Cosplay in the Desert: Saudi Arabia gets its First Comic Con

Saudi Arabia is often considered one of the world’s most conservative places. It is a theocratic monarchy in which a highly conservative form of Islam provides a foundation for the rule of an absolute ruler. We often hear about how Saudi Arabia works to limit individual freedom as defined in Western states, with the ban on women driving often held out as a central piece of evidence.

So it is an interesting moment in globalization when this highly conservative country hosts its first Comic Con. Comic Conventions take place around the world. They are often associated with a free-wheeling individualism as people dress to fit their favorite fantasy universes. They are an example of globalization at the cultural and individual level that we often have trouble seeing directly.

At a Comic Con, you have a wide range of characters and genres represented. You have comic books, but also movies related to them. You also have anime, movies based in Japanese graphic novels, represented strongly. The characters and worlds in these fictional universes have a following around the world, even in an otherwise highly conservative country like Saudi Arabia.

Technology has spread these cultural artworks around the world and attracted a global following. Anyone with an internet connection can access a vast range of content, and then engage in a vast online world that discusses it. At Comic Cons, you can meet, in person, many other people with shared ideas and shared cultural symbols. This is globalization at work.

Comic Cons lack the shock value of wars or of humanitarian crises, but they show how a global cultural iconography can come to be shared by people in vastly dispersed areas. Unified by a shared cultural space, but separated by geography, people who attend these events represent a type of global community. So, the next time you see a movie that is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, remember that you are sharing a moment with hundreds of millions of your fellow global citizens.

 

Discussion:

  1. Cultural globalization is a voluntary exercise that is undertaken by individuals, without any kind of centralized ordering group or international rules. Does this kind of spontaneous order constitute a form of global governance? Or is this just the kind of emergent property that we are likely to see in any social system?
  2. We often think of globalization in economic terms. How does the influence of culture differ from that of economics? Does the flow of memes work differently than the flow of trade or money?
  3. The idea of cultural globalization leading to shared global values has been around a long time. The advent of communications technology has seen that niche groups can communicate much more effectively across distance. Does this mean that technology is enabling forces that will allow subgroups to remain cohesive even if there is little common cause with others in their local space, as long as their virtual communities remain intact?