Netflix and YouTube are remarkable for their ability to both entertain and enlighten. I was watching this documentary on Hitler that excavates history to unearth circumstances that brought Hitler into being.A playwright, Deitrich Eckhart meets Hitler in a chance encounter and sees in him the messiah who could bring back glory to the battered Germany. Eckhart’s goes on to pen his doctrine which is rabidly racist blaming Jews for German problems and invents this highly appealing notion of Germany’s glorious past rooted in the civilisation of Atlantis. The narrative is lapped up by a nation short on confidence and hungry for clutching onto the notion of a glorious past. Imagine what Hitler and his minion, Goebbels achieved with the available mediums of engagement minus social media. They became the Pied Pipers fooling an entire nation into imbibing and digesting a narrative of hate and xenophobia. Internet has made access to information and opinions very convenient. My mornings invariably begin with a quick scan of online papers and headlines pretty much define my mood for the rest of the day. A headline screaming, ‘child raped and murdered’, can wreck the entire month. Or uplift your spirits if it is about Pakistani men being one of the sexiest in the world. The media is now inseparably woven into our daily lives, shaping the national discourse on issues as diverse as Panama and Meera’s nuptials. Black in white, life in death, bane in boon, media enlightens, dupes, drives controlling human minds to see what it wants them to see. This immense power to paint a rainbow in the night, morph graves into temples, sinners into saints and mortals into gods is both fascinating and disturbing.Legend has it that the term ‘personality cult’ was popularised by the Russian leader Khrushchev, in his tirades against Stalin’s dichotomous embrace of both communist ideals and obsessive fostering of his personality cult through propaganda and media. The deliberate creation of a god-like public image of Stalin was meant to facilitate imposition of personal ideas, ensure political longevity and exterminate dissent. Throughout history, personality cults have been associated with totalitarian regimes and dictators. In ancient times, monarchs were held in enormous reverence. Even a cursory look at Pakistan paints a grim picture, a society with little space for independence of thought and action and accountability of the mighty. The consequences have been devastating for society at large, as it staggers forward, unsure of who the real heroes areThese monarchs ensured that people saw them as God’s chosen ones. Fear, reward and propaganda were lavishly used to fabricate a blinkered version of reality and critics were mostly dealt with severe punishment even death. There is no doubt that personality cult helps in promoting a political or religious doctrine. The caption of an old Chinese propaganda poster showing a family enjoying life under the portrait of Mao reads: “The happy life Chairman Mao gives us.”Human intellect took leaps during the French Revolution shattering the aura of invincibility of European nobility. Descartes’s thinking individual was born and ‘cogito ergo sum’ began to hew the amorphous human conscience into one with distinct contours and conscious of the self. The spread of democratic and secular ideals in the West made it increasingly difficult for tyrants to craft personality cults. So began the gradual slide of monarchy into oblivion. The brutal march of science was no less significant in destroying the self-anointed messiahs. As luck would have it, science also gave us photography, sound recording, film and advertising. These became tools in the hands of a new breed called politicians to build cults and inseminate young minds with the chosen seeds. Control over public education enabled the dissemination of a doctored version of history and events. Joseph Goebbels did it for Hitler leading his propaganda machine with such zeal that virtually the entire German nation was deluded into believing in the superiority of their race and its divine right to rule the world. Another case in point is the role of Facebook and how it allowed third parties use its data of millions and feed US voters with tailored/fake content to cultivate support for Trump and influence elections.In modern times, North Korea stands out as the most striking example of apotheosis founded on brute fear and media propaganda. Kim Il-sung was believed by many Koreans to have created the world and that he could control weather. Schoolchildren learnt to thank Kim Il-sung for all blessings every morning. Thailand has laws to keep people from criticising the royal family. Other famous examples of personality cults include Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Mussolini, Muammer Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. These leaders were portrayed as infallible and their portraits were hung in homes and public buildings, with artists and poets obligated to produce works that glorified them. We have our very own demagogues who have successfully built and nurtured their personality cults over the years. Fear and flattery have put them on unparalleled pedestals in our society.Idolatry, personality cult, deification have become ubiquitous in our lives. From sports to politics to religion to business, we like to create immortals out of mortals. Truth in such cases becomes a gory casualty as halos are distributed with abandon fostering the mindset that fawning and prostration are virtues to be cultivated. Even a cursory look at Pakistan paints a grim picture, a society with little space for independence of thought and action and accountability of the mighty. The consequences have been devastating for the society at large as it staggers forward, unsure of who the real heroes are. The writer has years of experience with both corporate and public sectors. He moonlights as a journalistPublished in Daily Times, May 1st 2018.