Feeding My Pop Culture Diet in Doha

With the Last Jedi coming out on December 13th, I have been wondering about the best viewing experience for the latest installment of the Star Wars series. My theater quandary has prompted me to write this week about my pop culture diet in Doha. At first, the idea of writing about the media that I consume seemed shallow, but after some consideration, I believe that there are some interesting observations adjacent to my rundown of what I read, watch, listen to, or play.

For, prior to coming to Qatar, I had a robust pop culture appetite. I consumed a variety of media for personal entertainment and in order to stay connected with others (e.g., my boys and younger friends). When I was preparing to depart from the US, I was unsure if I would be able to maintain my regimen. How would I watch the last episode of GOT Season 7, which was debuting the day after I touched down in Hamad Airport? Could I still watch new release American movies? Would I be able to listen to my music and podcasts?

The short answers to these rhetorical questions: yes, yes, and yes. For the longer, more meandering answers to these questions—plus, answers to unasked questions—please continue to the read the rest of this blog post.

Television

Still from Season 7 of Game of Thrones

When I landed in Doha, once I got to the hotel, once I was connected to the internet, after I informed my family that I was safe (maybe before), I checked to see if my HBO GO account worked in Qatar because I still had the last episode of GOT Season 7 to watch. Alas, HBO GO did not work in Qatar. So, I messaged my brother Francis and asked if he would download a pirated copy of the episode after its debut and transfer me the file via Dropbox. A day or so later, the plan worked, and I was able to enjoy the episode while eating a plate of room service chicken biryani.

In regard to American television, while there are shows that I watch and love, I prefer to watch a series in chunks of episodes according to my whims, not weekly installments. The last several seasons of GOT have been the exception, mainly because the plotline for the television series has eclipsed the stalled book series, and I don’t want the casual fan who has not read the book having the satisfaction of knowing more about the going-ons in Westeros than me! I’m sure that there are good television shows being aired right now, but I am content to catch up on them this summer when I return to the US, purchase a Blu-Ray or DVD box set of the show in the US and bring it back with me to Qatar, or wait for the show to join the Netflix lineup (I can still access my US Netflix account from Qatar!).

I was about to cancel my Netflix subscription after a month in Doha. Though a nominal expense, I wasn’t too keen on watching any of its offerings. Then I discovered they had all three seasons of Rick and Morty, including Season 3! After watching my fill, I thought I would wait for the debut of Stranger Things Season 2 before canceling the account. However, now I am going to wait until I have steady internet access at my Lusail apartment before I decide to keep or cancel my Netflix account.

In terms of television programming from this region of the world, when I was living at Al Safa Hotel, every morning while eating my breakfast and drinking my instant coffee, I would turn on the television and watch the news. I would oscillate between BBC, CNN, or MSNBC, but sometimes I would surf through the other non-English channels. The Turkish channel might be showing a strange drama with men wearing leather coats and constantly smoking; the Indian channel would be screening some show with way too many edit cuts to draw out a dramatic scene or musical number; or one of the many Arabic channels would be running a show with stern looking man in traditional garb lecturing the audience. Every once in a while, there would be an American movie on the Dubai channel. The movie would be subtitled in Arabic subtitles and never be one that I would really want to watch—more like the kind of movie you would find in the bargain bin of Walmart.

With television, I am pretty much caught up on everything I want to watch, so I am not going to pay for a cable package here and hope that I will have access to the American programming that I might want. I’ll just wait until there is something that I really want to watch instead of placating myself with shows that are ok. I spent way too much of childhood doing exactly this: watching Charles in Charge came after the cartoons were done showing.

Movies

Still from Blade Runner 2049

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I am clearing my schedule to watch The Last Jedi this Thursday or Friday. And, I think I am going to watch it in the most opulent manner that I can here in Doha—not in 3D, not in 4DX, but the ThEATre by Rhodes experience.

For 350 QR (95 USD), I will enjoy the following:

“[A] luxurious new cinema experience that combines the best from the world of gourmet food and blockbuster films. We’ve partnered with Michelin star chef Gary Rhodes to give a whole new meaning to dinner and a movie. Enjoy the exclusive private lounge while you make your selection from the menu which includes Rhodes’ lobster, Chicken Caesar tacos and foie gras panini” (ThEATre by Rhodes).

Is there any reason to go all out for the movie? No, not really. I just want the cinema experience while it’s available to me. Plus, the recent Star Wars movies have warranted my full, renewed attention. I want to enjoy Rian Johnson’s next installment without crying babies, idiots checking their Snapchat feed, or other annoyance of the rabble during the movie!

Since I have been in the Doha, I have gone out and seen three movies: Blade Runner 2049, Thor Ragnarok, and The Justice League. And, I will say that the movie watching experience in Qatar is maybe a step above the movie watching experience in the US. Why do I say this? The theaters are newer, the seating is plush, and snack options are quite interesting. I usually just settle for salted popcorn, but I could get a coffee drink and a waffle with Nutella if I wanted.

During the movie, there are Arabic and French subtitles. And, with the exception of about 4 minutes of Blade Runner 2049’s 2-hour-and-44-minute runtime, most of the movies that I have seen haven’t been edited extensively for questionable content.

