I am fascinated by the spontaneous branding practices of Jordanians (and people of the wider Arab and Muslim worlds). Yesterday I saw a bright banner in Dahiyet Al Rashid announcing the opening of a new supermarket called Hollywood Market!
Some years ago I also saw the ‘Mohammad Al Durrah Vegetable and Fruit Shop’ somewhere in Amman (Al Durrah is the name of the Palestinian kid who was killed in his father’s arms in the famous incident captured by TV cameras at the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada).
Between the fascination with martyred children and the symbols of western entertainment is a wide spectrum of cultural references that get reproduced on shop signs across the whole of the Arab region.
What goes on in the mind of a store owner as he arrives at the decision to call his supermarket Hollywood Market? Is it that he wants to give his shop a ‘glamourous’ name? Is it because his cousin in the US has a similarly named store? What would be the rationalization and would would be the deeper psychological meanings of the chosen name?
Such names have no functional association with what they are naming. And while a certain area in Amman’s affluent Deir Ghbar district is named by many ‘Beverly Hills’ I know for sure that Dahiyet Al Rashid district has no such pretensions.
These naming practices are not confined to small stores. Consider Jordan’s biggest shopping mall: Mecca Mall.
With all the sensitivity concerning religious symbols in Jordan, it was quite fascinating to see that the name Mecca Mall hardly raised an eyebrow when it was revealed?
We all know that Mecca Mall was named after Mecca Street. But the mall is now more famous than the street. So the name ‘Mecca Mall’ starts to acquire more meaning: is shopping our new destination of pilgrimage?
Would you imagine anyone in Europe launching The Vatican Mall? or Jesus Mall?
Jordan has a Mecca Mall. And the global muslim community is supposed to drink Mecca Cola..
Come to think of it the REAL Mecca has become a mall:
Muslim culture has absolutely no problem building skyscrapers much MUCH taller that the minarets of Islam’s holiest site. Mecca Mall as a self fulfilling prophecy?
Hollywood and Holy Mecca are simply ready-to-use names for any commercial venture today. It’s either a sign of amazing pragmatism vis-a-vis symbols of every origin or a sign of cultural bankruptcy. In either case is reveals the Arab/Muslim struggle with identity.