"Laal’s new and most revolutionary video to date. Please paste to your profile to spread awareness against religious extremism."
Thus spake the Twitter-feed of Laal the band’s lead singer, guitarist-songwriter-Marxist-academic-revolutionary Dr. Taimur Rahman, announcing the upload of the band’s latest track onto YouTube.
The song, which features an anti-American/CIA/ISI visual collage, plus Comrade Taimur's delightfully uninhibited-by-hipness moves, and a chorus of "Dehshatgardi Murdabad" (Death to Terrorism), hasn’t received as much hype as some of their earlier offerings. One theory is that this is not because of its subject matter, or the moves (you know someone is committed to their cause when they even dance earnestly), but because it simply isn’t good music. (Though some people feel that a song that incorporates spitting out the words "Pitthoo", "Chamchay" and "Tattu" deserves the same special cult status reserved for e.g. films by Ed Wood.) Still, it has accumulated more than its fair share of ‘this rocks’ and ‘I love it’ and ‘brilliant!’ in the etherworld.
Another reason why Laal hasn’t received the adulation they usually receive from the proletariat might be that, in this month’s anthem for doomed youth by doomed youth race, they were pipped to the post by the Lahori trio, the delightfully named Beyghairat Brigade. Their debut single Aalu Anday – which an objective analysis suggests has no musical merit but does include references to nobel laureate Abdus Salam, a poke at hypocritical piety and a slew of made-for-T-shirts slogans – went viral, then epidemic.
Comments on online forums dubbed the trio the avatars of Hope, Future, Progress and Blaziken the Pokemon. NFP placed it in its proper socio-political context. The BBC translated it for white people. The Indian media checked it for skidmarks. In yesterday’s Dawn Huma Yusuf diluted an otherwise sensible take by waxing lyrical about its "bravery and brilliance." And a little while ago XYZ told me:
"Personally I also think you underestimate the Aalu Anday video's sociological/ cultural significance in an environment where "radical" is usually attached to musicians who attack thr US' policies or drones or terrorism (can we get any more safe consensus?). Whatever you may think of the quality of the music - which is no doubt basic - I think the real reason it struck a chord is because it's the first time any of the conspiracy theories / looney ideologies of the right were taken on in musical format on television and that too in a light satirical way rather than the hammer (and sickle) on the head style of Laal."
Which I took to mean: ‘Achha theek hai yaar logon nay yeh batain pehlay bhi boli hain but no one’s ever set it to music before. In 2011.’
It is these hyperbolic reactions, and not the songs themselves or the issues they inhabit, that I’ve been thinking about.
Sometimes I feel the bar has been set so low only pygmies can limbo safely beneath it.
Which brings me to the third subject of this post, Imran Khan. That’s right. Immy Bhai. Also known, since yesterday, as Yes We Khan, The Face Of Our Future, The Country’s New Beginning and Pakistan’s Last Hope.
Imran Khan's moment in Lahore yesterday
Now, you might be asking, what do revolutionary private dancers, satirical musical hobbyists and Imran Khan have in common?
One, good intentions, which, as some of you might have heard, are the Devil’s Envicrete. Two, a youthful embrace, which, as some of you might also have heard, might be wonderful at the time but really does not compare to the ministrations of a slightly more experienced lover.
For me, good intentions = good music does not compute, and good intentions = good leadership does not compute. So yes musical taste is subjective, and yes I’m happy that young people want to bring death to terrorists and impressionable young groupies to their rooms, but no I’m not going to call it ‘brilliant’ or ‘revolutionary’, I’m going to call it ‘clever’, ‘catchy’ and ‘common sense.’
Similarly, I don’t have to like Imran Khan to be impressed by his newfound street power. I don’t have to agree with his simplistic interpretations of complex realities to welcome the throwing of another cap into the political ring. I don’t have to have a bouffant to think he is right to demand politicians declare their real assets. But I’m not going to call it ‘a new beginning’ or ‘Pakistan’s Last Hope’. I’m going to say ‘show me your policies before I give you my vote’, ‘I’d be more optimistic if he’d suggested he was going to deal with extremism by following Bangladesh’s keep-religion-out-of-politics lead rather than praying on stage’ and ‘a flock of 300,000 sheep is still a flock of sheep.’
For this position, this notion of life in continuity instead of life just now, I might well be called a cynic. But I think there is a pattern here. Life has taught Pakistanis to diminish their expectations rather than maintain them, and our rush to embrace the mediocre as a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, just because the young do, makes those of us who really should know better complicit in this sorry state of affairs.
So celebrate, by all means, good things like earnest young musicians, smartass kids and politicians finally being able to actualize their messianic fantasies. Just don’t act like it’s the second coming of Christ, fer Chrissake.