Pakistanis complain, almost constantly, of having been stereotyped in the West as terrorists and their country as the ‘most dangerous one in the world’, but the labels that exist in the country are just as nauseating.
Advertisements that run on television are a prime example of the ‘labels’ that have been stuck on people. Fairness cream ads show anyone with less than a ghostly complexion as suffering from self esteem issues, unable to land a job, a modelling contract, a painter’s heart or a marriage proposal. Women, in particular, are almost always shown as housewives, constantly catering to their ever-hungry family’s demands for platters of food (almost every cooking oil ad) or ice-cream. Men from Punjab are always shown as dancing boisterously while those from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or the northern regions of Pakistan are depicted as bearded, silent folk who can’t speak English.
The latest addition to the slew of advertisements that cement stereotypes is the Mobilink ad/song to promote Naseem Hamid, who became a national star after winning the 100 metre-spring at the South Asian Games this year. The advertisement brings in religion to the mix, equating Hamid kneeling before running to her mother kneeling in prayer. Even though it purports to depict Hamid’s ‘true story’, her parents are played by different people in the commercial, possibly since they are more photogenic.
The stereotypes exist everywhere we go. Men are constantly told as children that crying is for women, while women are told that their job in life is to cater for their family’s dietary needs. These reflect in our advertisements, in television shows and plays and in talk shows.
But there are few advertisements out there that show how society has changed in Pakistan, of girls that cater to their family’s needs in a different way by going out to work or men who do not find crying shameful.
Ironically, one of the more popular ads on television these days comes from Ufone, which highlights an actor who hits on a beautiful woman, but gets turned off because she has an unappealing voice. Appearances aren’t everything, and boxing different people into roles only shows a distorted image of the country within it and abroad.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2010.