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 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.