Marriage shows, in good times and in bad times
Emrah GülerWhen you take a look at any TV screen around Turkey in the afternoon, and the numbers showing the viewers, you undoubtedly feel the presence of a collective rush to marry off everyone in the country.
Matchmaking (or more precisely, marriage) shows don’t seem to be losing their appeal, with new ones popping up after the cancelation of others over the past decade.
“İzdivaç” (an old-fashioned term for marriage), “Su Gibi” (Like Water), “Dünya Evi” (another term for marriage), “Ne Çıkarsa Bahtına” (Luck of the Draw) and “Hayat Sevince Güzel” (Life is Beautiful When in Love) are some of the names of these marriage shows, some cancelled, other continuing to generate sometimes as many as a million viewers.
A few of these shows come with a unique concept, like one of the oldest of these shows, “Gelinim Olur musun?” (Would You Be My Daughter-in-Law?), and others emphasize the presenter “Esra Erol’da Evlen Benimle” (Marry me on Esra Erol’s Show). Erol, in fact, is the most popular of these presenters, changing shows, and channels, but continuing her solid role as an on-screen cupid.
The more the formats change, the more they remain the same. Participants have a few minutes to present themselves to their prospective partners and the audience, and also state what they are looking for in a marriage partner. Sometimes the viewers are encouraged to become part of the matchmaking process through SMS messages.
The shows generally take place in a studio, in front of a live audience, as they gape and gasp to the chorus of flirting by the single people hoping to leave the show with wedding bands on their fingers. While there are counterparts of these shows in the west like “The Bachelor,” or distinctly similar ones like “Wife Swap,” the Turkish marriage shows are unique in their concepts and design, unedited and lasting for hours to give the feeling of immediacy.
‘Married to the camera’
While you will see men and women of all ages, hoping to find their prospective husband or wife, a significant number of the participants are well over their 40s, while many are divorced or widowed. Many are looking for a companion, rather than the pursuit of a romantic relationship, let alone fall in love. Older men are looking for younger women; women are looking for financial stability.
In her academic article on redefining marriage and gender roles on Turkish reality television, Ece Algan asserts that marriage is “increasingly seen as a care-based economic alliance in Turkey.” For Algan, “the need to be taken care of both financially and physically stands out as the main rationale for seeking marriage.” For many participants, marriage is simply a transaction for security and/or caring.
Never losing their appeal as a pop culture phenomenon, marriage shows occasionally make the headlines for leading to some surprising, and at times unfortunate, events. Like when a woman called one of the shows and proposed to another woman, leading to some homophobic backlash. Or when a man confessed on live TV to have murdered two women, and even more tragic when a man killed his wife of three months he had married in one of the shows.
To get an honest glimpse into the psyche of the studio audience, check filmmaker Doğa Kılcıoğlu’s 2010 documentary “Kamerayla İzdivaç” (Married to the Camera). The film is a behind-the-scenes account of one of the most popular of these shows, “Esra Erol’la İzdivaç” (Marriage with Esra Erol), following the audience as they are herded into the studio from the early hours with buses, and as they become part of the excitement of the show.
“The starting point for the film was our prejudices,” said Kılcıoğlu in a Q&A after a screening at the !f Istanbul Film Festival. “There is no guarantee that we won’t be among the audience one day. Or one of our neighbors. People are burdened with being alone, with some serious crises of existence.”
Marriage shows might seem to fill some of the void, but they can apparently also lead to bigger problems as the Turkish Psychiatry Association recently revealed that these shows were one of the top reasons for suicide in Turkey. Yes, in good times and in bad times.