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The cultivation theory is a framework that describes how “entertainment narratives [influence] public perceptions about the world” (Dahlstrom, 2014, p. 13614). The main aim of entertainment programs is to gain profit, not represent the reality of the country or state depicted in a film or TV series. The individuals who are often exposed to such types of entertainment tend to share the expressed beliefs and values (Dahlstrom, 2014). This paper examines the influence of Western media (e.g. TV series, films, magazines, talk shows, etc.) on UAE millennials and their values (collectivism, restraint, power distance, masculinity/femininity, etc.).
Since the UAE is a country that hosts a variety of cultures, nationalities, and ethnic representatives, the values and beliefs are also affected by these differences. According to Khamis and Nazzal (2014), the survey conducted in 2014 had shown that 57% of Emirati youth view traditional values as significant and meaningful; young adults point out that these values have to be preserved. At the same time, other teenagers and young adults (43%) agreed they were ready to embrace modern values (Khamis & Nazzal, 2014). Still, the influence of Western media and values it translates can be seen in the dress-code changes.
One of the interviewees, an Emirati student, noticed that more women preferred not to wear the abaya and sheela (a scarf) and dress in the Western style both at home and in public (Khamis & Nazzal, 2014). Another respondent, also a student from an Emirati-Mexican family, noticed that although traditional values (such as family gatherings and religious celebrations) are to be preserved, Western values could also be adopted. For example, the respondent mentioned that she adopted different Western values “by being independent, and being able to drive on her own without a chaperone” (Khamis & Nazzal, 2014, p. para. 25).
The respondents also addressed the issue of equal gender roles and the role of women and men in the UAE society. One of them noticed that modern values helped improve the communication and connection between men and women in the UAE, and significantly improved women’s liberalization and freedom (Khamis & Nazzal, 2014). All of the respondents were representatives of the millennial generation (teenagers or young adults). It should be noted that all of them agreed on the importance of traditional values but also stressed the positive impact of Western values on Emiratis’ beliefs and culture (Khamis & Nazzal, 2014).
TV Series and UAE Millennials
One should pay close attention to the impact of American TV series on UAE millennials, their self-image, and perception of life. Recently, the concerns were raised about a possible copycat behavior of UAE teenagers with regard to the popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The series address the problem of rape, depression, and suicide in American teens, presenting the show’s protagonist as an example. The series are hugely popular among young people due to social media abuses that result in suicidal behavior or suicide (Hill, 2017).
The trend of streaming suicide live that grew during the last several years among young Facebook users could also lead to changes in UAE millennials’ behavior that might copy or perceive such actions as the only possible solution. To avert possible tragedies, several official organizations posted warnings about the show to attract parental attention to their children (Hill, 2017).
Still, no teenage suicide in UAE was directly related to the show. Furthermore, the father of a child who took his life in 2013 pointed out that the show did not push children toward any suicidal behavior but rather addressed the issues that lead to it (Hill, 2017). Chatterjee (2017) points out that due the large expat population in the UAE, teenagers’ views, values, and beliefs can be influenced by individuals who have another cultural and ethnic background. The author also points out that the show addresses sensitive but important issues that should not be regarded as possible catalysts for suicide behavior (Chatterjee, 2017).
The negative impact of American media (more precisely, Disney cartoons) is addressed by Hernandez (2012). The depictions of main characters in Alladin are presented according to specific stereotypes: Jafar, the antagonist, is a static character that represents an evil bearded man (Hernandez, 2012). On the contrary, Alladin, the protagonist, becomes more and more westernized as the plot unfolds, which shows the viewers that Western culture should be perceived as a dominant one (Hernandez, 2012). The real values of the Arab culture are not presented or presented in a skewed way. Thus, although students in the UAE tend to perceive shifts in culture and values as positive changes, Western media can translate harmful stereotypes or negatively influence self-perception of Emirati millennials.
Power Distance, Masculinity, and Individualism
If a population becomes more westernized, one can also expect that the attitude toward such concepts as power distance, collectivism, and masculinity/femininity will also change. Despite the adoption of some Western practices translated by the media, students and other representatives of younger generations do not experience many transformations in their approach toward the mentioned concepts.
