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Friday, June 20, 2008

Breaking News: Orientalist Dubai Dream Tour Shattered! (part 1)

By Terry Carter*
Dubai is still sizzling as a travel destination, no matter what part of the planet you look at it from. But let’s look at Dubai from an Australasian travel media perspective for a moment. Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald and sister publication The Age love running stories on Dubai, but they've really run out of steam if their latest article is any indicator. But really, what should we expect from a once well regarded publisher that has a blog called ‘The Backpacker’ that explores themes such as 'Joining the Mile High Club', 'Travel cliches (sic): are they worth it?' and 'How to get rid of your backpacker'. Seriously.
However, this latest anonymously authored story, which ran in New Zealand’s Dominion Post first, manages to set the bar to an all-time low, appearing like a package tour report that wouldn’t be out of place on TripAdvisor. The 'author' of the article has an odd preconception about Dubai from the start, but then feigns surprise when the destination doesn’t live up to his skewed expectations. So, what does he do? Call the story ‘Truth and Trickery in Dubai’. So, what's wrong with this story?

‘Anon’ as we’ll call the writer, is disappointed to learn the belly dancer on his desert safari is from Egypt, claiming she’s no more a Dubai local than he is (we’ll assume it’s a ‘he’). Last time I checked Egypt was in the Middle East and New Zealand wasn’t. We’re already off to a weird start. I don’t want to get into the much-contested origins of belly-dancing, but if you have an Egyptian belly-dancer in front of you, that’s a lot more authentic an experience than most visitors to any Middle East destination get these days. Even in Egypt itself (arguably the spiritual home of the dance), you’ll probably be confronted by the ‘fake’ shimmying of an Eastern European dancer if you go to an ‘Oriental’ show.

Anon then contradicts himself by saying it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the dancer isn’t a Dubai local as “one is lucky to see an ankle belonging to a local woman, let alone an exposed navel”. Actually, local women do a dance similar to the ‘belly-dance’, just not half-naked, not in public, not in front of men, and certainly not for creepy foreigners like Anon. So, let’s get this straight. He’s saying: the belly dancer is inauthentic because she’s from Egypt, Dubai women don’t do the belly dance, therefore Dubai=Fake. Or perhaps that makes it doubleFake? Can’t argue with logic like that.

To be honest, I debated whether to bother going further to deconstruct this article, but a story as misanthropic, sexist, and filled with thinly veiled racism as this (not to mention being published in such well-regarded newspapers), deserves it. So, let’s just get the attacks on the people that our fearless Orientalist comes across out of the way first. Here are some of Anon's choice quotes:

“…a pock-marked Bangladesh-born wide-boy”

“…one hapless male whose game attempts to mimic her pelvic thrusts are slightly impeded by his fluorescent bumbag and complete lack of coordination”

“…fat-bottomed tourists” and

“It is fun to get lost in the narrow alleyways of the gold and spice souks and get high on the heady mix of cloves, cardamom, incense and armpit.”

Clearly Anon dislikes acne, fluoro bumbags, people lacking dancing skills, fat-bottomed tourists, and people who don’t wear deodorant. I’m still trying to figure out why this is exclusive to Dubai. Really, did anyone edit this? But what Anon really dislikes is how ‘fake’ Dubai is. And he’s in Dubai to separate the truth from trickery.

But if Anon was ‘tricked’ about what to expect in Dubai, who deceived him, and what were his expectations? It’s clear – at least for the purposes of creating an angle for his story – he was expecting some sort of Orientalist fantasy of Bedouin goat-hair tents lining Dubai’s main thoroughfare Sheikh Zayed Road, where there’s a ten-lane camel highway (and perhaps a flying carpet lane as well?) leading to ARABIA, while the score from Lawrence of Arabia fills the air. However, Anon never sets out his expectations at the start of the story. Heaven forbid that would create a narrative! But here’s a hint as to where his desires lay: the belly-dancer is “an exotic apparition” before the spell is broken and he finds out she’s a ‘fake’ from Egypt.

And it gets worse... (read part 2 here.)

* Terry Carter is my partner and co-writer

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