A brilliant parody of the Dubai-bashing genre of article of which we’ve seen a spate recently in the US, UK and Australian media, has been published by The Independent called The Dark Side of Dubai by Johann Hari. (To save me linking to all the stories, see this accurate analysis of the process ‘reporters’ visiting Dubai appear to go through to produce the trash they’ve been publishing, by a reader, The Consultant, in the comments at Arabian Business.) A lot of people are getting very upset about this story. Not only Emiratis but expats who have lived in the UAE for a long time who know the place intimately, understand its complexities, and love it for all its flaws. Nobody’s dismissing the treatment and hardships experienced by foreign construction workers nor the challenges faced by those losing their jobs that are covered in the stories. They’re upset at the ongoing media attacks on Dubai (it’s truly baffling) and the lack of objectivity and balance in that media coverage, the publication of factual errors, exaggerations and even lies, and the racist tones running throughout much of the coverage. Dubai is not alone as a developing state and economy, nor is it the only state to experience recession.
Now don’t get me wrong, as someone who moved to the UAE in 1998, I also share their frustration but I don’t understand why people can’t see that ‘The Dark Side of Dubai’ is a parody. It’s so obvious. Just look at the melodramatic title of the story and the piece is jam-packed with over-used Dubai travel writing cliches (“One Thousand and One Arabian Lights”, “Dubai Disneyland”, “the architecture of the pharaohs as reimagined by Zsa-Zsa Gabor”, a “Neverland built on the Neverland”), gross exaggerations (every expat has maids and whole armies of staff, every expat is a CEO etc), and stereotypical characters (Western expat with a Range Rover, “Filipino girl behind the counter”, he meets the Emirati at Starbucks, everyone is drunk and partying all the time, blonde Dutch girl in hotpants… p-lease). It’s laden with so many historical and factual errors (“in the mid-18th century, a small village was built here.” He should have added ‘overnight’!), and racism (just read the thing), that it can’t possibly be presented as serious news commentary, certainly not something a high quality paper like The Independent would print as truth.
And it’s funny on so many levels. There’s a whole parody of the simplistic 90s anti-globalization rhetoric first year uni students might have referenced in a “Modernisation and Globalisation” class: the ‘East’ being consumed by the ‘West’ and its junk-food mega-brand pop culture with the references to Starbucks, Pizza Hutt, Nando’s… we should be shocked that the Emirati is wearing ‘Western clothes’ of blue jeans and a Ralph Lauren shirt – and that he drinks a Coke! C’mon, this is 2009! It has to be a joke. We all know globalization is far more complex than that and our understanding is far more nuanced now. I mean, he actually uses the term “third world”.
Still not convinced it’s a parody? If you were too gob-smacked to notice the dreadful writing the first time around, take another read. An example: “Thirty years ago, almost all of contemporary Dubai was desert, inhabited only by ‘cactuses’ and tumbleweed and scorpions.” And where was John Wayne? The set of a Hollywood Western comes to mind, right? When was the last time anyone saw native cacti in the Dubai emirate? That very sentence is a clue that this is a piece of fiction. And then there’s the surrealism: Hari taking notes in Harvey Nichols as he listens to a sales assistant telling him about a £20,000 taffeta dress! And the melodrama: “And I stop writing.” This is too funny. Perhaps it was an April Fools joke-story (like the Dubai double-decker boutique hotel bus announcement from Mr and Mrs Smith) and Hari missed the deadline? But I, for one, am hoping it’s a series.
Pictured? That’s me… looking for tumbleweeds and cactus. I know where to find scorpions.
*** If you see this story and pic other than Cool Travel Guide, it’s because the content has been STOLEN. It’s appearing on a number of sites without permission, but, trust me, invoices are on the way!