Hollywood Market banner
Hollywood Market sign

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..

Mecca Cola

Come to think of it the REAL Mecca has become a mall:

Mecca Towers

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.

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7 responses to “Hollywood and holy sites: Vernacular branding, vernacular culture”

  1. Mariam Ayyash Avatar
    Mariam Ayyash

    i didnt quite understand ur point! anyway, the building next to Kaaba is a big mistake i think, for two reasons: the area must at some time be enlarged to contain the growing number of pilgrims, and two: it is going to turn Kaaba and macca into a tourism attraction, which it is not, and should never be… as for higher than the minaretes of the mosques, we raise those to allow Athan sound reach distant areas, there is no significance of those minaretes in islam… so nothing wrong with having higher towers than it, thats why i dont understand what ur trying to say…

  2. Humeid Avatar

    My point about raising the building higher than the minarets is not religious but urban. The saudis are totally destroying the urban heritage of mecca and medina.

    And even the spiritual character of these places is being totally destroyed by commercial interests.

    I am also dismayed by this anti-cultural approach to religion. Fundamentalism (as in: all the muslim urban heritage has no fundamental religious significance so let’s just tear it down) meets the worst kind of commercialism.

    Have a look at the description of this amazing documentary entitled Saving Mecca. http://www.spiegeltvdistribution.com/SPTVDistribution/home.nsf/RefProgrammeKat/8BB51E42B4F6FD48C12571100060399E

  3. Humeid Avatar

    Here is more about the destruction of Mecca’s heritage:


  4. Mariam Ayyash Avatar
    Mariam Ayyash

    I stand still :)

    thing is, I rather prioritize, and i regard “historical monuments” anywhere around the world to be complete absurdity, there is nothing that says its culturally correct to preserve the italian roman architecture from distortion! i mean its history, its gone, this earth is going back to its sole creator, i never ever appreciated historical monuments! u might find this a bit extreme or obscure or unexcused, but i got things on my head that are not easy to jot down here… i think mecca will not cease to exist even if we rebuild the kabaa all again, and towers are a lot more beautiful than old minerates, and Prophet Mohammed would not mind at all for his house to be distorted with new buildings (Peace Be Upon Him) but the issue that scares me again, is turning mecca into a tourism attraction (business? mecca has always been the center of business in the old times, so why should it stop now)

  5. Pheras Hilal Avatar
    Pheras Hilal

    I agree with you, and the tag line, or the main selling point for Mecca Cola is to “Drink Devoutly”, which is quite clever, as it counters with alcohol brand’s “Drink Responsibly” warning sign. But still, it’s all borrowed marketing, or copy-and-paste marketing. Rather then establishing a strong brand, and build on it, and eventually, finding people emotionally attached to your brand. These stores are using symbols that people are already emotionally attached to, and they use them as their selling points! Whereas strong global brands, build thier selling point on quality and value of money, in Arabia, selling point is based on pure emotions!

    Ahmad, of course you won’t find Jesus Mall in Europe, (The name is hilarious), because simply, it will lose the market’s interest quickly, since Europeans are known for placing rationality over emotionalism. So Jesus Mall would only be a big joke, or a nice laugh and that’s it. Shows you how much we let symbolism, and emotionalism override sound judgement and rationality.

  6. Adnan Avatar

    I dont really see what’s the problem in building such tall buildings next to Haram in Macca.. for me this is a demonstration of tolerence and that Islam after all does not separate between spiritual life and “real” life as what its rivals say..

    Another note: Macca is after all the name of the sity and not the holy site itself.. if the mall is called Ka’aba Mall then its owner will be in real trouble (remember the story of the iPod shop in NY.. even in NY!)

    I would also like to draw your attention that this is actually and litterally allowed and “prophesised” in Quran in many places such as:
    وارزق أهله من الثمرات…
    وليشهدوا منافع لهم…

    However, your point about the identity… etc: I totally agree with you; however it is a global issue that resulted from globalization and media monsters of USA.. I, for example, stayed in “Hotel Floriday” in Rome..

  7. AlurduniAlhurr Avatar

    Welcome to Globalization