Celebrity Deathmatch

Celebrity Deathmatch

Showbiz has always had a thing for politics. Whether it was Hollywood and the White House, or Turkey’s celebrities showing up for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Vision 2023” campaign launch, one could hardly be surprised to see singers and filmmakers elbowing the powerbrokers. The thing that got a little stupid last week was the way some artists felt the need to be there.

This is a country where even with a single fake or ironic tweet criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leads to concerts getting cancelled, contracts with municipalities being ripped up, and artists and writers being placed on blacklists. A celebrity agent friend of mine told me last year that after the Gezi protests, Ankara had actually prepared a McCarthyesque blacklist and sent it to all commercial channels. These were the names of actors, singers and opinion leaders who would never be allowed to make money in showbiz anymore. “I saw the list,” he said. “Oddly enough, you are not on that list. I still don’t understand why they don’t let you anchor a TV show.” We both laughed. 

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s vision thing was no different than his regular Tuesday speeches. The crowd was made up of the usual party heavyweights, but we also saw people like Ece Erken, whom I can barely recall as a morning TV show host. Surprisingly, she and her ideas somehow remind me of Elisabeth Hasselbeck of U.S. talk show The View. There were also older stars like Orhan Gencebay and Hülya Koçyiğit, who were also part of the “Wise People” groups that were asked by the government to prepare reports about the Kurdish solution process last year. Then, there was the iconic Şahan Gökbakar, the creator of Recep İvedik, who art critics think is the epitome of Tayyip Erdoğan’s voter base. As a gay icon, Bülent Ersoy, made a huge splash in the same conference room, but we did not see any shiny happy people rushing to take selfies with her.

Surprisingly, the art and entertainment scene has lived through an incredible decade during the AK Party’s years in government. A Nobel Prize in Literature and a Eurovision Song Contest victory both took place under the same government. But those days feel like a century away. The prime minister’s meeting was not an inauguration and these celebs were really not there to give their input. As Cengiz Semercioğlu from Hürriyet explained nicely in his article, these artists belong to record companies that regularly do business with the AK Party, so they really had no choice other than to show up. By this token, they were no different than the coal miners in Soma who had to go to party rallies to get their lunch tickets. Their companies actually told them to go.

The entertainment scene was almost like the last fortress to be conquered by the AK Party. Arts, entertainment and pop culture were the last obstacles to the “New Turkey” with conservative, Sunni values. Actors like Erdal Beşimçioğlu, who portrayed an iconic police chief with leftist views “Behzat Ç” on TV, is now forced to play a dark drama about a “coup-plot” against the prime minister. Another well-known actor, Cansel Elçin, also had to bow in and take part in a movie about the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) and how its boss was the target of Gülenist conspiracies.
Let’s call it as it is. This looks like blackmail.

The artists who showed up at the prime minister’s vision thing may just be the tip of the iceberg. I would advise domestic policy pundits to look more closely at the line-up of TV series and movies that will be on TV screens in the next season. Check out dramas that show well educated women taken as second-wives, mafia bosses portrayed as “heroes,” and older men marrying very young girls.

Recep İvedik’s farting guy may end up being a fun, nostalgic character.