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Everything Wrong With Pictures Of Good Looking People Going Viral

The internet has spoken. But what's wrong with that?

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Arshad Khan, 18, was just a tea seller (‘chaiwala’) when Pakistani photographer Jiah Ali captured a perfect moment of him preparing tea for her Instagram. Thus a star was born. Social media users were quick to make the picture go viral in Pakistan and India and it quickly sifted through to the West. Now, he’s landed a modelling contract, and Coffee connoisseurs Starbucks have even expressed interest in opening up in Pakistan.

This is the ultimate rags to riches story; with a handsome blue-eyed model-esque figure who finds overnight fame and success.

The narrative almost writes itself; the hot third world country boy working in a menial job (so conveniently a tea seller, cornerstone of South Asian culture) whose life is changed around at one definitive moment (thank you Instagram.)

So what’s the problem here?

A lot of people pointed out the reverse sexism in exploiting someone to unwarranted attention just by virtue of being good looking. But this is nothing new. Remember ‘Alex from Target’, the check out boy in America who spiralled to fame after a tweet of him went viral.

Let’s not forgot colonialism baggage; its his incongruous Western features that have carried him onto stardom i.e blue eyes, light skin. He isn’t the dark skinned, sweaty Asian man flogging tea that we would have expected. He subverts our Western gaze, pleasantly surprising us and this is the stem of the virality.

But there’s also an element of classism. Why is there so much surprise that a person in a lowly job could be so good looking, as if attractiveness is a sole prerogative of the privileged?

The internet is peculiar in what it chooses to latch onto. Khan is not the first and certainly won’t be the last of the good-looking-person-draws-mass attention frenzy but we must always flag issues of sexual objectification which is a global epidemic, regardless of who it is directed to.

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If men were to tweet pictures of hot check out girls or tea sellers, people would be outraged at the idea of a woman being used as a sexual object which so often happens. So shouldn’t we speak up for Khan in the same way?

There’s a question of agency; how much of this attention did Khan really consent to? Bollywood's biggest start tweeted him, Khan has received overwhelming attention from girls. People have interviewed him on intimacies of his life, sticking to the poverty narrative. Is Khan himself, or his family okay with this?

So while it may be fun to share pics of aesthetically pleasing people, we should bear in mind some of these things next time, whether it's a supermarket cashier, a prisoner's mug shot or a tea-seller in Pakistan.

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