The French have a word, pharaonique, to describe any project that seems over-ambitious. National computer systems, networks of tramlines or new art galleries designed by Frank Gehry are all considered pharaonique, implying that they are likely impossible to accomplish, certainly over-visionary, and quite probably narcissistic.
Burj Dubai nears its completion (Image: Joi, Creative Commons)
The news this week that Dubai’s main state-controlled investment vehicle, Dubai World, is near collapse, really should not have suprised anyone. Back in 2006, I started paying attention to Dubai because it fell into my region of responsibility at work. After the stories I heard from salesmen in the region, and what I read online, it made instinctive sense that the Emirate’s vast property-based gold rush was unsustainable.
My amateur analysis was not based on a calculation of debt ratios. It was simply the halo of exuberant optimism that orbited Dubai that provided a warning. In Dubai, everything was going to be bigger, taller, better than the rest of the world. Real estate prices would never fall, and the Pharoah’s thrusting vision for his kingdom was infallible.
Dubai’s apparent bankruptcy provides no pleasure. But like the current world financial crisis, the fable of Dubai should make us cautious of predictions of endless prosperity. It’s not that ambition should be discouraged: without it we wouldn’t have landed men on the moon, given the vote to women, or discovered penicillin. But the development of a scepticism gene might be a very healthy thing.
(Image: Monica R., Creative Commons)
Which brings me tangentially to the Oasis of the Seas, a piece of engineering which seems to fully embody the folly of us all: an energy-munching mobile shopping mall designed to shuttle between America and a few developing nations in the tropics while stripping its passengers of as much money as possible. It’s the perfect realisation of insulated hedonism. A floating Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
The allure of cruise ships escapes me. I can’t understand how anyone would want to spend precious free time in a Ritz-upon-Sea which offers little except good weather and a plasticised, hyper-controlled “guest experience”. I’d rather holiday in Invercargill.
It’s a pity that there are unlikely to be any icebergs floating near Florida in the near future. If it sank, at least the Oasis of the Seas would provide a powerful poetic metaphor for our time, as well as a screenplay for another film by James Cameron or Michael Bay.
Sometimes I get the impression that all of us are (figuratively, of course) floating around in an air-conditioned bubble of ignorant bliss, zapping zombies on our Xbox while the planet collapses around us. Drinking champagne in anticipation of the big fireworks display at the end of time. I just hope their are enough lifeboats for everyone.
[*EDIT: thanks to klari for correcting my spelling of “pharaonique” 😉 ]