Dubai is often described as a marriage between hypermodern capitalism and traditional Arab culture. Inside Dubai: Playground for the rich, The BBC’s three-part portrait of expat life in Middle East Babylon of bling, was equally full of contrasts, though the results were confusing rather than captivating.
This film took us into life with extraordinary wealth and privileges under the city’s shining skyscrapers, and it was fascinating to see the city’s one percent live it up.
A Danish zillionaire explained that driving around in a Bentley would probably result in him being beaten in his hometown. In Dubai, he was free to brag about his fortune. Gaynor Scott, born of a working-class Stoke-on-Trent family, enjoyed a breathtakingly pampered life in an upscale neighborhood after marrying a multimillionaire.
A more cruel series would have mocked her designer lifestyle – and her designer lifebuoys (a Hermès, a Chanel). Still, she came to seem reasonably self-conscious about her privileges, even as she prepared to take a £ 80,000 private jet back to the UK. “I do not think I am anything special,” she said. “I am lucky”.
The problem was that this was also spinning around on the darker side of Dubai, “under a blanket of CCTV”, and its absolute ruler Sheikh Mohammed – criticism of who is banned, it was revealed.
This created a dull mix – it was as if the documentary wanted to deliver a portrait of warts and all, but was reluctant to inflict too much January gloom on the audience. A minute Inside Dubai was lavishly displayed in abundance, the next was the ominous hint that there was more in this paradise on earth than one could see.
In the end, it was a triumph of surface gloss over substance: neither fluffy enough to qualify as leave-brain-at-door escapism, nor strict enough to pass to hard-hitting journalism. It could have been soaked by Dubai’s endless sunshine, but it provided a muddy view.
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