Patrice Riemens on Mon, 27 Mar 2006 11:12:49 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Sudden Stardom of the Third-World City

Following on Rana's interesting post and ben's rejoinder, this may provide 
some complement and context. The theme is Dubai's filmfest, the setting is 
the 'triple entendre' of "the reel world" of Dubai's new urbanism...
(Reel Casbah Peter Lagerquist with Jim Quilty)

(sorry typos due to c+p into 'mutt'/ascii)


"Dubai's easygoing, cosmopolitan image has been particularly heavily 
promoted as part of a drive to lure tourists to the city's growing 
assortment of theme-park hotels and shopping emporia. To such visitors, 
the city peddles a kaleidoscope of alternative realities, exotically 
familiar or familiarly exotic, but never clashing. For those who so 
desire, there are stylized Western reveries about the East, replete with 
camel safaris and Oriental architecture more Oriental than the Orient 
itself, because they assemble in one place all the features of what that 
place is thought to look like. For evening drinks, the city offers totemic 
pastiches of the cosmopolitan good life, conjured up in yacht clubs, 
gleaming high-rise apartment buildings and chrome-festooned mega-malls. As 
a destination at once hyper-Oriental and hyper-modern, Dubai on the map of 
the airport lounge imagination would be both in the Middle East, and not.

Being also a place where you need only see what you want to see, the city 
cleaves readily to the grandest imaginations of the region's future. .It 
will be years before Iraq becomes a beacon of political liberty for the 
region,. writes one entranced American journalist. .Dubai offers another 
route: a model inspired not by Western democracies but by American-style 
enterprise . free markets, open immigration and satellite dishes.. It is 
appropriate that this impression was published by the high-tech 
crystal-ball gazers at Wired magazine, because it envisions not so much a 
real politics for the Middle East as a virtual one. .Dubai is the most 
autocratic state in the Middle East,. rejoins a locally based European 
political scientist, who insisted on remaining anonymous. .Even in Saudi 
Arabia they have consultative bodies. Here it is just one man who decides 
everything, which is also why things get done so quickly.. Welcome to the 
city of other people.s dreams.

Excursions in Dreamland

On a balmy winter afternoon in Madinat Jumeira, a Palestinian film 
director sipped his cappuccino with a frown. The previous week, he had 
swapped the West Bank.s walled vistas for the palm-studded beaches and 
ablaq marble of the Madinat's Qasr Hotel. Like the score of independent 
Arab filmmakers who were also invited to the party, he was grateful for 
the opportunity. But he was also here to make a living, which meant 
finding distribution partners for his small film, and money for the next 
one. And he could not shake the feeling of being a guest on a show made 
for people not like himself. .They probably spent $20,000 on me 
personally, to keep me here,. he said. .But when you look for this kind of 
funds to develop a film, it's impossible.. The director was hoping to stay 
on for a while after the festival, and as he would soon be evicted from 
paradise, he was searching in vain for an affordable hotel. .This country 
is so expensive,. he sighed.

Further out of frame, Rajesh chauffeured one of 50 leather-upholstered 
BMWs that transported filmmakers and other festival guests to outlying 
screening venues interspersed between the high-rise developments of Sheikh 
Zayed Road and an 80-tower seafront development known as the Dubai Marina. 
Both are currently the loci of a $225 billion construction frenzy that 
will, the city planners hope, cement Dubai.s reputation as a place where 
the world can come to work and play. For Rajesh, as with much of the world 
that is already here, it is all work. One of an estimated 700,000-900,000 
South and East Asian guest workers who build, move and service the city, 
he makes about $400 a month, and sends most of it back to his family in 
Mumbai, whom he sees once a year. Since he makes less than a $1,000 a 
month, he cannot obtain visas for them, and he could at any rate hardly 
afford to maintain them here. .This place is very expensive,. he sighed.

Not surprisingly, Rajesh does not shop at the brand-name boutiques that 
line his main dropoff point, the 6.5 million-square foot Mall of the 
Emirates. In addition to a 12-screen cinema complex, the Gulf.s biggest 
metaphor for plenty houses the world.s first indoor ski slope, contained 
in a looming aluminum shell that vaguely evokes a moored spaceship. 
Inside, $75 will buy two hours in Switzerland, ski rental included. On 
weekends, those city residents who cannot afford to buy into the illusion 
cluster by the roof-to-floor viewing gallery, gazing in at the snowy 
dreamland. The scene well frames a city that tantalizes its upwardly 
mobile residents and taunts the rest, its irony crowned by a snippet of 
inspirational film dialogue pinned to the back of Rajesh.s seat by the 
festival.s promotional team: .I'm going to hang up this phone, and then 
I.m going to show these people what you don.t want them to see,. read the 
parting lines from the virtual reality blockbuster The Matrix. .A world 
without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where 
everything is possible..

In its source of inspiration, Dubai's message to visiting moviemakers cut 
as close to a deeper meaning as can be found in this city of glossy 
surfaces. As pop culture lore recounts, the alternate reality conceit that 
animated the Matrix franchise was loosely lifted from French cult 
philosopher Jean Baudrillard and his notion of .hyper-reality.. 
Deconstructing today's virtual cities and virtual wars, embodied 
respectively by Disneyland and CNN's 1991 Gulf war, Baudrillard posits 
that the contemporary circulation and replication of images has reached a 
level at which the real can no longer be separated from its simulation, to 
the extent that this distinction has in fact become meaningless. It is 
difficult to argue too much with this speculation in Dubai, and on the 
occasion of its film festival, harder still to ignore why the Middle East 
has provided such ready grist for Baudrillard's mill. As the reels rolled 
this past December, both visiting filmmakers and anonymous stagehands 
could be observed negotiating fantasies and realities equally not of their 
own imagining."



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