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Psuedo Pakistaniat: Dancing to the tunes of Coke in the streets of Pakistan – by Aneel Salman


Dancing to the (capitalist / non-indigenous) tunes of Coca Cola in Lahore’s Liberty Market

Source: All Voices

Huntington wrote that:

“the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… [The] principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.”

A recent post on a Pakistani blog about the hype created by a Coca Cola “flash mob” dancing gimmick really made think long and hard on Huntington’s words. The author of the piece was thrilled at seeing Pakistan’s “brilliant young boys and girls” expressing their joy and happiness by dancing and prancing while being videotaped (and paid) for a Coke ad. For her and many others who commented positively on this “bold and courageous act” this was what true “Pakistaniat” was all about. One that should especially be shared with “American friends” to assure them that Pakistan is not just about bombs, terrorism and poverty.

Frankly, I’m not really concerned that because a few young people, even girls, took to Masooms or any of these places for the sake of a giant multinational corporation, Pakistani values or culture are suddenly at risk of disappearing. After all, it is this very youth, who with civil society organizations led a very successful campaign to support the lawyers’ movement not so long ago on the streets as well as on university campaigns. The very same youth that rallied to raise funds for the South Asia earthquake and the refugees pouring into cities from the war-torn Northern areas.

If anything, this one act clearly highlights the negative affects of the homogenizing consequences of Western, media-fed forces. From the comments I read on the article to what friends discussed about it, I think people in general are more aware of the differences as cultures rub against each other. I think, it’s important to not let go off this self-awareness.

And let us be fair, there are not a whole lot of healthy, lucrative job options for a majority of our youth. Not to mention the fact that all those big, bad, bearded Talibans or terrorists have left very few info-entertainment options for our youngsters. The question is not what is Coca Cola’s strategy behind using talented, “courageous” youth to dance and increase their sales. The bigger question is HOW they are doing it and WHAT are its impacts on the society as a whole.

I think the issue here is the way we always tend to politicize and “religiousize” such debates by creating a tug a war between “Eastern/Muslim” values and “Western/Non-Muslim” values and how the two can somehow never live in harmony because they have nothing in common. What this East-West dichotomy does is make us exaggerate and generalize how terrible so-called Western “values” or lifestyles are because in the West, they suffer from broken families, individualism, decadence and last but not least “moral degeneration.” On the other side, we “over celebrate” our sense of community over individualism and the family as the basis of society.

The elite, liberal and secular Pakistanis (many of whom hide their green passports at airport security checks to flash their American, UK/Canadian passports) are welcome to “tap their feet” to such corporate gimmicks and call this phenomenon “progress and development.” I think we should be wary of such “Pseudo Pakistanis.” Those who probably never found themselves toe tapping to the “bansari” of the village musician (who plays and smiles despite his growing poverty, lack of clean water, sanitation and electricity) or took part in traditional, sufi festivals to dance with the “malang babas”.

Its time to move past conspiracy theories of Western attempts to “impose” their values and agendas on us. As a nation, we need to lift ourselves up from the hole someone else has dug for us (we as individuals are divine and faultless!) Its time to start learning from what is best in this “morally degenerate” Western culture we are so afraid of, after all THEY are learning from our best practices and values now, so why not vice versa. Its time to look for common grounds between us—for those universal notions of human/animal/plant rights, of peace, dignity and mutual respect.

Let us not fall prey to the media-MNC fed Coca-Colanization, McDonaldization and Americanization. Cultures with deep roots never die, they evolve and grow stronger. Whilst acts like dancing in streets or posh stores may reflect a superficial Westernization, they can lead to a renaissance of indigenous values. The author of the piece termed the Coke ad gimmick as “cultural evolution.” For her sake, I hope such “evolution” does not lead to “cultural erosion.”

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

Aneel Salman, is an academic, based in New York, USA

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Abdul Nishapuri

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