By Shazia Anwer Cheema
Ervin Goffman, a prominent American sociologist, and social psychologist explored how individuals create meaning through social interactions. In his book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,’ Goffman introduced the concept of “Impression Management”. He proposed that people adopt many techniques to manage the impressions they make on others, using cues such as appearance, personality, behavior, and even their assets to establish a specific image about themselves in society.
Being Pakistani, we can all relate to this by having a textbook example of a person whose entire persona is based on so-called good looks, public perceptions, and conventional stereotypes. Imran Khan while playing with these tactics is constantly overshadowing his political mistakes, economic blunders, and questionable conduct, even allegedly planning for a May 9, 2023 mutiny. Imran Khan’s followers’ common denominator for a great leader is his looks, his walk, his dress, and his being a pretentious Alpha Male type of thing.
We often encounter arguments such as Imran Khan standing with so and so statesmen while ignoring him as he does not care, or Imran Khan sitting with the premier of a certain country with authority showing his shoes towards the premier while sitting cross-legged. We heard that Imran Khan said “Absolutely Not” to a superpower. They even go to the extent that Imran Khan said we are not slaves, and we will not follow commands.
The impression Imran Khan is managing is a byproduct of the vacuum created by seasoned politicians because they act in certain diplomatic manners with normative politeness, however, the average Pakistani enjoys being bullied and fancy the villains
At the mediocracy level, this combination of a patriarchal male with bold rhetoric worked well for him, he successfully cultivated an image based on a confirmation bias of the average Pakistani who longs for an authority figure because a common mind considers authority to be a key to solve all the problems of Pakistan and saying “No to America” to any superpower is a key to Pakistan’s politicians for their success. Ervin Goffman calls such manners “key factors for Impression Management”.
In the Indo-subcontinent, mythopoeia regarding heroes include personality traits such as being bold, beautiful, sexually strong, and socially powerful and these had been portrayed for Imran Khan when “Project Imran” was in the making
The impression Imran Khan is managing is a byproduct of the vacuum created by seasoned politicians because they act in certain diplomatic manners with normative politeness, however, the average Pakistani enjoys being bullied and fancy the villains, the characters such as Maula Jatt are their heroes, the rhetoric and demeanor they like is rude, uncivilized and unconventional. Mockery and jesting is the preferred linguistic expression. In the Indo-subcontinent, mythopoeia regarding heroes include personality traits such as being bold, beautiful, sexually strong, and socially powerful and these had been portrayed for Imran Khan when “Project Imran” was in the making.
A Pakistani’s life is difficult a fact that needs no argumentation, but their problematic life creates a phenomenon that transcends their fictional parameters of public admiration. The character of Maula Jatt challenges authority and the public finds a hero in him because he disobeys norms and defies the system. The oppressed Pakistanis enjoy the mere idea of negating the order and admiration of chaos. That is what Imran Khan wants and enjoys the most— chaos in society, never-ending blaming, and shaming.
In Imran Khan’s case, his public reception and perception is that he cannot be morally and financially corrupt and the justification for that is; that he does not look like a corrupt politician. This black box coding phenomenon is so prevailing that sometimes even criminals get away from punishment
Why does a person acquire a persona based on the masses’ confirmation biases? Why the web of deceit, lies, and pretentious conduct when in reality they mean nothing of this sort? Behavioral scientists consider it “Body Privilege” when a person knowingly manipulates the facts through words and conduct just to get away with his looks. This is also known as diversionary tactics, and it allows a cult leader/politician to control the narrative and avoid scrutiny of his true intentions. Prying on the general population’s confirmation biases is the easiest thing to do, one does have to charm offense the pre-conceived notions and reiterate and reinforce them. If there is unemployment in society, a leader just has to ensure that he must blame others for that, if poverty and hunger are a problem, he only has to create a façade of Robbin Hood. The most important thing is that heroism is a relative term, and every society has a set hero profile. Robbin Hood was a criminal and a hero at the same time.
In Imran Khan’s case, his public reception and perception is that he cannot be morally and financially corrupt and the justification for that is; that he does not look like a corrupt politician. This black box coding phenomenon is so prevailing that sometimes even criminals get away from punishment just because they do not look like criminals, the famous case of an American mother charged for her daughter’s murder was under discussion for decades because besides having the overwhelming evidence against her jury set her free. Experts believe that because she was charming and good-looking so jury could not be convinced that she could murder her daughter.
We humans create stereotypes and consider them litmus for all acceptable personality types, traditional society like ours has more ingrained stereotypes and we dwell on them. The frame of a mother, a good woman, a bad woman, a hard-working husband, a pious man, etc. we have set frames for each character. Over the decades, a corrupt political system created a stereotype for a politician, and corruption by innately being attached to it makes all politicians fit into that. And Imran Khan by not fitting into the stereotype of a conventional politician used this as a decoy effect by fitting into the hero frame. He is our Robbin Hood; he will steal from the rich and give it to the poor and that’s what an average mind wants to hear. His criminality is not objectionable because he committed a crime for the poor people of Pakistan (like the justification he gave over the May 9, 2023 mutiny), even his being a convicted criminal has made him more desirable.
The concept of hybristophilia, something recently popping up in the news for trivial reasons reveals how some individuals may disregard or even celebrate the misdeeds of even criminals due to an infatuation with their charismatic persona and good looks on the stereotypical beauty standards. We repeatedly encounter social media posts giving the impression that Imran Khan can never be a criminal and that if he has committed a couple of crimes, that does not make him less attractive. After all, he walks like a hero, he talks like a hero and whatever he has done is just for the poor people of Pakistan. They can further go the length that he looks perfect on international platforms, he is well-dressed and speaks English so we want him to represent us on international platforms. I don’t think one can continue any argument after this.
Hybristophilia combined with body privilege is a lethal combination for a country like ours. Whenever a sane mind tries to logically explain a PTI follower, that mind encounters two types of followers, first who are firmly convinced that a persona like Imran Khan is beyond flaws because a flawed person has to be of a certain type, shape, color, must speak in certain way and should act in a predetermined manner, second type of his followers are those who knows that Imran Khan is corrupt, incompetent and deceitful but having infatuation towards him they tend to ignore every sign. We have seen individuals falling in love with prisoners because they find criminals attractive.
Imran Khan after putting Pakistan on the verge of bankruptcy and social chaos just by his good looks and superficial Alpha-male conduct is still convinced that leadership qualities are all about weaving a web of lies, deceit, and impression management. Moreover, his followers still consider him their Robbin Hood, they are satisfied with him being a criminal as long as he keeps promising utopia and maintains his charm. As a result, Pakistan is stuck between its real problems and a fictional hero. The added problem is those who got delusional somewhere along the path and are convinced that Superman can stop a flying jet, Spiderman can climb a high-rise building, and Imran Khan can create a Naya Pakistan.
Shazia Anwer Cheema is an author, and analyst and writes articles for national and international media outlets. She did her M.Phil in Cognitive Semiotics from Aarhus University Denmark and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.