Monday, December 3, 2012

Mashup: Twitter, Celebrities, and the Middle East

First it was Paris Hilton and now it's Kim Kardashian. When reality TV celebrities with Twitter accounts are unleashed on Middle Eastern shoppers, you can expect controversy. But this is not a simple story of hatred of the West. Rather, globalization is the issue.

In case you missed the last week's worth of celebrity news, Ms. Hilton and Ms. Kardashian are both branching out into global retail. Neither of them, however, expected to generate a backlash when doing PR for new stores opening in the Arab world. But they did.

When Ms. Hilton recently tweeted, "Loving my beautiful new store that just opened at Mecca Mall in Saudi Arabia!", she immediately generated a firestorm of comments against the commercialization of the holiest site in the Islamic religion. It's true: the Saudi regime has allowed all kinds of commercial development within the precincts of the holy city, and this is actually the fifth Paris Hilton store in the country.

"Everything that is holy is profaned," wrote Marx and Engels. But even they might have been appalled by this extension of global commerce into sacred territory.

 And now Ms. Kardashian has provoked a demonstration in the tiny island state of Bahrain, where she was invited to promote the opening of a new store in a chain that sells milkshakes. When she arrived in the country, she tweeted, "I just got to ! OMG can I move here please? Prettiest place on earth!"

Despite this seemingly positive spin on Bahrain, Ms. Kardashian's visit generated protests, which may have required some tear gas to be put down.

Why would her visit provoke a riot? Do Bahrainis hate reality TV or milkshakes? Wouldn't they be flattered that an American celebrity loved their country? She also visited Kuwait, and there were no protests there.

Well, it turns out that Ms. Kardashian was being attacked on Twitter by Amber Lyon, an ex-CNN journalist who reported some of the most damaging stories on the Bahraini government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and who won a number of admirers among the Bahraini opposition. Ms. Lyon's take helps us understand how Bahrainis might see it.

Here were Ms. Lyon's responses on Twitter, escalating the rhetoric:

  • Kim K doing more PR for dictator RT: ":Thanks Sheikh Khalifa for your amazing hospitality.I'm in love w/ # Bahrain
  •  .'s tweets supporting regime are so ignorantly reckless, she is now complicit in doing PR for dictators 
  • Hey ,since ur now 'besties' w/Bahrain dictators, plz ask them to stop torturing & murdering journalists, doctors. Thx. 
My guess is that Ms. Lyon's efforts helped to spark some of the outrage, although Ms. Kardashian's utter ignorance of Bahraini politics may have been enough.

Either way, however, Twitter is helping to fan the flames of  existing conflicts, speeding up the response of audiences across the world. And if nothing else, this silly little media firestorm illustrates the globalization of media.

We live in a crazy world.

1 comment:

  1. This article clears all the doubts and confusions that will have issues while pretending & not getting there where they want to. Excellent Article!!!
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