To Hell with Stereo­types


The easi­est thing on earth is to fall into cliché when de­scrib­ing Dubai. Pick a few su­perla­tives and you’re away. The big­gest, the bold­est, the bright­est, the un­par­al­leled, un­ri­valled, most pro­gres­sive and daz­zlingly vi­sion­ary and sin­gu­larly tran­scen­dent place on earth. Try it. Throw a few sen­sa­tional words into a sen­tence and you too can be an ex­pert. Fling glitz and glam­our into the equa­tion and, man, you’re on the money. Give that per­son a mon­strous salary that doesn’t be­fit them. Oh, and don’t for­get to ac­com­pany it all with a slide show of camels awk­wardly framed against a back­drop of fu­tur­is­tic sky­scrapers. You know, just to ex­press that sense of con­tra­dic­tion. That sense of old and new and East and West. Man, you’re good.

Dubai en­cour­ages stereo­typ­ing. Not in­ten­tion­ally per­haps, but it ped­dles a par­tic­u­lar image that has led to it. It’s an image of pre­served cul­ture set amidst dy­namic mod­ernism. It’s far from the com­plete pic­ture, of course, which is why so many su­perla­tives and clichés about the emi­rate fall well short of sat­is­fac­tory re­portage. I wrote about this once be­fore, only through the prism of mu­sic. There is a far greater di­ver­sity of peo­ple and en­vi­ron­ments than the city is cred­ited for.

So it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is con­fused, at least in part. It fre­quently strad­dles the no man’s land be­tween the per­pet­u­a­tion of non­sense and an ap­ing of the West that has of­ten led to noth­ing but mean­ing­less Novem­ber 2016 mimicry. It’s sur­real. Sky­scraper-sized build­ing wraps promis­ing to change your en­tire life, not just your morn­ing rit­ual. Banks of­fer­ing you the world on a stick via a falcon and some rolling sand dunes. The red, lus­cious lips of a beau­ti­ful woman tan­ta­lis­ingly se­duc­ing a can of soda on Sheikh Zayed Road.

But I’m do­ing agen­cies a dis­ser­vice. They’re much worse. Haram, I jest. The stan­dard of work has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly over re­cent years, with Dubai-based agen­cies reg­u­lars on the global stage and ca­pa­ble of win­ning its high­est honours. Only the likes of a Grand Prix at Cannes have re­mained tan­ta­lis­ingly out of reach. Re­duced bud­gets and in­creased work­loads maybe ham­per­ing progress, but gen­uinely bril­liant work is be­ing pro­duced by a co­terie of highly tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als and teams.

De­spite the clichés and stereo­types, Dubai is a com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing place to live and work. It can in­tro­duce you to a di­verse group of in­di­vid­u­als from across the world, who will have had a huge im­pact on your life if you let them.

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