I asked some random people some basic facts about the history of Pakistan, the history of the world, and some easy questions about recent events. Some of the questions included the following: who was the first prime minister of Pakistan? What was the office of Jinnah after the creation of Pakistan? When was the final constitution of Pakistan written? What year did Pakistan become a nuclear armed state? What year did General Zia die? What year did Musharraf make the coup? What year did the Raymond Davis incident happen? What is the name of the President of Pakistan? Who is the current Chief Justice of Pakistan? Who was Dr Abdus Salam?
To my sheer surprise and utter shock and some anger too; almost nobody could answer all of these questions. Some, even with graduate degrees, couldn’t answer any of the questions. One even backed up his ignorance by arguing that Shahid Afridi in a recent interview was asked about what LBW stood for and that Afridi didn’t know despite being a cricketer for decades.
Anyway, the same participants knew the following names when I mentioned them: Akhtar Lava, Ayesha (the girl who danced and became famous), P for Pakao, Tabish Hashmi, and other such characters. Perhaps this nation should know that one of them, Dr Abdus Salam, once worked on quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, which is a theory that aims to answer the questions that even Einstein’s theory couldn’t answer. Even Einstein wanted to finish that theory but he died. Salam was the founder of the Space And Upper Atmosphere Research Commission. We only read about it in Pakistan Studies textbooks as SUPARCO.
I don’t know if it would be right to say that gone are the days when our favourite personalities used to be book authors, scientists, poets and so forth because I am not too sure about coming from some rich national history like that. We’d sure like to tell ourselves such tales from the past but those are just tales quite honestly. Where are the inspired thinkers, writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, astronauts, filmmakers, etc that started their work after being inspired by a previous gem? An overwhelming majority of young people want to be TikTok stars, not by doing authentic and quality work, but by repeating ridiculous things, which they see others do and gain fame with. This pushes the intellectual bankruptcy of the nation a notch up.
An important yet nuanced fact I pay very good attention to is that what’s called celebrities nowadays are the people almost everybody hates. Think of the 5 famous people whether on social media or in journalism or showbiz and you’ll realise that almost everyone hates them, including you. That’s the new famous. We’re not awestruck by them, we’re not inspired by their character or their work. They push our buttons. That’s what they do the best.
The more awful these celebrities become, the more eyebrows they raise, resulting in more views, memes, and tweets. They become trends on social media. We know them because we hate them. We talk about them because we despise them. The vicious cycle goes on. The result is the fame of the hated.
The truth is that we don’t go to social media like we go to the library. We go to social media because we want to be entertained. And that doesn’t happen with videos that talk about serious things such as talk about a book that one has read recently, something this author does. That is also why I don’t have many followers. We want to be entertained with absolute garbage and totally ridiculous content.
In a jungle like that, the most ridiculous would be the most famous too. They say in the land of the blind, the one eyed-man is king. Perhaps a little updating is needed. It should rather say; in the land of the animals, the one who entertains animal instincts is king.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2023.
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