What is Pakistan's problem with Qandeel Baloch?

What is Pakistan's problem with Qandeel Baloch?

The infamous social media personality had her Facebook page suspended then reinstated because of mass complaints
Updated 22 Mar, 2016

This morning, many of us thought she was gone.

Qandeel Baloch, notorious for her risqué videos on social media, appeared to have amassed enough haters to get her 400,000 follower-strong Facebook page temporarily blocked.

Qandeel shot to new heights of infamy this month when she announced her intention to perform a strip dance for Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi if he succeeded in leading his team to victory on the T20 match against India.

She even launched a "trailer" of her performance before the match, promising "[a full] film" upon Pakistan's victory.

The video appeared to be the tipping point for Facebook users in Pakistan. Many, many people seem to have reported her page for nudity, resulting in a temporary block on her page.

"She must be arrested for spreading vulgarity," insisted one Facebook user.

["You have spoiled the reputation of the Baloch people. You're a fake Baloch. This is shamelessness at its peak]," another said.

"To all [my] Pakistani brothers, don't get me wrong but... [if Pakistan loses tomorrow, we lose respect, and if we win tomorrow, we also lose respect.] Hahahahaha. By the way, don't get me wrong haan," said a third.

While Pakistan doesn't have problems with sex, it's apparent that it has problems with open references to sex.

According to Facebook's community standards, "photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks" and "some images of female breasts if they include the nipple" are removed, while "explicit images of sexual intercourse" and "descriptions of sexual acts that go into vivid detail" are also prohibited.

It turns out that Qandeel hadn't violated any of these policies and her page was soon reinstated by Facebook.

Qandeel feigned hurt upon her return:

"Aaj se no video. Get lost tharki awam (I won't post videos on Facebook anymore. Get lost, you perverts)," she said in a message.

Facebook admits that their policies about nudity are in place "because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age." So what about the strip tease offer and subsequent teaser was so offensive that it organised droves on Facebook to clamp down on Qandeel?

While Qandeel is often scantily clad and behaves in sexually suggestive ways in her videos, these videos may have been her first open reference to an act of a sexual nature.

It's apparent that Pakistan has problems with open references to sex. The campaign against Qandeel is an instance of the same knee-jerk reaction that inspired the call for ban on the Josh condom ad that actually suggested that condoms are good for your sex life (and thus marriage), and not just a birth spacing mechanism, like other condom adverts.

Contrast this with the fact that we're at a time when the commercial value of sex appeal is being realised, what with item numbers being used to market big-budget films.

Is the general Pakistani entertainment-consuming audience caught between two opposing impulses?

Pakistan is seeing a surge, although slight, in people pushing their sex appeal — mainstream actresses like Mehwish Hayat and Ayesha Omar, who were hitherto only pretty faces on TV, are turning on the charm in dance numbers, while male models and actors are stripping down to reveal bare chests on Instagram. All of them toe the fine line between what's construed as morally right and wrong, and Qandeel's Facebook followers clearly think she went too far. But is this just her cover letter for a TV studio/film producer to pick her up for a big gig?

Mathira, controversial yogi/TV host who's also put up steamy photo shoots on Facebook in the past, now has signed on to two movies. Veena Malik got a Ramzan show after her nearly nude cover on FHM India, although the public outcry soon resulted in its cancellation. So, is Qandeel just capitalising on the visibility of risqué content, differentiating herself from her competition?

It's possible. Qandeel's 'career' highlights are comprised of TV appearances where her antics gave her the spotlight, much more than her TV plays and magazine shoots. The memory of her Pakistan Idol audition lingers, while she prides herself on being a morning show 'favourite', her cattiness bringing on the drama that makes ratings shoot up.

Is the general Pakistani entertainment-consuming audience caught between two opposing impulses? On the one hand we seem to have developed a taste for reality-TV culture and want to know every juicy detail about the lives of 'famous' people. On the other hand, we hold tightly to our ideas of what constitutes 'moral' vs 'immoral' behavior for these very same people.

While there's much brouhaha about objectionable/explicit content, it appears significant numbers are tuning in to watch tamer titillation on screens big and small.

So what's next? Since Qandeel's page has been reinstated, we'll just have to keep an eye on her to find out.