Let me tell you a story. It is a story of why the UAE and the wider Gulf region is such a confusing place for a relative newcomer.
In October 2011, I was walking along on an upper floor of The Dubai Mall with my husband when I spotted below a huge crowd of young women hanging around outside perfume and cosmetics store Sephora. “What on earth is going on?” I wondered. Then I remembered – Kim Kardashian was in town. How could I have forgotten? After all, her visit to the UAE had been plastered all over the regional newspapers for what seemed like weeks beforehand.
We considered going down to see if we could catch a glimpse of the femme fatale mogul who has made her name by being famous for being famous but suddenly there was a deafening chorus of screams and the crowd surged forward in true mob fashion, as La Kardashian had presumably emerged from a back entrance in the store. I asked my husband: “Are you interested enough in seeing her to fight your way through that?”
“No,” came the answer, so we continued on our way to the unusually quiet cinema to watch a film.
I was as mystified then as I am now as to why this woman was made so welcome in the UAE, which, while not particularly conservative by GCC standards, is certainly strict in its moral, legal and social outlook compared with Ms Kardashian’s native USA. And, I am yet more mystified as to why she is returning later this year, not only to the UAE but to Kuwait, if reports are to be believed.
To say Kardashian is famous for being famous is an oversimplification. Her steady rise to tabloid and showbiz magazine saturation point has been rehashed many a time, but for the uninitiated, this is a summary:
Step 1. An illicit film of her intimate encounter with her then boyfriend singer Ray J was leaked on the internet. Her fame started its climb towards stratospheric level when she sued a video company over the ownership of aforesaid film.
Step 2. Her reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians which made a star of her and imposed minor-celebdom on her whole family, paved the way for a clothing line, fashion shoots, calendar shoots, shoes, books, endorsements, workout DVDs and more.
Step 3. She has an ample posterior which she emphasises to the max in a range of tight-fitting outfits.
So far, so post-modern, you might think, but the true bafflement of the Kardashian phenomenon for me is the level of adoration she received in the UAE. This is a woman, who, after all started to climb the ladder of the fame hungry by having sex before marriage, something frowned upon under the UAE’s strict moral code, and being seen doing so in a film. You only have to read the newspapers and see weekly reports of babies abandoned, in all likelihood, because they are born out of wedlock to realise how seriously this moral code is taken.
At present, there is a surge of support for people, women in particular, to dress modestly in public thanks in a large part to the #UAEdresscode campaign on Twitter. Yet, a woman who, at least in part, owes her fortune to dressing “immodestly” and posing for pictures in her underwear or microscopic swimwear was feted here and no doubt will be feted again.
The publicity bulldozer that is Kardashian will doubtless crash through the UAE in a haze of Kim Kardashian perfume surrounded by screeching followers while a blind eye is turned, it would seem, to what has been a very non-GCC lifestyle. Far be it from me to speculate that this is thanks to the huge levels of interest and, let’s face it, revenue, that she creates where ever she goes.
It may appear that I am a cynical hack aged in her mid-30s, I am jealous of Kim’s fame, fortune or looks and that I simply want to rain on her parade. I am not – I actually admire her ability to exploit her earning power to the max by repackaging and selling every nuance of her life at a profit and I lap up the tabloid exposure as much as the next girl. I am the first to admit that I could not do what she does as the sale of the very soul for cash without a side order of cracking up is something that would take a stronger personality than mine.
There is no denying she is a shrewd operator as her relationship with sometimes controversial rapper Kanye West will show you. She knows what will make the newspapers and get people talking, renewing afresh interest in her brand.
But, I simply do not understand how she has translated her brand to the GCC audience and captured their hearts. Why do parents allow their daughters to worship at the altar of Kim when they would not in a million years allow them be seen publicly in any of her skimpy, admittedly slightly toned down for the UAE, outfits? And surely any GGC national who was caught out in a compromising situation on the internet would be instantly disowned by their family, yet, there were those very same girls clamouring for a glimpse of their idol. Perhaps I will be enlightened by Kim’s next visit, an event I am already thinking of as Kardashian in Dubai #2, Bigger, Bolder, Bootier, but I won’t hold my breath.
Imogen Lillywhite started her career in journalism nearly a decade ago writing about village fetes, parking disputes and parish council meetings in rural Buckinghamshire, and, it was all downhill from there. She progressed to trading in human misery for a regional news agency before being unceremoniously sacked during the worldwide financial crash for having too many scruples.
Luckily, the most valuable lesson she learned was that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, so she worked shifts on a variety of national tabloid newspapers before a stint as The Sun’s letters editor, during which she lost what little faith she had in humanity.
She moved to Dubai in January 2011 at just the right time as she has since watched the decline in British journalism in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal from her lofty position in a high-rise apartment in Downtown. In between sniping and fostering cats, she occasionally contributes to a number of publications including 7Days, Khaleej Times, Equestrio Arabia and Swiss Watch Report.
You can read her blog at http://dubaisandwitch.blogspot.com/
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Arabian Gazette’s editorial policy.