'Dubai Bling' propagates all the worst stereotypes — and I find it offensive

Netflix resorts to tired old tropes and lazy cliches to capture a city that deserves so much more

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Thanks Netflix.

I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to convince people that Dubai is not a one-dimensional playground for the rich… and in one bling-tastic piece of lazy, stereotype-affirming programming, you have undone all my efforts.

I will start this with the caveat, that I have only watched one episode of Dubai Bling. I can’t really afford to lose the number of brain cells that would involve me watching any more. There is the possibility that the show miraculously evolves into something watchable after episode one, but I’ll bet my non-Birkin handbag that’s not the case.

It serves up all the tired old tropes — the yacht parties and stretch limos; Michelin-starred dinners and slow-mo exits from private jets; billowing couture gowns and women being compared to Barbie dolls. There's lots of cattiness and so, so, so, so many shots of the Burj Khalifa.

Meanwhile, our erstwhile cast navigate the perils of not having enough wardrobe space, going on the most awkward blind date in history and selecting exactly the right Dh10 million necklace. It manages to be boring and cringeworthy and visually uninspiring all at the same time.

I do not begrudge the cast their diamonds or their supercars or their sea-facing villas and petty squabbles. If this is how they choose to enjoy their wealth and influence, more power to them. A couple of the women, if presented in a different, more considered context, may even be quite inspiring.

And I have no issue with programmes like this being made. I love a bit of trashy reality TV as much as the next girl. Much of my past week has been spent languishing in the third season of Love Is Blind. A woman who is willing to believe that people can fall in love through a wall is not one to be casting aspersions on other people's viewing habits.

We can’t deny that Dubai has a propensity for flashiness and that there are plenty of people here just like those starring in Dubai Bling. The problem occurs when this — and things like The Real Housewives of Dubai — are the only programmes being held up in front a global audience.

When it is not presented alongside an opposing view, Dubai Bling only serves to prop up negative perceptions of Dubai. If this is the only narrative being presented to the outside world, complemented by the odd disparaging article in the Daily Mail, how will anyone ever understand the multi-faceted nature and cultural nuances of this city?

A few weeks ago I was in the UK, trying to explain to a member of my extended family why I love this place so much. I talked about the sense of entrepreneurship and dynamism that is pervasive, at a time when so much of the rest of the world is stagnating. There’s that constant sense of possibility — not to get rich but to build lives, careers and futures that might not be possible in our home countries.

I talked about the people you meet, from all over the world, who bring such layered experiences and viewpoints. I talked about the relationships you form with these people, how they become your family when you are so far from your own. Dubai has opened my mind and given me opportunities that I could not have dreamt of, growing up on the tiny island of Cyprus. What it has provided cannot be measured in designer bags or fancy dresses.

Where are the Netflix shows highlighting all that? Where are the series showing Dubai’s incredible creatives, or entrepreneurs, or the women breaking stereotypes and barriers? Where are the shows exploring the dichotomy of a country that is speeding into the future while carefully trying to preserve its cultural integrity?

Where are all the incredible people I meet on a daily basis through my work as a journalist, who may not be millionaires but who have enriched my life all the same?

Netflix has created genre-subverting content across many languages. It has managed to convince me to watch shows in Spanish, Korean and Swahili. So why, when it comes to Dubai, has it decided to propagate the most tired, dumb and obvious cliches? It doesn't even pretend to try to scratch beneath the surface of this fascinating, so-often-misinterpreted place.

And as a long-time resident of this city, I find that offensive.

Dubai Bling will not be seen as the sensationalised antics of a small segment of society — but as an affirmation of the crassness of us all.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 6:02 PM
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