I believe the last week of March was Cultural Relevance Week. Well, it might’ve been, you know. It’s the same as No Smoking Day: everybody talks about it, feels slightly guilty, promises they will make a greater effort next time round then royally ignores the whole thing by lunchtime. If I had a dollar for every time
that expression – “cultural relevance” – was used since Dubai Lynx was launched, and for the number of arguments, lectures, debates, pontificating statements and general hypocritical hand-wringing it has generated, I wouldn’t just be a millionaire, I’d be buying football clubs.
It is a very Dubai hang-up, this cultural relevance thing. This is karaoke-city, after all: it sings tunes written elsewhere and tries to give them as good a voice as it can, with as mixed a result as can be imagined. When it gets it right, you get the equivalent of what is referred
to as “fusion” in music and cuisine. And when it wants to be “authentic”, you get Souk Madinat.
Globalisation, the internet, pan-Arab media, even the fashion industry, have all contributed to the kind of beige blandness that people try to eliminate by seeking to bring back expressions of authenticity. But it is not something you can command by remote.
Frankly, I can’t remember seeing any brief where “cultural relevance” was part of the guidelines. Nor can I imagine a creative actively looking for it and coming out with great work. You either live and feel the environment for which you advertise, be it through its dreams, nightmares, fears and hopes, or you fail. Period. And that environment is neither in the history or traditions, and certainly not in dewy-eyed nostalgic references that nobody cares about when they go shopping. You may argue that, when it comes to relevance, you either get it or you don’t.
That’s because cultural relevance is about being true, of being honest. It is about feeling a pulse. And to feel it, reflect it and create magic, you need to immerse yourself in it. Armchair tourists don’t make for great creatives. Or judges for that matter.