Media tells the story of a nation. More so than dusty, historical books do. Maybe that’s because it tells the story with colors, with music, and with a lot of entertainment. Hence, it is able to hold the attention of a wider audience – both present and future – with its grip. But it isn’t entertainment value alone that media can achieve through narrating its national story, but geopolitical gains too.
Consider the Chino-American rivalry who are engaged in a set of simultaneous games; the economic superiority game, the multilateral leadership game, and the global influence game. But one game that China simply is unable to compete with the US with is the cultural victory game. That is a game in which America is a game master, not a gamer.
Indeed what America had done through its media is make the distance between the American dream and the rest of the world Netflix, Lady Gaga, and Oprah. Allowing those who have never set foot in America to feel pretty American and hence to develop an attitude that favors America over almost all other countries of the world (sometimes put together). It also allowed American culture, American agenda, American values, the American version of the story, and ‘the story of the American nation’ to diffuse to the most remote parts of the world through its media works.
With that, it influenced the entire world to move half a step towards it – willingly – because of the grip of its media works alone. Consequently, its leadership across multiple domains wasn’t just accepted, it became expected. Highlighting that media superiority could very much lead to geopolitical advancement, cultural victory, and future history.
While in the past, it was the winner who writes history, history now gets to pick its writers. In a process similar to natural selection, history now selects from a collection of competing stories the best story that it will move forward since everyone gets to tell their story through the globalized media. And just like natural selection, the standards are unnegotiable. In other words, geopolitical gains will only go to the country that is able to foster media works of the highest caliber.
The problem is, art is simply not a top-down endeavor. So countries that are just catching up with the cultural victory game with state-sponsored productions, state-written scripts, or themes that serve the state’s agendas are producing something, but it’s certainly not art. Anti-art maybe, but not art. Because art produced with a pre-negotiated ‘end-effect’ that the artist would like to ‘achieve’ is actually propaganda, not art. And propaganda is always forgettable, while real art absolutely not. In this context, countries who would like to increase their soft power through media works like the US did should find the artists, not make the art.
In singling out the newly emerging media landscape of the UAE, one media work stands out. And possibly stands alone. It is a Talk show that runs on Youtube and now Netflix in the format of Interviews, called ABtalks. The host is an Emirati man called Anas Bukash. The interviewees range from political figures, cultural figures, motivational speakers, comedians to celebrities, spanning both the local and the global. What Anas does in his interviews is conduct what feels like an unscripted or lightly scripted discussion with his guests resulting in highly genuine, remarkably intimate talks with his interviewees. Some of which – especially interviewees from the over-scripted Arab media industry – have never been seen from such intimate, personal angles. And the result? A remarkable work of art, worthy of mention, worthy of praise, worthy of a scholarly pen.
That is why Anas’s influence through ABtalks doesn’t end at the frames, it extends outward in offering one story of a nation, amongst many. What Anas is doing – accidentally – is raising the value of the soft power of the UAE through moving it a few steps forward in the cultural victory game. Through the content of his show, he sits at the forefront of time-sensitive discussions on what it means to be a modern Arab in the 21st Century, acting as the gate-keeper to the answers that influence, engage, and propagate through an entire regional society. Like every true artist. And with that, he offers to add a uniquely Emirati media personality to the global media landscape and pave the way for others to come after him and contribute more shades to the story of a rising nation.