It has been over a week since a private television channel broke the story about Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik being engaged to marry Indian tennis player Sania Mirza, and the media seems to have only gotten into full swing as the milky plot thickens into a curdling, sensationally sweet kheer.

First of all, what exceptional journalism by the news media. Seriously, hounding Malik for scandalous stories day and night is no easy task, even for one of the country’s biggest news networks. Of course, the story is so great that it in fact becomes its own reward, where news networks and media outlets get to take a gear-shift from terror/despair to celebrity/scandal. It helps lighten the mood, and sugary treats are often good to keep the national news digestion metabolism going.

Seriously, it seems like celebrity marriage scandals conveniently pop up every now and then. It wasn’t too long ago when the media was all over Meera’s supposed wedding, and boy did the news channels have a field day with that one. The formula is so simple: all you have to do is send out a mob of camera men and reporters to ask annoying questions of every single relation of the scandalous celebrity in question, and then parade that on the airwaves all day and all night.

Though I doubt the broadcasters knew the exact magnitude of what they were about to uncover in the current celebrity scandal episode of Shoaib and Sania’s engagement. What would have otherwise been a day’s worth of news with some possible runtime on the little ticker on the bottom turned out to be a full-fledged, high-risk, cross-border drama packed full of entertainment and scandal. Once the media-hype flared, the conflagration became uncontrollable on both sides of the border, with everyone ranging from politicians to sports professionals commenting on the spectacle. Hell, the media even went down to Shoaib’s hometown to dig up his chubby childhood friend who rambled on incessantly about how great the whole thing is, in what would probably be the only airtime he gets in his entire life.

Speaking of getting airtime, this latest media blitz has given old washed up celebrities like Adnan Sami new ideas on how to get some publicity going for them. The previously highly-controversial singer has been prompted to announce his plans to wed his third (yes, one, two, three… third) wife. He’s also offered to do a duet song with Nawaz Sharif. I don’t know what to expect other than a rap mash-up of Kabhi Nahin and Thori Si Lift Kara De. Of course, this bait was lapped up in no time by the news channels, which started running it in the headlines juxtaposed with Shoaib’s convoluted wedding, making half of the top stories about messed up celebrity weddings.

The media’s salivating over the Shoaib-Sania story is understandable, given that it has all the elements of a Bollywood extravaganza. The strapping young hero Shoaib Malik whose career had just taken a turn for the worst finds sanctuary in love with a sporting celebrity from the other side of the border. Of course, if the cross-border affair isn’t controversial/scandalous already, it gets exacerbated beyond proportion when the hero’s jealous ex-telephonic affair decides to make an appearance in the media spotlight. And of course the media was more than happy to grant the other woman, Ayesha Siddiqui, the stage to hurl insults at the embattled Shoaib. What further drama will ensue over the fact that young Ayesha used a stand-in, a mysterious woman from Saudi Arabia, to entice Shoaib, one can only wait and see.

Moreover, what better villain could any Bollywood-type plot ask for than Bal Thakray himself making outlandish statements about the patriotism and honour of the beloved heroine of this affair. Heck, now even the Hyderabad police has become involved with a case registered against Shoaib by the jealous ex. Now all we need is for Shahid Kapoor to agree to play Shoaib Malik in a Bollywood blockbuster based on true events. This will make millions in theatres once its released.

Indeed, the plot hasn’t even materialised yet, and the media conglomerate has already made millions off it. If the story wasn’t already being milked for everything it was worth, someone had to get hold of a two-second, cell-phone video clip of Shoaib caught at a dance practice through a crack in a door, and that clip has been run on repeat, cut, spliced, mixed with cheap songs, four-way psychedelic split, black-and-white romanticised, you name it; all the post-production effects you can think of, in all possible combinations. It might just be nominated for the most-played clip in Pakistan’s free media history.

Okay, maybe I’m going a little over the top with this media bashing. I mean, the media works so hard day and night reporting on terrorism and the ills of Zardari, they deserve a break, right? Right! But when you get bombarded by videos, commentary, criticism, analysis, and debate over Shoaib and Sania’s wedding in the form of ‘Breaking News’ bulletins, please forgive me for wanting to shoot myself in the mouth. It is as if there’s no bigger news on the whole planet than Shoaib’s plans to marry.

The country is in an indefinite state of turmoil, there’s no water or electricity, we’re constantly on the verge of war on both our borders, and this is what you get in the news, continuously, for a whole week? Why is the great free media going after cheap celebrity gossip when it could be putting its great investigative journalistic resources towards greater goals, such as getting hold of bank account details of corrupt politicians, or maybe some real covert coverage on the things the ISPR doesn’t want embedded reporters to be snooping around in. If that’s too much to ask, and if the media must get their fill of strange wedding arrangements, then the least they can do as a compromise is look into all the mainstream politicians who have strange polygamous dealings going around.

At the end of the day, this whole absurd ordeal just tells us something about how the media works, and something about ourselves. Sadly, we as a media consumerist society are happy just feeding off cheap celebrity gossip, giving the media that cherished airtime over which they compete so vehemently.

And we, the biggest critics of the West, should wake up and take a long hard inward look before we criticise the apathetic and disinterested American electorate for being too caught up with television-news soap operas in the form of the OJ Simpson trial or the Monica Lewinsky affair to pay attention to important issues such as Israel-Palestine and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of the day, we’re feeding on the same kind of media-manufactured cheap thrills. And it seems we could gorge on this useless information until we’re stuffed, and then slip into a nice comfortable… sleep.

asifakhtar80x80
Lahore-based Asif Akhtar is interested in critical social discourse as well as the expressive facets of reactive art and is one of the schizophrenic narrators of a graphic novel. He blogs at http://e-scape-artist.blogspot.com/ and tweets at http://twitter.com/e_scape_artist.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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