On the Chaiwalla and Media Exploitation

I was asked to comment on the now-famous Chaiwalla by the AFP; I’m quoted in this column here (I’m slightly alarmed to be in the Daily Mail and Breitbart but that’s another story).

“We are more used to seeing this happen to women, it is still creepy whan it happens to a boy,” feminist columnist Bina Shah told AFP.

“Just because people are bored does not mean you can play with someone’s life.”

My comments as quoted have to do with the objectification of this young man, which I stated is as wrong as when it is a woman who is objectified physically or sexually.  Many people mistakenly believe that feminists want reverse sexism, where men or boys are treated unequally to women, but this simply isn’t true. Feminists want equality, where objectification is considered wrong whether it happens to a man or a woman, a girl or a boy.

However, the second part of my quote is the one I want to expand on here. It seems we’ve learned nothing from the death of Qandeel Baloch when it comes to media exploitation. The media pretty much brought about the death of Qandeel Baloch by over-exposing her; investigating her background, going to her home in Multan, flashing her personal documents on the screen. Her real name and her family details were also aired on television. And later, she was dead.

Baloch sought media fame, and she sought to exploit the public’s gaze. But the media exploited her far more for sensationalism and ratings. And I fear that the media has done the same thing to the Chaiwallah, whose real name and age was quickly discovered and broadcast on the Internet. Media teams were then dispatched to his place of work, and he was interviewed for television. By evening he was said to have a modeling contract and appeared at a television channel in a suit with his hair gelled and pouffed up in a hideous makeover that he didn’t need in the first place.

The 18 year old, who doesn’t own a phone and can’t read or write, seemed bemused by the attention, and gamely went along with the media when they asked him if he’d consider doing film or television. The media on their part seemed ravenous to discover and create a new star, one whom they could control and puppet to their heart’s delight. Have they given one minute’s thought to what effect their sudden attentions could have on this man’s life? The fact that they stripped him of his privacy? That people were passing comment and judgment on his clothes, his accent, his education or lack of it?

Had he even given his consent for the original photograph to be posted on Instagram in the first place?

And why modeling or acting? Why not a place in a decent school or college, a better job, a better future?

Of course the public wants a Cinderella, male or female, a rags to riches story. But they want to feel that they bestowed it upon him, that they had a hand in determining his fate. Will they care if he’s sexually exploited as a young model, which happens with frequency here? Will they ensure that his paychecks go to him and not to unscrupulous “agents” or “bookers”? Will they lash out at him if the young man refuses the “job offers” and just wants to be a private person earning a private living?

We don’t reflect on these issues because what matters more to us is being struck by the thunderbolt of instant fame. Viral photos. Memes. Microphones and cameras thrust in the faces of the innocent and the unaware.

I’m very much reminded of the Afghan girl whose face appeared on the cover of National Geographic. Her unusual eyes also brought her to the attention of the world. But at what cost? And what benefit to her?




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