Lastly, I hear that there is now a drive-in theatre in Doha, and other locations around the city show outdoor movie. I will need to seek out these opportunities in the future. Moreover, I would like to see a movie by a Qatari filmmaker at some point. And, I would like to see one of the Bollywood movies that get screened in Qatar as well. I think that this might be quite fun—if not, at some points, inexplicable.

Music

Still from “Unforgettable” by French Montana feat. Swae Lee

After about three weeks in Doha, Spotify informed me that I wasn’t able to use its app for free. The streaming provider realized that I was not in the US where its free service is only available. Fine. I eventually paid for a premium subscription because I missed American music. Now I am able to access a vast music catalog when I drive, run, or complete my household chores.

Music has always been an important part of my life, and I actually felt my mood improve when I started to listen to it again in Doha. I would put my headphones on during the shuttle ride to Qatar University (back when I was living at Al Safa and wasn’t able to drive) and tune out. I need music for myself, but I also need it to connect with others—like my oldest son. Both of us share an interest in rap/hip-hop, albeit from different sides of a generational divide. I inquire about what he’s listening to when we video chat.

In regard to the local music, there is an English music station in Doha that I listen to at various times. I used to think that they only played pop or club music. However, as I drive more at various times throughout the day, I realize that the radio station has different hourly programs. There is a slot for rap/hip-hop, country music, British pop/rock, and Latin music as well. (Interesting side note: in Qatar, all the radio shows will stop their programming in order to air the calls for prayer in sync with the mosques around the city.)

I haven’t really explored any of the local, Arabic music, and I am not sure what’s out there. Maybe as I begin to learn rudimentary Arabic, I will be able to develop an inkling about this.

Video Games

Screenshot from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

(pictured Venom Snake, the game’s protagonist, and Quiet, a sidekick sniper)

As some of you might know, I brought my PS4 with me to Doha. I spent the unbearably hot first couple months of my time here playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I was enjoying the experience tremendously, playing through the game’s main storyline and side missions, until the game injected a very distasteful element into the storyline.

[Spoiler alert: don’t read the bracketed information if you plan on playing MSGV someday. Towards the end of the game, one of the sidekicks in the game, the sniper named Quiet, breaks off the partnership and budding romance with the main protagonist—in order to save him, she must never see him again. I found this development so emotionally jarring, that I researched online how much of the game I had left, and finished the game in the most expedient manner possible. No stupid game is going to put me in my feels!]

I just finished Shadows of Mordor and have resumed playing Batman Arkham Knight. There was a frustrating bat tank battle midway into the game that I gave up on earlier this year, but after some time off, I was able to complete the challenge in the game with relative ease. When I go back to the US, I will stock up on more used video games to play during my idle time. Games are too expensive here, usually around (250 QR or $68 USD).

What do video games have to do with Qatar and its culture? In my Business English class with my older male students, we had a conversation about video games. I don’t remember how they broached the topic, but Grand Theft Auto 2 came up. The class was divided: some felt it was ok to use the weapon cheat codes to beat the game, and some felt that it was not ok, using the codes negated the game experience. After the students had presented their viewpoints, I acknowledged that I had in fact beaten the game without the use of the cheat codes. I don’t know if I won any points with my class with my disclosure.

For those of you interested in Qatari video game preferences, Nintendo and Playstation are quite popular—Xbox is not. The reason why, as a student explained, the Xbox required so many updates and patches that it was too expensive to own when Qataris had to pay by the minute to be online. Now that online access is cheaper, there have been a generation of customers with an aversion to the Xbox. Additionally, the blockade has affected Qatar’s access to Playstation servers in Dubai, so now players in Doha have to play on French or South Korean servers.

Youtube Series

Title card for the Youtube series Great Taste by All Def Digital

When I’m lying in bed, I will watch a Youtube show or two to unwind. There’s a lot of channels that I subscribe to; however, I regularly enjoy the output from All Def Digital. Their shows Great Taste and Roast Me make me laugh, so I watch episodes as soon as they air.

Lately, Youtube has been suggesting to me more and more Arabic and Qatari-based offerings, and there have been some really insightful #QTip videos that have helped me gained a better understanding of the Qatari culture, for example, the following video.

Podcasts

Title card from The Flop House podcast series

I used to listen to tons of podcasts every week in the US. However, since I am not commuting 4 hours every weekend to see my boys, I don’t have an ample amount of down time to listen to podcasts. I still have access to podcast, just not the same impetus.

Comics

Panel from Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Doha has only one comic book store, and it sells more merchandise than comics. All the comics that they wish to bring in the country must be cleared by the Cultural Ministry, so there aren’t a lot of titles at the store that I want to read. I informed an American friend about this situation, and he recommended that I read my comics using an app on an iPad. This is a brilliant idea, and I plan on doing this once I have a little more money set aside.

Tabletop Games

Cards and chips for playing Splendor

I used to enjoy getting together with my younger friends and playing the various tabletop games. Now that I am in Doha, I don’t have access to the wealth of game, but—more importantly—I need younger friends! Many of the people I work with are parents and don’t have all the disposable time that I do.

Fin(n)

This brings me to the end of my pop culture run down. If you made it this far, thanks for reading the entirety of my post. I will let everyone know about my Last Jedi ThEATre by Rhodes viewing experience. 🙂

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