What is the problem with Turkish soap operas?
So many questions could be raised about Turkey being a regional power, but one thing stands out beyond argument: Turkey’s “soap opera” power is spreading through the region. Does that juxtapose with the soft power of Turkey? I just don’t know. But Turkey’s “soap opera” power is there for sure. It is spreading from Egypt to Greece and from Iraq to Serbia. It is everywhere. It is the 24-hour glitter of Istanbul and its diversity that is attracting the attention. I do not have any idea about the regional meaning of Turkish soap operas. However, I can say a few words about the problem with Turkish soap operas, the way I see it as an insider. If these shows are a kind of a mirror reflecting the aspirations of Turkish citizens, then “Houston, we have an immense problem.” Let me tell you what I see as the problem in Turkish soap operas.
My generation grew up with the Star Trek series on TV. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, we did not have any Turkish soap operas. The master control room of the Enterprise in Star Trek was full of engineers. We grew up following the stories of engineers and doctors extending the frontiers of our knowledge and providing practical solutions to all problems. They are all professionals with expertise. Have you realized the professions of Turkish soap opera characters? The characters have no such technical expertise. That is exactly why we have a problem with Turkish soap operas.
If a country is what it watches, then ring the alarm bells. With this line of reasoning, I would argue that we are not a group of hardworking professionals equipped with some technical knowledge. That is the message you can get from what Turkish soap opera characters do for a living. For example there are no industrialists among them. Turkey has become an industrial country with the economic reform process that was started in the early 1980s, but none of the characters is an industrialist. There is one character in “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki” that was actually an industrialist back in the 1970s, but not anymore. Being an industrialist is a profession of a lost decade. Being an industrialist is not fashionable but being a policeman, public prosecutor, sultan or his favorite wife are among the popular things to do. Do you want your character to have an urban and modern job? Then having a construction company seems to be the best alternative. Women tend to stay at home and prefer to have glamorous lives instead of working somewhere, as far as I can see. No surprise in a country where only 30 percent of women are participating in the labor force. What I see is the absence of any positive role models for working women. No industrialists and definitely no scientists. No creative myths about entrepreneurship among so many TV films.
If Turkish soap operas are a mirror of Turkish society, it is no wonder that 70 percent of children cannot not pass their parents in educational attainment. Turkey has the lowest level of social mobility in the OECD, according to a survey. Among those that only match the educational level of their parents, 91 percent have a primary school education or lower. Between 1985 and 2010, national income has quintupled, yet only about 30 percent of children have risen above the educational attainment of their parents.
Characters in Turkish soap operas are looking for shortcuts to get rich without much toil. No wonder more than a million attended the latest entrance examinations for public service. This situation is similar to that in China, except that they are a few billion there!