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Cultural Contestations: The Geopolitics and Reception of Turkish TV Dramas

Session XII-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Turkish TV dramas (dizi in Turkish) have been experiencing remarkable popularity since the mid 2000s, first in the Middle East and the Balkans, later throughout the world. Despite vast research investigating the domestic and transnational success of the Turkish dramas and global expansion of the Turkish TV industry, studying the cultural complexity of these dramas in different geopolitical contexts continues to pose new challenges to critical scholars of area studies and researchers of the Global South. Focusing particularly on the contestation over content and global reception of Turkish TV dramas, this panel investigates Turkish TV dramas as a form of cultural and political practice played out in and shaped by various forces in a larger transnational context. Such an approach will allow an inquiry of the geopolitical consequences of South-to-South cultural flows which resulted in redefining and restructuring cultural production processes, the textual content of dramas, and its global audiences. By bringing their interdisciplinary background and international identities, the panelists critically examine economic, social, and cultural dynamics of Turkish TV dramas, its industry, and the public discourses around these dramas at home and abroad. By employing diverse theoretical approaches including geopolitical and political economy perspectives and using different methodological approaches such as qualitative case studies, textual, and linguistic analysis, the panel takes a comprehensive approach to Turkish TV dramas and its TV industry. In the panel, the first panelists examine how the current religio-conservative Turkish government exercises control over the Turkish TV industry and impose political pressure to shape the content of the dramas and industry production practices. The second panelist looks at the increasing religiosity and Islamic content in the TV dramas by analyzing the content of private TV channels and the state sponsored television station TRT, as well as the dramas broadcast on top streaming platforms such as Netflix and local internet television BluTV. The third panelist analyzes the cultural politics of popularity of Turkish dramas in Spain by focusing on translation practices involved in the dubbing and subtitling of these dramas. The fourth panelists explore the reception of TV dramas in India and the public discourse around the Turkish TV dramas by analyzing political tensions between Pakistan and India in a tumultuous geopolitical context.
Media Arts
  • Inspired by their resounding success in Pakistan, Indian television channel Zindagi broadcast Turkish TV series in India for the first time in 2015. Though Zindagi morphed into a paid streaming service and there are few Turkish serials on cable television, Indian viewers continue to watch Turkish TV series on streaming services, alternative circuits (Pandit and Chattopadhyay, 2021), and even flash drives. Kashmiris shared Resurrection: Ertugrul on flash drives after India imposed internet shutdowns following the repeal of Article 370 and Kashmir’s special status (Javaid, 2019). According to The Times of India, Resurrection: Ertugrul “sets new battleground for Indians, Pakistanis” (Sharma, 2020). What is the battle and how did Turkish TV series set a new battleground between India and Pakistan? What is the public discourse of Turkish TV series in India? What can popular culture reveal about geopolitics? These are the questions that we pursue in this multilingual, interdisciplinary study of Hindi, Urdu, and English articles, YouTube videos and social media conversations. We scrutinize findings through neo-Ottoman cool, Kraidy and Al-Ghazzi’s (2013) concept which accounts for the popularity of Turkish TV series in the Arab world. According to neo-Ottoman cool, Turkish TV series are counterhegemonic, decenter the West, and present an accessible modernity; an enticing alternative to lifestyles that are incompatible with Western liberalism. Additionally, we view popular culture and world politics as a continuum (Grayson, Davies and Philpott, 2009) and analyze findings as such. References: Grayson, K., Davies, M., & Philpott, S. (2009). Pop goes IR? Researching the popular culture—world politics continuum. Politics, 29(3), 155-163. Javaid, A. (2019). Kashmiris are dodging internet shutdown to watch Turkish “Game of Thrones” to beat the blues. The Print. Kraidy, M. M., & Al-Ghazzi, O. (2013). Neo-Ottoman cool: Turkish popular culture in the Arab public sphere. Popular Communication, 11(1), 17-29. Pandit, S., & Chattopadhyay, S. (2021). Turkish television series in India: Tracing the alternative circuits of transnational media flow. In Arda, O., Aslan, P., & Mujica, C. (Eds.), Transnationalization of Turkish Television Series (pp. 41-53). Istanbul University Press. Sharma, M.S. (2020). Turkish historical TV drama sets new battleground for Indians, Pakistanis. The Times of India.
