Image via WikipediaDubai’s popular Barasti Bar started as a pleasant little seaside watering hole but has grown over the years to become a major venue, to the point where it now hosts gigs, last night’s double bill of Vanilla Ice and Snap! being one such case in point. The gig was free to women and ‘FaceCard’ holders (FaceCard is Emirates Airline’s staff discount card), while tickets were Dhs100 for the blokes. Which, in the cold light of day, does strike one as delightfully sexist.
However, there was a minor problemette with the concert. Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed Al Nahyan died in a glider accident in Morocco earlier in the week. He was the brother of the UAE’s President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and also the head of ADIA, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. Although not a major seeker of the limelight, he was a greatly respected man with a major role in the national economy. His death was announced and a three day period of national mourning started yesterday – the radio stations (talk and music stations alike) cut over to classical music and flags flew at half mast. His funeral took place last night and was attended by the UAE’s rulers, their representatives and a large number of key figures in Emirati society.
There was some doubt as to whether the Vanilla Ice gig would go ahead, but that was soon cleared up when Barasti sent out a text message at around midday:
STOP! COLLABORATE & LISTEN! VANILLA ICE AT BARASTI IS GOING AHEAD TONIGHT AS PLANNED. NORMAL OPERATION. WE ARE NOT DRY! NICE, NICE BABY! 5PM-3AM C U ON THE SAND
This was sent out seemingly at random – recipients included a colleague who had never signed up to any Barasti or Le Meridien mailer programme. And it caused offence, of varying degrees depending on the recipient. Among UAE nationals, it caused grave offence and sparked an outraged reaction which was immediately communicated to a wide audience on Twitter by a furious Mishaal Gergawi, an influential newspaper columnist.
Although I wasn’t personally offended to the same degree as Gergawi, I had to agree that Barasti’s text seemed remarkably ‘off colour’ given the nation was in mourning. If it had been sent to a list of Barasti ‘regulars’, it would likely have caused little or no comment. Sent to a wider audience, shared on Twitter, it caused considerable comment.
Word spread quickly, as it does on Twitter, and something of a feeding frenzy developed. I have to confess to finding mobs ugly and it’s likely that at least some degree of the outrage being expressed wasn’t born out of truly offended sensibilities as much as it was from people finding voice in their pursuit of Renard. However, that’s just human nature and reflective of the tide of any strongly felt opinion – it’s just that on Twitter it moves very fast.
One thing I thought was interesting was that we could actually share in the reactions of the wide range of people that make up our strange multi-national community – we got to feel, for instance, the pulse of the Emiratis among us in their reaction to the whole affair. That’s not a voice we usually get to hear.
The news broke later in the afternoon that Barasti had decided to cancel the concert, with a cunningly worded story on ArabianBusiness.com, which took the smart angle of crediting Twitter with the cancellation, thereby playing to a considerable gallery. There’s nothing humanity likes more than to be confirmed in its beliefs and Twitter certainly lost no time in celebrating its seminal role in changing the world.
Judging from what we saw develop on Twitter, it’s probably safe to say that a similar reaction was making itself felt offline and that it was more likely this offline development that caused the cancellation. Twitter’s ability to share information, and reflect opinion, at blinding speed certainly meant that thousands of people were aware of this whole incident within minutes and so it’s likely that a combination of opinion shared online and action taken offline resulted in the cancellation. I don’t really see Barasti’s management saying ‘Wow, Twitter’s not happy! Better can the gig, chaps!’
But we’ll never really know.
Personally, I’m more interested in the text that sparked the whole thing. Insensitive, ill thought through and badly executed, it’s symptomatic of so much of the lazy, drab marketing that takes place in our world today. SMS spam was never a clever idea. When you combine that with the sensibility of someone that has forgotten we are actually living in a foreign, albeit highly multicultural, country and that there is some respect due to that nation, the result was always going to be disastrous.
If that text hadn’t gone out, I do tend to think the concert would likely have gone ahead. And done so largely unremarked.