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George arrives in Pakistan

Pakistanis got excited and provoked when a British got to be Pakistanis – on reality TV.


There are exciting things happening in Pakistan: a media liberalization. This has led to innovative growth in the industry. The most important is the opening for private players in electronic media, mainly in the area of ​​television. This has led to the emergence of several channels, many with a much more critical view of society and politics than seen in the state television channel. The rise of several TV channels is one thing, but it has also led to the emergence of a new thinking that is both exciting and innovative.

Pakistani reality. Before we move on, I just have to admit that I'm not a fan of the reality genre. In my eyes, it is almost by definition garbage TV. But I was quite excited when I saw that one of the new Pakistani channels had managed to make something – for me – as contradictory as an exciting, thought-provoking and educational reality show.

The program was created by the private television channel Geo TV, which is owned by one of the country's largest media group, The Jang Group. It started with a short advertisement saying that George would soon arrive in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis wondered if the US president would come. The mind probably boiled over to some people when Geo-TV told that now George had arrived in the country and that one should prepare for "George ka Pakistan", ie "Georges Pakistan". Too bad that Pakistan had joined in the US-led war against Afghanistan, but somewhere the border has to go.

No, viewers found out, it was not US President George W. Bush who had come to shatter the illusions of Pakistani independence. Instead, viewers met a friendly British giant named George Fulton. A British television producer, who led an election campaign for a Conservative candidate for parliament. They lost the election and he could no longer live in Blair's UK.

He had then accepted a challenge, which was to become Pakistan's first reality show. During the 13 programs sent over 13 weeks, Fulton was going to try to become a Pakistani. He traveled around Pakistan on a very tight budget from Geo-TV. The man who according to his sisters has a perfect radio face, was to be followed by television cameras everywhere. He faced a lot of challenges, which he had to solve on his own, while the TV cameras just rolled and went. The TV team was not going to help him in any way, unless absolutely necessary.

Fulton tried everything from dancing at parties in the big cities, through classic Pakistani-Indian wrestling, to milking cows. He also took part in one of the major frustrations of Pakistani everyday life, in the form of long discussions with his power supplier. The viewers saw him in despair in search of a bus stop in the big city of Karachi (they do not exist, you stop the bus with a hand signal). He had to look for areas where there are no street signs, and he was able to take part in the life that the vast majority of Pakistan is experiencing, with failing electricity, bad water and little money.

Provocative for many. Pakistanis were thrilled to see a European emerging from the luxury bubble that most foreigners and the rich part of the Pakistani population live in. Initially, the program did not arouse the great enthusiasm. Rather, it provoked people who felt that this was making fun of them and their lives. The fact that a European received such VIP treatment also fell heavily on the chest; Pakistanis who were going to the UK did not feel such goodwill.

Provocation or not, the viewership remained high, and gradually the feeling changed in many from irritation to admiration – and not least sympathy. The TV channel received a flood of letters to Fulton with tips and advice on how to deal with the various problems he encountered on his thorny path to becoming a Pakistani. Viewers also laughed at Fulton, who with a large arsenal of grimaces squeezed into small, narrow taxis. He was driving (and getting frustrated) in the chaotic traffic, trying the Pakistani version of kilt.

The national identity. Pakistan has a fringe reputation for security, often for no reason. And security was certainly not a problem during the show. The closest Fulton came to a dangerous situation was in a program from the Northwest Province, where tribal fighters with automatic weapons opened fire.

Fulton threw himself on the ground, but soon found that no one had shot him. Shoots in the air are rather the traditional way to greet strangers in these areas.

From a comic show where you could laugh a little at this "stranger", who was trying to be like "us", the show evolved to become a mirror. Pakistani viewers were confronted with a mirror image of their own community, viewed from an outsider. The show also offered a closer inspection of the national identity. What does it mean to be a Pakistani? A surprised Fulton was told in a madrassah, a religious school, that one did not need to be a Muslim to become a Pakistani.

Fulton also learned a lot about Pakistan. This was not the first time he was in the country, he had been there previously as a producer in the BBC's HardTalk program. At that time he had a much narrower picture of the country, one that is the prevailing image in most Western media. This time he met many other sides of Pakistan. The show's producer, a young, tough and sharp woman, was just one of many who forced him to develop a much more complex image of the country. He was also overwhelmed by the warmth he met from people, including a ten-year-old girl who sent him an email from Karachi. She wrote and told me that she was in fifth grade and that she liked his show. If he felt Urdu was difficult to learn, he could only come to her, and she would help him.

Welcome and warmth. Fulton met this welcome and warmth from people in all social strata and across the country. The final episode took place in the capital, where the final challenge ended in a meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz. The show ended with a viewer ring where viewers were asked if they felt George had managed to become Pakistani. 65 percent answered yes.

Two weeks later, Fulton was offered Pakistani citizenship because the Interior Ministry had been so impressed with his efforts. Fulton, who now works as a TV producer at Geo-tv, pondered the matter for a long time, but eventually accepted yes. It turned out that he had fallen in love with a Pakistani woman, including a TV producer. They are getting married in November this year. All in all, the show was a success for the TV channel. But the real success story is the innovation and innovation that led to the show.

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