As Alteneiji (2015) points out in her study, the power distance index in both representatives of younger and older generations is approximately 43.67 and 47.5 respectively. Thus, both generations gradually become “less tolerant to unequal distribution of power and resources” (Alteneiji, 2015, p. 63). The author links the low power distance to the fact that Western media and Western education both influence Emiratis, especially students who study using articles, magazines, journals, and studies published in North America (Alteneiji, 2015).
The individualism index for younger and older generations was 18.57 and 18.17 respectively (Alteneiji, 2015). One can conclude that students and millennials in the UAE express a high tendency toward collectivism despite the influence of Western values and beliefs. Alteneiji (2015) notices that despite the presence of nuclear families, women empowerment, and emancipation, Emiratis still highly value family ties and extended families.
Alteneiji’s (2015) study results showed that masculinity index was low both among older and younger generations (12.78 vs. 17.85). Still, the author argues that such results are unrealistic and points out that the masculinity in UAE is supported by Islamic teachings and social traditions or values (Alteneiji, 2015). Mohammed (2016) supports this opinion pointing out that hegemonic masculinity is more common for patriarchal societies and can translate negative stigmas. On the contrary, Western media is more focused on decreasing the diffusion of masculinity in Western culture by implementing strategies suggested by feminist studies (Nathanson & Young, 2012). Western TV series and films also engage more female characters to address the issue of toxic masculinity (Jessica Jones, Wonder Woman, Furiosa, etc.). Therefore, one can conclude that the Western media does not influence the perception of masculinity in UAE millennials.
Western Culture and Body Image of Emiratis
The exposure toward Western media (such as talk shows and TV series) was linked to eating disorders in UAE adolescents and young adults (Bustani, 2013). According to Bustani (2013), female students from the UAE expressed dissatisfaction with their body due to the growing obsession with Western media that translates unhealthy eating habits. Furthermore, another study points out that students admitted media made them believe that appearance was more important than personality if one wanted to be popular among her/his peers (Sreedharan et al., 2012).
The participants of the study agreed that media (the Internet and television) provided an inaccurate image of the female body, although the opinions about the male body were more neutral (Sreedharan et al., 2012). At the same time, the translated ideas about body image made study participants compare their bodies to those of others (peers and friends) (Sreedharan et al., 2012). The preference of model agencies to display skinny models as beauty standards can also increase the rates of eating disorders (anorexia) among UAE students.
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The study conducted by employees of Al Ain University included a sample size of 900 female participants (13-19 years old). As it turned out, 1.8% of the respondents were diagnosed with anorexia (Bustani, 2013). Bulimia was also named as one of the most widespread disorders among UAE female students. Thus, the Western media’s focus on slim body negatively influences UAE students and adolescents who develop eating disorders after being exposed to shows that use slim models or actresses/actors as protagonists.
Despite the relative openness of Emirati students toward Western culture, the importance of traditional values and beliefs is still supported by millennials who live in the UAE. It appears that Western media has little influence on power distance, the perception of masculinity, and collectivism. At the same time, ideas translated by Western TV and magazines are responsible for increasing rates of anorexia among Emirati students.
Alteneiji, E. (2015). Leadership cultural values of United Arab Emirates – the case of United Arab Emirates University.
Bustani, H. (2013). Western ideals ‘lead to rise in anorexia’, UAE experts say.
Chatterjee, A. (2017). Is this TV show glamourizing suicide among teenagers?
Dahlstrom, M. F. (2014). Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(4), 13614-13620.
Hernandez, P. (2012). Muslim American youth and media.
Khamis, J., & Nazzal, N. (2014). How young Emiratis balance traditional and modern values.
Mohammed, R. (2016). Break taboo over mental health crisis.
Nathanson, P., & Young, K. K. (2012). Misandry and emptiness: Masculine identity in a toxic cultural environment. New Male Studies Journal, 1(1), 4-18.
Sreedharan, J., Antony, A., Qureshi, S., Fazal, S., Siddiqui, H., Choudhury, J., & Siddiqui, H. (2012). Media influence on the body image among students in UAE. J Community Med Health Educ, 2(182), 2161-0711.