Its skyline erupting from the desert in just two decades, Dubai is a cautionary tale about what money can’t buy: a culture of its own. After gorging on the Viagra of easy credit, the emirate has the world’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive racetrack, and a financial crisis to match. From the Western mercenaries and Asian drones who maintain the gaudy show to 100-odd families who are impervious to any economic reality, A. A. Gill discovers that no one truly belongs in Dubai, where the legacy of oil has made everything worthless.
A. A. Gill in Vanity Fair:
The only way to make sense of Dubai is to never forget that it isn’t real. It’s a fable, a fairy tale, like The Arabian Nights. More correctly, it’s a cautionary tale. Dubai is the story of the three wishes, where, as every kid knows, with the third wish you demand three more wishes. And as every genie knows, more wishes lead to more greed, more misery, more bad credit, and much, much, much more bad taste. Dubai is Las Vegas without the showgirls, the gambling, or Elvis. Dubai is a financial Disneyland without the fun. It’s a holiday resort with the worst climate in the world. It boils. It’s humid. And the constant wind is full of sand. The first thing you see when you arrive is the airport, with its echoing marble halls. It’s big enough to be the hub of a continent. Dubai suffers from gigantism—a national inferiority complex that has to make everything bigger and biggest. This includes their financial crisis.
Outside, in the sodden heat, you pass hundreds and hundreds of regimented palm trees and you wonder who waters them and what with. The skyline, in the dusty haze, looks like the cover of a dystopian science-fiction novella. Clusters of skyscrapers lurch out at the gray desert accompanied by their moribund cranes, propped up with scaffolding, swagged in plastic sheeting. Dubai thought it was going to grow up to be the Arab Singapore—a commercial, banking, and insurance service port on the Gulf with hospitality and footballers’ time-shares, an oasis of R&R for the less well endowed. But it hasn’t quite worked out.