Recently found (thanks Robin Kelly): a Tumblr blog sharing “the inspiring story of Hafid from Dubai,the douchebag who stole my phone”. Who knows if it’s real, but as the blog says Hafid “forgot to switch off the camera upload function, that’s why we will enjoy a deep insight into his life.”
Blog caption: “salam again, the summer heat doesn’t keep creative hafid from exploring new locations and posing the shit out of them.”
The blog is interesting for a couple of reasons:
It’s not a “deep insight” into Hafid’s life at all, it’s the commentary of a crime victim laying bare the naive and sometimes banal life stream of a supposed thief. And now it’s gone viral. So why do we find this so entertaining?
There’s something simultaneously unnerving and entertaining about having access to a strangers’ life without his consent or knowledge. When was the last time you had full access to someone else’s photostream? It’s voyeurism at its most culturally intimate. It also opens spaces for fantasy, humour, bitterness and total misinterpretation. In many of the images the blog author incorrectly identifies “Hafid” in the picture. Maybe all Arabs look the same to the author? Maybe all Arabs are called Hafid anyway? The author labels a video of Hafid’s friends/brothers/cousins “dancing” when they’re wrestling (maybe that’s a joke). Either way, what we’re doing is looking at Hafid through his own eyes. This is what he sees! We can be him for a day or two! We’re both participating in his life and making fun of him by doing it. But, some things we’ll never know: is he really an aspiring fashion designer? Is he happy? Are those his brothers or lovers? Some things we know for sure though: he’s having chicken for lunch.
Seems like mobile photography techniques suffer less from cultural relativism…Hafid’s photos have all the built-in cliches of mobile culture:
the filtered food shot
the person-in-the-palm-of-my-hand shot.
If it’s real then this kind of surveillance at a distance is mind blowing. Even if the blog is the work of a bored creative (or a researcher, even better) the narrative speaks volumes. There’s the microcosm it provides for western views on the “other.” now I’m making assumptions. Maybe the blog author isn’t western – they never identify themselves. The author uses Arabic in the captions – which are funny, sarcastic and mildly derogatory. This could have been left out, but to be honest the blog is nothing without it. So we’re having a laugh at a person, using his own tongue. Again, it’s entertaining, but why?
Hafid has the obvious naivety of someone using a smartphone for the first time. He poses like a newbie in cliched places (the rocks! the ocean!), filter experimentation gone wrong, under-lit selfies, and shot composition minus heads. This is overlaid with the owner’s derisive Western commentary, someone familiar with smartphone technology. Anyone who has been to Dubai will know the incredible opulence it celebrates. I think Hafid’s mobile stream speaks less about his lack of creative capacity and more about our new global dividing line in consumer culture – defined by the phone you own.