Molly Crabapple is a journalist and former promotional model who writes for VICE. I began following her on Twitter some time ago, since I enjoy her perspectives on a number of things, like this 2014 article where she ‘confronted’ Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump at an event in Dubai. In short, the girl’s got guts.
In general, I enjoy VICE articles, and like many of their writers, Molly’s language is colorful and entertaining, as the following passage will reveal:
Donald Trump’s hair should not be.
It sits on his head like a soufflé, both airy and solid, as improbable as any building to which he’s given his name. In Dubai, I get to inspect Trump from all angles. His hair is otherworldly, but his face is more easily dissected. It’s tangerine, save two pale circles around his eyes.
There was another passage from the article I liked even better, however. Before I get to that, I should note that the piece is making the rounds again this year, rather obviously, due to the fact that it involves Trump, a guy whose hijinks people just can’t seem to get enough of. Or maybe he’s just the type of guy who gets stuck in people’s heads, like a bad pop song you wish you’d never heard… either way, the media seems to be obsessed with the guy right now.
Anyway, there was a brief passage from Molly’s article that resonated with me, and presented a bit of cause for pause. Here’s the part I’m referring to:
Westerners misrepresent Dubai as tacky. This is wounded pride. Dubai is Versailles, not Vegas. It is frozen money. At night, when even the palms twinkle, the city has a heart-soaring grandeur. It looks like the sound of Daisy Buchanan’s voice.
Dubai’s skyscrapers are our era’s pyramids. Slaves built the original pyramids, but tourists visit just the same.
Image by Ali Zifan, Creative Commons 4.0.
Dubai’s skyscrapers being compared with the pyramids is an interesting contrast, and in truth, I think she’s right. Since 2008, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai has been the tallest building in the world, and let me tell you, it’s impressive. It almost looks more like a an otherworldly tower from some tale of spells and sorcery than a modern structure, and its size in no small part contributes to this.
The Burj Khalifa, like its ancient Egyptian predecessors, stands as a testament to mankind’s achievements, and in a remarkable way which, arguably, will withstand the test of time… so long as massive structures like these aren’t destroyed first, as had been the case with the terror attacks of September 2001.
However, there was something else I noticed that Molly said which, although it contributes stylistically to what she has written, caused my eyebrows to raise. Did you happen to catch it?
That’s right, she said that “slaves built the original pyramids”.
I think we see what Molly was aiming for with her analogy, of course. The theme running throughout her article involved the workers in Dubai which often make less than $200 monthly, contrasted against the big, bold, and beautiful theme Trump and the rest were building on at the event. Hence, when Molly stood up at the press conference and asked, “Mr. Trump, the workers who build your villas make less than $200 a month. Are you satisfied?”, she was given no response, and admonished by the handlers there on duty for asking “an inappropriate question.” So much for transparency, huh? Good on her for asking, by the way.
That said, while I get the comparison, the truth is that the notion that slaves had built Egypt’s pyramids is a myth that has been promoted largely through Hollywood productions over the years, based largely on Herodotus writing that the structures had been made through slave labor (some have also cited the Christian Bible for this, despite the fact that the pyramids weren’t actually mentioned there).
Since the early 1990s, archaeological evidence has suggested strongly that the pyramids had not been built by slaves, but instead relied on workers who were paid for their efforts. In fact, despite the popularized notion that Jewish slaves had been the workers who built the pyramids, the Great Pyramid was likely completed nearly 2000 years prior to the Jews ever arriving in Egypt. Finally, art and hieroglyphics have at times displayed the working conditions, to some degree, which depict songs and chants being repeated by the workers as they carried out a rhythmic beat to the work they did. Some archaeologists cite this, along with the discovery of the tombs of the pyramid builders themselves, as good evidence that the monuments were indeed built by paid workers.
Molly’s analogy worked, in the sense that we see a lot of issues in Dubai… and yes, we might infer that those tasked with the construction of locations like The Donald’s big golf course are paid what amount to being “slave’s wages”, in the most literal sense.
However, while tourists visiting Dubai may wish to keep such economic realities in mind (sad though they are), the same requisite guilt may not necessarily apply when visiting the Giza plateau… especially when we keep history in mind, rather than the popular, but inaccurate retellings of our ancient world that appear on the big screen, which are a sad reality in their own right.