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“Dubai shouldn’t have to apologise for its consumerist culture”

As the city kicks of its 18th shopping festival, Eva Fernandes comes to terms with the city’s penchant for consumerism

January 9, 2013 10:25 by

Last weekend, I attended The Black Light Theater show at DUCTAC. The show, a fascinating manipulation of lights, shadows and darkness, is part of the attractions of the 18th installment of The Dubai Shopping Festival. Half way into the show, the performers twisted their bodies to spell out ‘DUBAI’ on the screen in front of them. It took the crowd some time to figure out what was happening, partly because the ‘D’ looked a lot like ‘O’—but once we stopped foolishly mouthing ‘OUBAI,’ everyone clapped excitedly.

Seeing as the dancers had simulated levitating jellyfish prior to this, the enthusiasm for static bodies forming the word ‘Dubai’ was a bit mismatched. My three year old niece could do as much if she knew how to spell. But the crowd was receptive and encouraging: the troop continued to form Dubai-related shadows, the image of Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab, a massive shoe, the DSF logo and they even spelled out Dior.

Peg it down to cognitive consonance or just a general pride in Dubai, the crowd was really responsive to the Dubai-related shadows. Initially, I too shared the strange mixture of recognition and excitement, but after a while I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming theme of consumerism uniting all the formations.  A massive shopping bag, a designer label, a massive high-heeled shoe, the most expensive hotel in the world and the tallest tower-it couldn’t be a greater testament to consumerism even if they found out a way to project five maxed out platinum credit card.

Such representations of Dubai always leave me feeling uncomfortable because it brings back memories of condescending spectators criticizing Dubai for not having a real culture. You know the type: “there isn’t a local arts and music underground scene—there is nothing unique about this city of Fendi and Prada” Feeling a little uneasy, I leaned over to the poor person sitting next to me and explained my apprehension. “Dubai shouldn’t have to apologise for its consumerist culture” was the reply I got and it really got me thinking.

There is little doubt that Dubai is a commercial and trade hub-it has a few festivals dedicated to shopping malls for crying out loud. It recently kept its many malls open for three 24 hour long weekends. The city established a name for itself because of the very consumerist culture I feel a little uncomfortable to come to terms with. But why should I? Dubai probably never will have the quirkiness of Tokyo, the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, the work-ethic of New York or the art and fashion of Paris.  It has become a consumer-driven society so why claim otherwise? I am beginning to think my friend is right-Why should it have to apologise for its consumer culture, anyway?

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