The internet is increasingly becoming a scary place. Where trolling was once joked about, today it stands as a deadly force, spreading its tentacles far and wide, inciting propaganda, hatred and intolerance.
Take the recently ‘leaked’ images of Mahira Khan taking a ciggie break with Ranbir Kapoor in New York for instance. The pictures were everywhere – re-shared and re-tweeted with abandon. Trolls sat behind their screens, rubbing their slimy palms while waxing poetic on how ‘besharam’ and wicked Khan was to wear ‘revealing’ clothes (shriek) and smoke (hai hai!), that too with that stud muffin, Ranbir Kapoor (how dare she!).
While a number of Khan’s fans, including her co-stars and celebrity friends, spoke out in support of the actor, there were an equal number of Pakistanis who were tickled pink – Yay! Another public figure to rip apart! Woohoo! See? Stars aren’t demi-gods after all! Let’s indulge in some mud-slinging, shall we? Let’s slander a young woman for no rhyme or reason, let’s… JUDGE? Ooh, delicious.
The amount of slut-shaming Pakistani women – particularly those in the spotlight – face online is shocking; there is a slew of derogatory terms that both men and women toss around while commenting on a star’s post while, say, they are in the loo. Let’s crap over the her post, they say, let me bless that smug little twerp’s page with a string of verbal diarrhoea and gaalam galoch, because, well, HOW DARE SHE! HOW DARE SHE.
I remember in the 90s, being a divorcee in Lahore was akin to being a leper. Being a single mother with kids, my mother faced immense, in-your-face backlash by Lahori society. In fact, it was women, particularly well-educated, privileged acquaintances and friends of my mother who had a field day judging her for a lifestyle choice that was HERS and hers alone. While my mother had (and has) a thicker skin than I do, I remember how much I’d be driven to despair when an aunty would make a callous remark on my mother’s face, or at me (in private). Back then, I was too young to understand how to combat trolling – in-the-flesh trolling. All I knew was that I wanted to defend my mother and kung-fu the hell out of the judgment. Today, at almost 35, I cannot begin to comprehend what my mother went through at my age, and my intolerance for mindless, cruel judgment runs very deep. I cannot stand holier-than-thous – I find them hypocritical and self-righteous in their hypercritical religiosity.
"As a journalist, I find this new-age, undying wave of ‘LET’S-EXPOSE!’ media utterly ridiculous. Why is the artist’s art not being spoken and written about anymore?"
But coming back to Khan, the actor is an incredibly private person – I recall once when she was interviewed on a local TV channel last year (on Dunya TV), she was visibly uncomfortable when the host spoke about her being a single mother. Even in person, she’s only an open book vis-à-vis her projects and her dreams – she won’t divulge details of her personal life to make headlines. Khan isn’t ‘that’ type of star. In fact, the more Khan has resisted the spotlight, the more it has hungered for her.
And while some would argue that having one’s personal life dissected in public is part and parcel of being in the glare, on centre stage – I don’t agree. As a journalist, I find this new-age, undying wave of ‘LET’S-EXPOSE!’ media utterly ridiculous. Why is the artist’s art not being spoken and written about anymore? Why is the feverish focal point on the person, and not the product of their labour? You see it everywhere, on sickening channels like E!, on websites such as the DailyMail, and more.
What gives us the right as individuals to judge and disparage someone’s life for choices that aren’t and were never ours in the first place? Perhaps cricket isn’t our national sport anymore – maybe we as a nation are morphing into atrociously ugly trolls in a big, juicy game of ‘Let’s Get Judgy!’
A woman gets a divorce, a woman raises her children on her own, a woman wears a white summer dress and smokes with a co-star, a woman lives, breathes, survives and thrives all on her own… and guess what? Life goes on.
The author is a journalist based in Lahore. firstname.lastname@example.org