  • Despite being an emerging transnational industry and one of the largest TV program exporters worldwide, Turkish television is still largely national in its production practices and content and thus, highly vulnerable to the domestic political landscape of Turkey. Drawing from a political economy approach, this paper will examine how the Turkish government exercises control over the Turkish TV industry, and transnational media conglomerates and platforms that operate in Turkey, such as Netflix Turkey, and discuss its implications on content and global sales. In the last decade, the Turkish TV industry’s economic and cultural success and worldwide popularity have resulted in increased political control and interference by the government. The encouragement of government sanctioned content along with increasing stifling of content that reflects the dilemmas and aspirations of a heterogeneous society have had a number of significant consequences for the Turkish TV industry and its domestic and global audiences. On the one hand, such religio-conservative content has found new audiences in new markets in predominantly Muslim countries in East and Southeast Asia, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and continuing markets in Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA--previously referred to as MENA). On the other hand, this has had considerable implications on domestic content whereby the industry has leaned toward the plotlines that championed conservative themes such as traditional gender roles, while avoiding controversial socio-political issues including minorities, ethnic and racial inequalities and queer identities. Through a critical analysis of the implementation of the government’s new media policies, President Erdogan’s political and ideological reasoning behind his control of media, and interest from the new and predominantly Muslim markets for Turkish TV series, we aim to illustrate how both national and regional economic incentives, political pressures, global formations and South-to-South cultural flows have shaped and transformed the Turkish TV industry and its content.
  • Drawing on the connotation that, at present, television drama is the strongest narrative tool popular culture possesses to represent and comment on the socio-political context it is produced in, this paper explores how the depiction of religiosity in Turkish television drama became more visible since the 2010s and changed from neutral to committed. The idea that television drama is a powerful tool in present days cultural production derives from Dominique Moïsi and R.A. Saunders theories on the power of television series. Religion, especially Islam, gradually returned to public life in Turkey since the 1950s; after a period of strict secularism under the Kemalists during the first decades of the Turkish Republic. Manifestations of religion in cultural products such as literature, theatre and film, were scarce in the early republican years and if depicted, it was presented negatively. Since the ascend of the AKP regime, religious expressions increased in number and became more explicit; a development manifesting itself in all aspects of Turkish society. It is, therefore, not surprising to find it back in television drama. This paper aims at exploring the increase in the depiction of religiosity in Turkish television drama from the 2010s onwards. Using film analysis embedded in the context of Bourdieu’s theory on cultural production, it will investigate the content, the context and the production process of a selection of series, representing different socio-political strands of Turkish society. The paper will, for instance, analyze the television series of Samanyolu, the channel related to the Gülen movement, Turkish state television channel TRT, series broadcasted on government-friendly channels and series produced by streaming services such as the Turkish Blutv and Netflix. The paper will explore to what extent and how religion is depicted in the series: are rituals performed; are religious expressions used; is pious lifestyle displayed; is being religious good or bad? The analysis aims at answering the question: which developments in Turkey’s society does the increase of the depiction of religion reflect? Sunni Islam is, however, not the only religion depicted in Turkish television series. Although, only in a small percentage of the series, the depiction of other religions such as Shamanism, Judaism and Christianity, minority religions in Turkey, and other Islamic brands such as Alevism, will be taken into account.
  • The Turkish TV series became a social phenomenon in the Arab world more than 10 years ago, being broadcasted by the pan-Arab MBC satellite channel. A large literature emerged then, exploring the success of Turkish productions abroad. The focus was, primarily, on existing cultural similarities and connections between the Turkish society and the new audiences (Southeastern Europe, Turkic Republics, the Arab world). In the case of the Arab world, many studies highlighted the translation and dubbing process as a necessary condition to fully explain the good reception in Arab countries. Nowadays, the Turkish TV series have become a truly transnational phenomenon and they are consumed in many parts of the world where these cultural links may not exist. In Spain, some productions like Fatmagül (Fatamagül’ün Suçu Ne?), Mi Hija (Kızım) and Mujer (Kadın) have been broadcasted in prime time arriving to larger audiences. In October 2021, the Mediaset España platform launched a channel, Dizi, completely devoted to the Turkish TV series, denoting the consolidation in the Spanish market. This research explores translation practices – both subtitling and dubbing –of Turkish TV series into Spanish. Until now, text translations have been almost exclusively performed by Turkish professionals – not local – and, originally, the first dubbing productions were originally done in Turkey by Spanish dubbing actors not known by their audiences. Besides, distinctions between the Spanish from Latin America and from Spain were blurred in the first productions, and places and characters’ names have never been adapted. Through an analysis of the nature and the evolution of translation practices of several acclaimed Turkish TV series into Spanish, this paper states that cultural translation was not a prerequisite for good reception in Spain. While Kraidy’s critical transcultural approach could perfectly fit into some contemporary transnational media phenomena as it can be the case of Netflix and the launch of the Hermes program in 2017, the Turkish TV series’ cultural adaptation in the Spanish case has followed a different path, but with high success. Here, a set of hidden cultural similarities eased the process, but cultural differences played a higher role in engaging the audience with new, previously unknown, cultural particularities.