Quick money trumps work ethic inTurkish cinema

Quick money trumps work ethic inTurkish cinema

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Quick money trumps work ethic inTurkish cinema

The latest comedy ‘Seninki Kaç Para’ promises laughs out of a man’s desperation for money as he sells his soul to the devil.

“It’s all for the money,” screams the tagline of the new Turkish comedy “Seninki Kaç Para” (How Much is Yours?), promising laughs out of a man’s desperation for money as he eventually sells his soul
his to the devil for an immediate load of cash.

Complaining about the taxing life in ultra-expensive Istanbul has been the norm for some time now. It has even become a cliché in pop culture, with comedies especially relying heavily on the financial struggles of the everyday man in Istanbul, drawing millions to theaters in the process.

Long gone are the characters who had hopes of making an honest living and were content with what they had – even if what they had barely made ends meet – such as those seen in legendary filmmaker Yılmaz Güney’s films on social struggle. Long gone, too, are the characters who prefer their misery over deceiving others for some quick cash.

By its very nature, comedy loves an underdog; it thrives on the fish-out-of-water model. So it was only a matter of time for the unsuspecting migrant from rural Turkey to Istanbul to find himself center stage in comedies. The very first prototype goes back to the early 1970s when Istanbul began attracting crowds from around Turkey in the hope of a better life.

During the two decades beginning with the early 1970s, the late comedian Kemal Sunal’s alter ego, Şaban personified the urban poor hoping to make his transition to the upper class. Always oppressed by the establishment, this overly naïve – bordering on stupid – character found his hands tied against crushing capitalism, only to find his luck help him out.

An anarchist by chance, Sunal’s protagonist always found himself lost in the big city, but somehow managed to leave his mark against the system. In various movies, he became the King of the Superintendents, the King of the Street Cleaners, and the King of the Guards. In the cult “Salak Milyoner” (The Stupid Millionaire) of 1974, Sunal teamed up with three of the popular comedians of the time to form a quartet of clumsy and naïve brothers who come to Istanbul to find, not jobs, but treasure.

While the 1980s marked a high (or low) point in global capitalism, Turkey jumped on the bandwagon with President Turgut Özal’s Westernization policies and quest for a liberal economy. A new class of nouveau riche emerged, creeping its way into pop culture, hence Turkish cinema.

This post-1980s Istanbul dream found its way into Sunal’s comedies, mirrored in some of the titles, “Çarıklı Milyoner” (Millionaire with Moccasins), “Katma Değer Şaban” (Value-Added Şaban) and “Sosyete Şaban” (High Society Şaban). Perhaps, the film that ultimately epitomized the spirit of the 1980s, if not starring Sunal, was Yavuz Turgul’s classic, “Muhsin Bey” (Mr. Muhsin), which brought together a more traditional music producer with a young man who had come to Istanbul to becom a singer.
Not much has changed as far as the comedic nature of the struggles of the everyday man in Istanbul in recent memory. Except, maybe, the protagonists have become more shrewd, street-smart, and unabashedly vulgar.

The antiheroes of the box-office

The first character that immediately comes to mind is Recep İvedik, comedian Şahan Gökbahar’s untamed anti-hero of three movies that have all broken box-office records.

The jokes and vulgarities in all the movies are directed at the urban upper-middle class, a testament to the troubled relationship between the classes in big cities, namely Istanbul. İvedik is the definition of an out-of-place man in urban offices or emerging plazas, with no intention of honing his skills or finding new ones to earn a living.

The other, more refined, example is the prolific entertainer Cem Yılmaz’s antihero, Arif, and his set of fantastic quests in three movies, “G.O.R.A.,” “A.R.O.G.” and “Yahşi Batı.” Drawing from his sharp observations of the everyday Turkish man in his stand-up shows that carried him to fame and stardom, Yılmaz brings to life a character reflecting the new, and at times awkward, sensibilities of the new urban Turkish man, who is most of the time stuck in limbo between tradition and Western modernity.

Traveling to space, a million years back to the Stone Age, and to the Wild West, Arif becomes the epitome of the anxieties of our culture that have multiplied over the decades. Arif doesn’t like working despite ambitions of big money, isn’t refined in any way, yet he has an uncanny ability to communicate, connect with people and see the good in anyone he has to interact with in his bizarre odysseys. Sadly, he has become a role model for generations of young people who value quick money over, well, working.