In Agrabah without a magic carpet

30 per cent of Republican voters supported bombing Agrabah.

Karachi: You have certainly heard of Donald Trump’s call to (temporarily) ban Muslims from entering the US. You’ve probably also heard about the Public Policy poll in which about 54 per cent of Republican respondents said they supported the ban. But have you heard that in a poll conducted by the same organisation 30 per cent of Republican voters also supported bombing Agrabah? If that’s not shocking enough, note that 19 per cent of Democrats also supported bombing but, in a display of open-heartedness, 44 per cent also were willing to accept refugees from Agrabah.

The debate on social media started immediately. Who were America’s allies in Agrabah, the deposed sultan or the revolutionary forces led by Jaffar? Was Jaffar in fact a pro-democracy revolutionary or just another dictator in the waiting? Was the goal to keep Agrabah out of the hands of terrorists or to install a pro-Western regime? Some rubbished the claims of the presence of 70,000 moderate rebels who would help the US cause, pointing out that these rebels were armed largely with large swords and were “poorly integrated with air power’. Others rejected the idea that any kind of intervention would prove successful in such a “den of thieves” while the business-minded wondered what would become of oil and carpet prices, Agrabah’s main exports.

By now you may have guessed that Agrabah isn’t a real place; it is in fact the fictional kingdom of the Disney movie Aladdin. It just sounded West Asian enough for the people polled to fall back to their positions. Recently, American talk show host/comedian Jimmy Kimmel did a segment on his show called “liewitness” news. In this segment a straight-faced reporter asks outrageous questions to the “man on the street.” In this show, which was focused on the new Star Wars episode, the questions were, naturally, Star Wars-themed. One question went like this: “This morning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced his replacement, Kylo Ren. Do you think Ren will be a good leader?”

Nonplussed, the man replied that he would be a good leader because “he’s he’s nice and kind and all that”. Kylo Ren, for the uninitiated, is the new Sith Lord in the latest Star Wars episode, and the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Another was asked if the Ewoks of Endor needed foreign aid in their struggle against their oppressors, and the reply was “Yes, absolutely”. The Ewoks are a fictional race of teddy bear-like aliens in the Return of the Jedi. Another blamed the “freeezing temperatures on Hoth” (the ice planet from The Empire Strikes Back) on HAARP, the supposed American weather control device that features prominently in many a conspiracy theory. How did he arrive at that conclusion? “Research.”

Back in 1993, the satirical Spy magazine ran a similar prank, but this one was targeted not at the public but at US lawmakers. Posing as the host of a popular talk radio programme, Spy magazine staff called US Congressmen and asked what should be done to prevent ethnic cleansing in Freedonia. Responses ranged from calls to action to advocating a wait-and-see approach. After all, the situation in Freedonia, according to Republican congressman Steve Buyer, was “different from Middle East”.

He was right, because Freedonia is the name of a fictional country in the 1933 Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup. When asked to comment on the responses, Spy’s then editor responded that these were “completely understandable… in campaigning (politicians) are asked a lot of dumb questions and they are used to supplying answers”. To be fair to the Congressmen, 1993 was when ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was a hot topic. But while one can understand the need for politicians to have a quick answer to any question at the ready, what explains the need for the public at large to have an answer when they don’t even understand the question? Is it that we now live in the age of the insta-opinion, where social media, blogs and Internet comment sections often end up supplying opinions as well, regardless of how uninformed they may be?

Certainly, social media does provide a validating peer group for even the most off-kilter views. It also makes it easier to borrow and echo popular opinions that seem to fit one’s worldview. It’s a short cut to thinking that all of us. Except sometimes that short cut may strand you in Agrabah without a magic carpet in sight.

(By arrangement with Dawn)

( Source : Columnist )
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