such was and is the impact of English. The stereotype of the English-speaking crowd has only strengthened.
Be it Meera or Saima Mohsin, Nawaz Sharif or Inzimam, they are all judged on their language – accent and accuracy.
English language is associated with a kind of seriousness of purpose which, it is assumed, is missing in other languages. Therefore a normal person speaking vernacular suddenly switches to Urdu the moment he or she thinks the discussion is getting serious and turns to English just the discussion is getting even more profound and erudite.
The middle and upper classes prefer to send their children to schools that promise good spoken English skills. Education is, of course, another matter. Whoever speaks fluently in angrezi is considered modern, civilised, educated and, guess what, confident. The content is secondary. The mode of communication is what is important.
For most part of our history, we complained about the dual or multiple education systems and one class dominating over the rest. We've now made sure this ruling class expands and more people have a chance to subjugate the others.
-- Naila Inayat
There's something in their eyes that sets them apart from the rest. When they look at each other it's no ordinary look -- smile says something, eyes do the talking.
Yes, they are the proverbial newly-weds for whom life has acquired a totally different meaning in the space of just a few hours. And, in many cases, this is irrespective of the fact whether theirs is a love marriage or one arranged by relatives; to them, love after marriage is a reality because they see it actually happening.
And this is probably true about newly-weds of yesteryear too, though with a lesser degree of openness about expressing themselves.
A few weeks into their new life, as they say, the couple realises it will not be setting a bad precedent if they accept and declare that they have fallen in love with each other -- and that it's a dreadful feeling to be away from each other. The two are not bothered how long (or short) this rather euphoria is going to last!
Newly-weds know they are the centre of attention wherever they go, and why not? It is interesting how people around them pick on their new-found attraction for each other. For example, when the husband clears his throat, the wife hastens to fetch him a glass of water and even insist he drink from it. The husband will rush to assist his darling wife; even admire the ring on her finger… and it goes on and on.
Relatives, friends and colleagues notice how the newly-married have changed… a new hairstyle or a new wardrobe inevitably invites sarcastic comments.
The two are noticed by the shopkeepers too: the wife's random selection of items and the husband's readiness to empty his wallet to impress the spouse.
Newly-weds like to spend time together, so the siblings' request to tag along for a dinner out or a walk in the park is given a cold shoulder. They are so consumed by the urge to explore each other that everything else seems irrelevant.
-- Ather Naqvi
The beard is in for some bad times. Personal digressions first. Going out at night to photograph a dead tree, a puddle of dirty water or a human face is not without its problems. I have been many times stopped and asked why I am taking photographs. Don't take this the wrong way, because since man made the camera, many people have been wary of others poking a camera at them or their belongings. It's a perfectly normal reaction.
Here, however, is the twist. I have a full-grown beard and because of it, many eyes look a different way, many expressions turn extremely suspicious and in one case, a man outrightly asked me to prove my identity. Does a man with a beard and a camera mean that he's a terrorist?
Beards have a long complicated history. Ancient Egyptians didn't like beards much, though their Pharaohs wore a fake one as part of the regalia. In much of Asia, beards were admired and cultivated. Greeks liked beards and thought they made the wearer look smart. The Romans didn't catch onto shaving for quite a while, but eventually it became a rite of passage to dedicate one's first shavings to a god. Russia, where beards were all but a necessity (because of the bitter cold) before Peter the Great realised that nobody in Western Europe wore them, and began to tax facial hair. Or Japan, where Samurai warriors wore masks with pointed masks with pointed beards and moustaches added to make them more frightening.
Things, however, get complicated when religion comes into the picture. Besides the monolithic trio -- Judasim, Christianity and Islam -- Sikhism, Hinduism, Taoism and the Rastafari movement all have a soft corner for the beard.
In our side of the world, the man with the beard is equated to the mullah: the stereotype. According to a wonderful piece by Nadeem Farooq Paracha entitled "Beards a trim history" the beard was seen as a symbol of exploitation and bigotry. "A senior journalist, Ghulam Farooq said: 'In the 1950s and 1960s, no self-respecting Pakistani from any class would have liked to be seen with a long beard, apart from the mullahs. All this stuff about the beard having any religious significance played absolutely no role in the lives of Pakistanis'," he writes.
With the arrival of General Zia, came Islamisation, the Afghan jihad and the madrassa and Pakistan, like the beard, became pitch black. Many, impressed by the long bearded mujahideen across the border, started keeping beards. According to Paracha, "Fatigued by the exhaustive liberalism of the preceding decades and now under the propagandist hammer of a reactionary dictatorship, a lot of Pakistanis started rediscovering God, as it were, in the 1980s."
9/11 changed everything forever. It made Osama Bin Laden the new poster child for the beard and changed the "extreme" mullah to the "extremist". The continued televised "War on Terror" means that whenever we will see the dismembered head of a suicide bomber or the photograph of an arrested top al-Qaeda leader, both with beards, many of us will feel extremely uncomfortable the next time we see the bearded man aboard the bus, the airplane or a car with no number plates.
But the stereotype, sadly, will also continue to be trouble for people like me who just like to sport beards. By the way I keep my beard under no religious or extreme compulsions, but in honour of comic artist Alan Moore and photographer Walker Evans.
-- Ali Sultan
Even if it defies the term itself, there is not one single stereotype of a journalist. Of course, more variations of the journalistic stereotype are being added to the bottle-hiding, cigarette-holding and tea-sipping print journalist of the old school.
