Breaking The Cycle

By Sonya Rehman

Do you ever wonder why there are hardly any local shows worth watching despite the media explosion in Pakistan? Instep delves deeper into this oxymoron.


Every once in a while a bimbonic article comes along, swinging its little hips, pooh-poohing globalization; attempting to weakly strip, poke and prod it – by vociferously warning its readers of the perils of the ‘plague’.

In addition to this lack (thank goodness) of limp-literary-activism, this article I assure you, will neither swing its hips nor pooh-pooh itself delirious. Like a demure observer, this piece simply highlights the facets of commercial creativity with regard to Pakistan.
See, in the good-old fashioned 1920s, advertising was straight from the hip – ‘Drink Cola’, or ‘X detergent cleans better’. The commercials had visuals which were equally straight to the point, minus innuendos. Ice cream was just plain delicious – not lascivious. In those days almost everything reflected sound values, good taste and had a definite line drawn that was not to be crossed.

Amidst the mad, frenzied, hoop-la of the 21st century new-wave, the rise of a powerful phoenix – a heavy-weight ruffian called ‘branding’ – has taken center-stage, thereon proceeding to gleefully socking a rather spineless ‘creativity’ to a pulp.

The trouble today is, in advertising they’re just too many corporations vying for the same pie…and the pie is just not big enough to go around. So throw in something ‘out of the box’ – except this ‘out of the box’ advertising idea slants towards pure dementia!

‘Out of the box’, you see is today’s buzz word. Advertisers sell ‘creative’ that is not creative at all, but title it ‘out of the box’ and you’re on baby (even if the creative concept represents a choc-bar being provocatively sucked on by an overly ecstatic model)! With regard to local advertising, it is imperative that companies do an about-turn in their creative strategies and budget-spend. They need to figure out that:

a) Local consumers are NOT morons
b) That a choc-bar would be bought for the fun of it and not because the model in the ad has hot lips
c) That consumers are BORED with the incessant repetition.

The preposterousness of Pakistani advertising aside, the upsurge of commercialism and its zapping every ol’ Joe under its radar (into a walking-talking billboard), is really nothing new. Just as the whole thoroughly defensive (and may I dare add, achingly pseudo) feministic-flower-power wave, the cons of commercialism have been written about, dissected and analyzed to death.

But creativity on a whole with regard to Pakistan and Houston…we have a problem. Why, you might ask? Simple; we fall flat on the creativity curve. But wait, before you ask me to take a jolly good hike, ironically enough, on a macro level, it still seems to be working. The mediocrity, STILL sells. That’s disturbing.
“We are all stuck together here for now, caught between the harsh realities of economic globalization and the all-enduring rock-video aesthetic”, Naomi Klein (an author and activist) states in her book, No Logo.

While you may think this perhaps sounds a wee bit paranoid, think for a moment, how creatively progressive have we become, if at all? How many truly creative directors (with regard to advertising, film and music) do we have in this country? One, two, four? A handful? Why does the local creative pool still look so basic and murky? Where are we going wrong? In light of Klein’s statement, creativity in Pakistan stands stifled and weak-kneed – caught between old schools of thought (on what creativity is/should be) and the insurgence of foreign channels, global brands, international fast food outlets, and you name it. See what I mean? We’re a confused bunch and I truly feel sorry for us. It’s almost as if we stand as the awkward, desi cousin (who only just learnt the ropes to being ‘cool’) constantly assessed by snotty, way-beyond-the-cool-o-meter relatives overseas. However, all is not lost. For example, with soaps and entertainment programs such as Marina Mornings, The Nadia Khan Show, Piya Naam Ka Diya, Pounds, Khamosh Pani, Gumnaam, Late Night Show with Begum Nawazish Ali and Silver Screen – each creates a niche of its own and is able to successfully differentiate itself from the glut of bland, recycled shows that clutter our screens.

With regard to music video directors too (although there seems to be a serious dearth here) Saqib Malik, Jami, Sohail Javed, Amena and Ahsan (Although both now work as separate directors) Umar Anwar, Babar Sheikh and Zeeshaan Parwez actively bring in ‘creative diversity’ to their work – striking an equilibrium between distinctive and germane.

However, the greater picture is this: amidst this of bland mediocrity, healthy competition – which breeds more creativity – cannot thrive. So should we thrash globalization and join the anti globalisation movement? I don’t think so. The cultural imperialism that it’s brought with it has done some good too, for one, a greater ‘creative awareness’. But the flipside is this: blatant, shameless imitation that offshoot from the dirty roots of mediocrity. From commercials to sitcoms/dramas on television and music videos, a majority seem to be rehashed versions that are borrowed (ripped-of) from the West. And that’s just plain sad because we have so much to offer. Standing as a ‘doctrinal system’, the media is a very powerful tool, but in light of the current preponderance of third-rate creative work doing the loop, what will it keep spawning? The answer is: further mediocrity, more rip-offs and added consumer confusion.
It’s about time we quit ‘playing it safe’ because creativity is static – devoid of rules and restrictive boundaries. Once we understand that, the cycle of imitative mediocrity will be broken.

Instep, The News


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