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Swipe (2020): Challenging Social Issues One Cartoon a Time

I watched this film in another course of mine, and I felt that discourse on it could be particularly relevant here as well. This animated short film called ‘Swipe’ by Arafat Mazhar recounts the story of a young boy who is addicted to this app called iFatwa, an app which crowdsources death sentences for people doing the most harmless things like wearing perfume.

The description states on behalf of its creators that “Swipe is our attempt at confronting a growing crisis resulting from a culmination of the nexus of technology, extremism and fascism. At the heart of this story is a confrontation with increasingly hostile, alienating, divisive circumstances and a plea for greater empathy, before it’s too late.”

In a span of 14 minutes, the animated film meticulously critiques a range of social issues in Pakistan pertaining to religious extremism, herd mentality and the gamification of the societal problems through social media. One of the reasons I believe this film is so powerful is because we follow the perspective of Jugnu, a child probably in his early teens, whose rational self, while using this app, spirals out of control so quickly. We realise how the repetition of certain factors, like how many people vote for death sentences on the app, moulds and conditions children into absorbing notions of right and wrong. This isn’t a new concept;  Bandura et al. coined the term imitative social learning way back in 1961 but only over time have we really been able to understand the depth of the effects that presentations of violence have on young audiences. In this film Mazhar has offered yet another perspective on the consequences that emerge for our youth through social learning, and critiquing social media along the process portrays his creative genius.

One of the most moving scenes is right at the end of the film; a video of children hanging their doll ‘Asiya’ to death as punishment for blasphemy. Their tiny hands know not the implications of their actions, while their smiles and giggles depict the sheer indoctrination that is taking place in Pakistan right now. To take up such sensitive issues and shed light upon them so effectively is not an easy task. Hence, it is no surprise that this film won the special jury award at the Annecy International Film Festival and was selected for AnimaFest Zagreb in 2021.

According to the Schema Theory, ‘media messages are processed by incorporating new knowledge within existing organisational frameworks, essentially serving to reinforce what one already knows (Bachen and Illouz 1996). In light of this theory, repetition of ideas leads to reinforcement of these frameworks in the mind, which become so strong as individuals grow that it can become difficult and even impossible in some cases to accept alternative ideas and perspectives. In order to have the ability to counter hegemonic narratives, children should be exposed to such films in schools and by their parents. It’s not only a great watch in terms of animation, but audiences of all ages indeed feel the message.

I’m sure most here may be hearing about this film for the first time since the film deserves more recognition than it gets. If you have read this far, I will urge you to take out some time to watch it. You surely won’t regret it.

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