Looking back at a year of bad Dubai reality television

After the stereotypes and one-dimensional picture painted by shows from Real Housewives to Dubai Bling, it's time to start showing Dubai for what it really is

The Real Housewives of Dubai ruffled plenty of feathers. Photo: Bravo
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The year 2022 will be remembered as the year of many things. The year of the slap. The year the world lost its longest-reigning sovereign. And the year of Dubai reality television.

From Netflix and Bravo to BBC and Channel 4, television networks around the world turned their lenses on Dubai for series after series treading the same old stereotypical ground.

We get it, some people here drive supercars and fly around in private jets. Some people come here to sell real estate and hit the jackpot. Some people get into orchestrated fights when they go out for Dh1,000 steak with gold leaf. It was all very entertaining for about five minutes. But we’re bored now.

Kicking things off in January was the BBC docuseries Inside Dubai: Playground of the Rich — a three-part series following the lives of some of Dubai's “wealthiest” residents. We watched people attend puppy birthday parties, race their supercars to Jebel Jais, and families have their private chefs cook up feasts for them. Just the typical day for most Dubai residents, obviously.

Not satisfied with one show set in Dubai, the BBC swiftly followed Inside Dubai with Dubai Hustle in May. Taking inspiration from Netflix’s Selling Sunset, Dubai Hustle introduced us to the “riches and rivalry” between young real estate agents as they navigate the “glitzy world” of Dubai property.

Then came the big one, Real Housewives of Dubai. The global franchise made its first foray into the Middle East, and ruffled plenty of feathers in the process. True to form, the show was filled with gossip, lunches and manufactured rifts. But it did not represent the real housewives of Dubai, in fact, it actively caused many of them offence.

I’d like to take a moment here to point out that I am no hater of reality television. In fact, I spend more time than I should probably admit watching it, so I am no stranger to mindless content and the ever-blurred line of exactly what constitutes “reality”.

It’s supposed to be escapism. But what happens when a city as culturally diverse and thriving as Dubai can’t escape the shallow and one-dimensional picture that is constantly being painted of it on a global stage? It’s damaging for the city and the millions of people who live rich, vibrant, layered lives here that don’t centre on gold, designer clothes and yachts.

That picture was given yet another healthy boost in October, when Netflix’s Dubai Bling was released. The show follows the lives of 10 of the city’s millionaire residents, as they do everyday things like demand to be bought bigger houses by their spouses for all their designer clothes or pick up their blind dates in helicopters.

And not to be left out, the UK’s Channel 4 announced Made in Dubai, a six-part series that will — shock — follow a group of estate agents as they “battle to secure outlandishly expensive deals that could potentially earn them eye-watering amounts of commission.” Sound familiar? And with a release date yet to be confirmed, it’s likely that we’re all going to be subjected to more of this in 2023.

As television networks are clearly so interested in Dubai, how about if, for the new year, we focus on showing the real Dubai, instead of the Real Housewives. A city where cultures from across the world come together to meet, share with and learn from one another. A city where people discover opportunities to build meaningful lives for themselves and their families. A city that connects so many, and leaves its impact on everyone that visits — and not because of the supercars they see on the roads or the yachts they spot in the Marina.

And until that day happens, I’ll be switching off from all Dubai reality television, and leaving it in 2022, where it belongs.

Updated: December 30, 2022, 4:08 AM