A Study of the Cultural Production of Modernity in Saudi Arabia through the General Authority for Entertainment and Neoliberal Capitalist Politics

By Anas Alahmed
Submitted to Session P4989 (States and Identities in the Oil-Rich Arab World, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Saudi Arabia;
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This paper focuses on Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Entertainment, which was established in 2016, as well as this organization’s goal of transforming the state into a more neoliberal capitalist form of modern society, without any actual political transformations. Utilizing a cultural analysis approach, this study focuses on how, using the lens of the General Authority, we have an excellent opportunity to examine class conflicts and social struggles within the country as they are related to activities in which genders are allowed to interact, the cinema, and musical concerts. The paper surveys the content of the General Authority's programs as well as the roles of Westernization and neoliberalism in the General Authority’s plans and programs, especially as these plans and programs are related to attempts to modernize the country from the outside utilizing such things as showings of modern movies and musical concerts, which had previously been avoided in the country.
Since the General Authority produces a Western model of cultural production, this study focuses on to what extent modernity would work without political transformations or political reform in an Arabic authoritarian regime. The paper argues that the new modernity of Saudi Arabia has become a political tool through which neoliberal capitalists can create positive relationships with Western powers and, through these relationships, gain political power within the country.
Additionally, the General Authority has politicized the role of Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy crown of the country, in order to modernize the state. This decision was part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a political message to outsiders that the country plans to transform from a kingdom to a country dedicated to social modernization and openness, while, at the same time, neglecting the insider. This plan also indicates that the country will rely on Western businesses to bring entertainment into the country instead of relying on local entertainment businesses to force the country to adopt neoliberal capitalism. The analysis of the cultural qualitative data shows how the General Authority’s programs used visuals, sounds, and the English language that did not mirror the social classes or gender gaps in society to enforce modernity in society, which is a schema that reflects Sharabi’s (1988) internalized modernity of the Arab state.