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Performance and Communication in Turkey and Iran

Panel XIII-22, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • In March 1975 a comedy show, titled Kaf show, was broadcasted from Iran national TV as part of a series of programs produced to celebrate the Iranian new year. The two hour program was organized like a variety show in which various artists would compete. Among the sketches presented was a 5 minute performance based on Shakespeare’s Othello which focused on the bedroom scene where Othello confronts Desdemona about her supposed affair with Cassio and tells her to prepare herself for death. In this comedy Sketch the roles are reversed. It is now the female, Desdemona, who is accusing her husband of being unfaithful and tries to kills him. The husband who is sleep when the wife enters the room, initially thinks she wants to have sex with him and tries to brush her off. Eventually she demands that he gives her the handkerchief that she gave him on their wedding night and when he says that he does not know where the handkerchief is, she accuses him of having given her handkerchief to Cassio. The husband denies it but she insists and says that he should be ready to die as the result of his unfaithfulness. The husband, still half sleep, continues to deny the accusations and still thinks she is just flirting with him and wants to have sex. Eventually she tries to strangle him, as Othello strangled Desdemona, but he runs away all the while saying that he doesn’t want to have sex! This paper is going to careful look at this short performance in order to determine what it is telling us about the Iranian society in late 20th century. Studying this performance carefully can tell us a lot about the position that one of the most celebrated European Playwrights, Shakespeare, has had in the 1970s Iran. The performance is also helpful in demonstrating the place that issues such as marital relationship, female virginity, and homosexuality occupied in the Iranian society during the 1970s when this sketch was produced.
  • Globalization and the new technological affordances have created opportunities for the emergence of new modes of identity performance in online and offline communication. Despite the wide spread of the Internet and the recent surge of interest in researching online communication, however, some populations remain understudied in this regard. This paper focuses on “Iranian social media” and how its users capitalize on this space and its affordances to construct and negotiate certain identities. Specifically, I investigate how Internet memes function as a polycentric, multi-layered, and complex third space (Bhabha, 1994) in which Iranian immigrants navigate their hybrid identities and experiences of immigration. Applying Bakhtin’s (1981) concept of 'chronotope' to the multimodal analysis of memes circulated among Iranian immigrants, I explore how they continuously recontextualize their immigrant experiences, authenticating and further nuancing their hybrid identities as transnational Iranians, through the invocation of different time-space configurations within the meme-frame. The data come from a larger online ethnographic study exploring the online sociolinguistic practices of Iranian Persian-English bilingual speakers. I examine widely circulated English- and Persian-language Internet memes on Instagram analyzing the discursive and semiotic practices of the texts and images within the memes as well as the memes’ uptake by the audience. I particularly focus on how Iranian first- and second-generation immigrants invoke certain chronotopic images through these practices to creatively negotiate their hybrid (trans)national identities. The analysis reveals that the users draw upon a variety of semiotic/linguistic resources (e.g. English-Persian code-switching, script selection, phonological indexes, viral pop culture images, traditional/nostalgic Iranian images, etc.) to invoke differently-scaled chronotopes through which they authenticate and reconcile their Iranian as well as immigrant identities. Hence, I argue that memes, with their flexibility, intertextuality, and multimodality, are creatively adopted/adapted by Iranian immigrants as third space where they can navigate their in-betweenness and create an in-group immigrant community in an online ‘borderless diaspora’, a unique space allowed only through the affordances of the Internet and social media. The study contributes to the scholarship on transnationalism, online communication, and Iranian (socio-)linguistics. It underscores the utility of the concept of chronotope for the de-layering of memes as intricate complexes of indexicals and provides more insight into the deeply-nuanced identity work performed through them, especially in contexts of transnationalism. The study also addresses the gap in online research and Iranian studies by offering an understanding into the interaction of globalization and online technology and Iranian subjectivities and identity performances.
  • In the early hours of Monday, February 6th, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey, resulting in catastrophic damage to life and infrastructure in both Turkey and Syria. Less than twelve hours later, another large quake hit the region, exacerbating an already dire situation. As of writing, estimates indicate that more than 46,000 people have lost their lives, with many NGOs proffering that it will take months to fully understand the extent of the devastation. Some of the first people to arrive to the affected areas were journalists—some representing major news companies but many working as freelancers or for smaller, alternative media outlets. This on-the-ground coverage was of keen interest to domestic and international onlookers trying to understand the rapidly unfolding situation. This article examines the disparities between Turkish mainstream press’s coverage of the earthquake with emergent, alternative media outlets (i.e., non-mainstream) that operate almost exclusively on digital platforms. In doing so, it addresses the benefits and shortcomings of mainstream and alternative news coverage, how and why moments of censorship occur during crisis coverage in Turkey, and, most notably, the ways in which more established alternative media outlets fulfill multiple roles during and in the aftermath of crisis—notably, being providers of perceived to be reliable information, despite the high level of media distrust in Turkey, as well as a mechanism for solidarity on a domestic and international scale. Based on a detailed content analysis of multiple mainstream media companies’ and three alternative media groups’ coverage of the earthquake, paying specific attention to location, format and tone of coverage, potential indications of censorship, and different modes of solidarity production—in addition to semi-structured interviews with journalists who covered the earthquake—this article elucidates the importance of alternative media outlets in the Turkish mediascape. It illustrates that they not only fill informational voids left by mainstream media coverage but can also provide the most legible pathways for domestic and international solidarity. In Turkey, trust in the press remains low in comparison to its EU counterparts. However, I argue that this very distrust serves as the catalyst for newer participants (or perhaps, old participants but in new and novel forms) to become the new “trusted” actors in Turkey’s mediascape. The tragic February 6th earthquakes serve as an unfortunate but critically important case study for the efficacy and potentialities of alternative press in Turkey.