Unlike the one about politician, for example, the journalist stereotype varies for different sections of society. Beyond the generalised and often true physical description of the ill-kempt, impoverished, social misfits, journalists have often carried various -- and drastically opposite -- mantles. A few people still think of them as holding the power of pen and shaping public opinion. For them, journalists are still the proverbial watchdogs, members of the fourth estate, who would go to any length to uphold public trust and interest. They are the real intellectuals, producing content of almost literary value through their editorials and columns. As for reporters, they would jump into the fire to get their story to serve for public good.
This indeed is the glamorous image that some of the films project of a character of a journalist -- the saviour and the crusader. But films that are generally criticised for reinforcing stereotypes have equally thrived on the negative portrayal of the journalist. Here the storyline projects them as uncaring and unethical blackmailers who are out to promote themselves at every cost. It is difficult to say if image imitates reality or reality imitates image in this case but, unfortunately for us journalists, of the two stereotypes, the latter dominates.
Come to the educated writer -- the literati or the academic -- and the image of a journalist receives a blow. Well, to be fair, they are concerned more with journalism than the journalist. For them journalistic writing is shallow, inferior and one that will not pass the test of time. It may inspire great literature or provide raw material for the historian but its status remains clearly defined -- low.
The politicians have a different view -- journalists are partial; they would do anything to get a story even if it may damage reputations or compromises principles.
Some think of them as cynics, others as sensationalists and still others as opportunists.
But, generally speaking, the status keeps changing.
For a large part of our history, the state-run television thrived without journalists (the only exception was of sports journalists). With private channels, news channels mostly, the image of a journalist changed. The glamour of being a print journalist was transformed. The television broadcaster experienced a sheen not felt in journalism before -- almost a celebrity status. The opinion-maker sets on a revolutionary course to educate the illiterate masses and now carries a larger than life persona. The power of the media to make or break is established and so is the image of a journalist. The smart, laptop-holding prosperous new TV journalist sits on the pulpit with perfect ease and does not fumble like the unsure print journalist.
These varying views notwithstanding, one hopes that journalists are judged for their only task -- to make a good story.
-- Farah Zia
A friend, 25, went into Lahore's chic boutique during the past Ramzan. Like most of them, the place was resounding with western pop. Fifteen seconds in the shop and the music changed to recitation of the Quran. She was wearing an abaya and this was among her numerous experiences since she started wearing one.
Burqa-clad women have become a stereotype. The West takes it as a symbol of woman's inferior position in a patriarchal society and all the non-western communal values. Muslims look at it as an icon of a religious or cultural value system -- or a personal choice in dressing.
Abaya, in a religious sense, is a symbol of woman's modesty. It is but a long, or short, piece of cloth that mostly covers her from head to toe showing nothing except her face. Its implementation is contentious but it is accepted by and large by all the major sects of Islam.
Here at home, abaya has not only grown rapidly, it is by and large more acceptable -- perhaps best classified as conservative. Many people believe there is no point in talking to a woman whose face you can't see. Burqa immediately takes her out of the social bracket of 'liberal' to a practicing Muslim.
From another angle, abaya is not based on creed or nationality, where you choose to be what you are. Rather, it is a voluntary practice of a ritual which means you have no qualms about it and you like to be perceived this way, a 'take it or leave it' kind of an attitude. She is no longer an antithesis to a girl in jeans. Her identity merges when it comes to social standing -- she is not outrageously different, nor a misfit, just a bit mysterious. She is a woman in the black cloth that likes to veil her identity to ensure her social mobility.
In times where people tend to take things on face value, someone without a face is in for a tough competition.
-- Sarah Sikandar
One of my coaches wore skinny jeans and tight-fitted shirts with trendy sneakers and would further accessorise himself with a brown leather string around one of his palms about which I knew nothing of. He was short and bony yet incredibly smart. His intelligence and brainpower would outshine his peculiar dressing and skeletal structure any day.
But as they say curiosity kills the cat or rather I should say cats because it wasn't just me but also my friends who thought what you are thinking about him right now. Exactly, is he gay?
One of my daring counterparts mustered up the courage and confronted him. She wasn't the only one flabbergasted with the response. He was straight!
Similarly my friend studying at an all girls' college once wore her hair short. She usually dresses up in clothes which you and I will not call "girly".
A few of them from the clan came up to her and asked if she was interested in joining them. Scared, she told them about her sexual orientation. Another girl, N, refused to go to an all girls college because of the prevalent "Lesbo-Effect" there, as she
Another misconception in Pakistan is that most gay men are perceived as eunuchs.
It is funny how we perceive an oddity in a person or a quirk in someone as something which is generalised otherwise. A slight nuance in our thinking can completely change another's image. I sometimes pity the men in fashion industry or even more so their wives! All the men who are into fashion are not essentially gay.
In the same way, not all one-gender institutions produce gays and lesbians. Exceptions are there but they can also be seen in co-ed institutions.
The influx of American television has made the Gossip Girl generation more aware of its sexual orientation and it is no longer a whispered topic in Pakistan.
However the stereotypes have not gone anywhere. Effeminacy in men is the net for all stereotypes. But many men just feel more defined if they have a less masculine apparel. It may have something to do with their sexuality but it not necessary; it can be completely otherwise. It can be someone's fashion statement for all we know.
A completely straight man can also wear a haute pink shirt and pout when the camera is pointed at him. I know a straight boy who has a fetish for female handbags.
That is one of the reasons why my best friend and I sometimes exchange notes on Facebook which others perceive as gay; so we keep clearing it out to others about our respective orientations.
However what keeps boggling me is that do Facebook hearts count as gay? If they do, then please don't judge me, I have a little bit of an obsession here!
-- Haneya H Zuberi