Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thoughts on Dubai

Ant sculpture outside Dubai International Financial Exchange. The message: work hard, know your place, and we can build something big out of sand.

Really fucked-up story about the real estate crash in Dubai. I'm really interested in Dubai as a nasty social experiment that in retrospect was bound to fail, but we're still not sure HOW it's going to fail. Like, will there be a revolution by the migrant workers? (Population is 3/4 foreign workers, mostly construction I think; male/female ration is 3:1) Will the Emirates clamp down even harder (somehow)? Will everyone just go home and leave a ghost town of empty skyscrapers? The metaphor of castles built on sand is unavoidable, but exactly how they're going to fall is going to be instructive to watch.

But the way this is presented is even weirder. First, the video seems like half business report and half promotional video--look at the great deals on houses! Only 12 million Euros! Second, the end of the article is basically just there to make fun of the superficial nouveau-riche, a palm-tree-shaped island being the scaled-up equivalent of a pink flamingo lawn ornament. I have no problem with spotlighting the foibles of the super-rich and criticizing those who profited from creating a hollowed-out bubble economy, but I suspect that bad taste in apartments was not among the worst of their sins. The article suggests that cultural value gets created at the bottom, then gets diluted on the way up the food chain, and Dubai's biggest problem is not having enough hipsters. Never having been to Dubai, I don't know if there is an autonomous culture among the migrant workers, but if there is I suspect that it's too conservative for the authors of this article to be able to recognize or admire it.

But this trickle-up model of cultural economy just suggest an infinite regression: if all this is based ultimately on hipsters, what is hipster value based on? Maybe it's just turtlenecks all the way down.

More pictures here.