Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cultural politics in the Persian Gulf

Have no fear, Mickey Mouse may soon be here! Word out of the Persian Gulf is that government-backed companies in the United Arab Emirates are investing billions of dollars to construct huge amusement parks based on characters from U.S. popular culture. Theme parks are under construction or planned in the oil-rich UAE's largest cities, Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai. Eight licensing deals have been signed with entertainment companies such as Viacom Inc., Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment Inc., the Associated Press reported. Current plans include a $2.2 billion Universal Studios theme park outside Dubai based on King Kong and Jurassic Park, expected to open in 2010, and $1 billion Marvel theme park in Abu Dhabi by 2011. The U.S. companies are trying to downplay unavoidable culture frictions with residents of the Muslim country, with Marvel focusing its park on Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men instead of Captain America. Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., brewer of Budweiser and other beers, plans beer-tasting zones in a SeaWorld complex in Dubai but will limit advertising them to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, the AP said. Park menus are expected to include falafel and hummus along with typical U.S. menus. "On the one hand, they hate America. On the other hand they love America to the bone," said Michael Izady, an expert on Middle East culture who teaches at Pace University in New York. Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. home entertainment group, which plans a theme park in Abu Dhabi, thinks Superman, Batman and other DC Comics characters will be readily accepted by visitors to the park from the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The world's largest theme park operator, the Walt Disney Co., has no plans to enter the market but is studying it, the AP said. "Up until very recently, the Middle East has been theme-park deprived," said Paul Ruben, North American editor of Park World magazine. "They've suddenly joined the 21st century."

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