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Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Magical Five Percent

Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK
(Special thanks to Paul Ross)

In the late 1950s science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon was approached by a drunk guest at a party who asked him what he did for a living. When Sturgeon told him, the drunk said, "Why is 95% of sci-fi crap?" "That's easy," replied the writer. "Ninety-five percent of everything is crap. It's the five percent that's good, or even great, that makes the rest bearable - necessary, even."

The 95% crap theorem is known as Sturgeon's Law*, and I was reminded of it my first day in Istanbul, holed up in my hotel room and trying to suppress the feeling as though I had come to outer space, as I flicked through the TV stations broadcasting their goods.

It was my first contact with alla turca entertainment TV.

Turkish trash entertainment

I soon came to realise that the lurid magazine exposure was an infection that seeped into every programmer's agenda; an endless slew of shoddy and painted, plastic celebrities screaming at each other. I wondered at first whether my rudiment Turkish, insufficient to understand what people were saying, was the reason I found everything so garish and irritating. Later on, when I came to grips with the phenomenon of Turkish entertainment TV, I realised that my initial ignorance had been bliss.

Fenomen; a Turkish psychic talent showMorning time slots, evening time slots all rake out their magazine porn, vehicles where celebrities sell themselves and their latest products, and then there are the talent shows...endless talent shows showing anything but talent. There's now even news of a talent show for psychics with Uri Geller as a jury member and hosted by Sinan Çetin, the man that brought the world Tarkan in a cowboy hat for Turkcell's prepaid range of phone cards.

Then there's the way that television in Turkey - as in my own country - completely fails to represent the reality of its own society in either its dramas or its current affairs. The faces I saw on the streets of Istanbul rarely greet you on the dramatic screen. Traditional culture and values are either patronised or openly exulted, and yet, more disturbing, is the way Turkish TV virtually ignores the minorities - or the multiracial and multicultural nature of Turkey. There have been, if memory serves me correct, a few gay characters on some TV dramas, but no more.

I would like to see some excellent documentaries and education shows covering everything to come out of Turkey, as we do from the West - from the US government's criminal actions after the devastation of New Orleans to the plight of Polish immigrant workers in the European Union. State broadcaster TRT has some very worthwhile documentaries, but none are high profile enough to spark public interest.

What is particularly dispiriting about Turkish television at first glance is that even stuff that ought to be part of the magical 5% is simply not good enough. The TRT is by far the less polluted channel out there, but it's just too boring and restricted by funding and a lack of vision. It's still struggling to strike a balance between respectability and watchability, and it also needs to become independent of the government. Yet, what it does in terms of culture programmes and cultivating the arenas of traditional music is actually ground-breaking, and in my personal opinion something even our grand old aunt the BBC could take a few worthwhile notes from.

The only other decent stuff on Turkish screens is - as in the UK - imported: CSI and House and 24 and Nip/Tuck and Scrubs and its similar etc., spoon-fed to ever-westernised Turkish citizens by CNBC-e and such channels, or news stations like NTV (though it dropped in estimation for its lack of professionalism over its rushed report on Tarkan's Metamorfoz) and CNN Türk (another import) - which seem to be inoculated from the terrible state of Turkey's national television news.

The news channels' national TV station counterparts are filled with speculation from correspondents, masquerading as informed journalism, with padded reports of the same visuals endlessly repeated to fill their 30-minute slots force-feeding the public government press releases and comment pieces ripped off from the previous day's newspapers. The complete fabrication of Tarkan's fee for performing on the TRT for New Year was a prime example of how news supposition can quickly become news fact in Turkey - with no need for proof.

One thing going for them, however, are the 10-minute-maximum news bulletins given at certain hours - similar to the one we had in Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s, and I would like to see these back on British TV again.

But back to the entertainment.

After constantly reading at Tarkan Deluxe's news reports the push to get Tarkan on to Turkish TV, be it MTV or some talk show, I wondered if Tarkan's indecisiveness was because he had zapped through the channels and looked on aghast as I had done.

There had been rumours a few years ago that Tarkan might have had his own special 3-part show, or even a talk show on Turkish TV, but after making the rounds on TV talk shows in Europe and steadfastly ignoring his home stations, this quickly deteriorated into a public rebuke - with Tarkan claiming in an interview that there were no proper talk shows in his home nation, just people out to make him gay - it was Turkish drama filled with conspiracy (and gay characters allowed this time).

Tarkan on TRT's New Year ShowTo be frank, I'm not surprised that Tarkan gave up on his TV projects, or that now he is unsure whether to make an appearance on the Turkish small screen, apart from his musical performances for the TRT - with a live performance lined up this time in Antalya, four days from now.

It wouldn't be wrong to say that Tarkan didn't sign up to the TRT merely out of some sense of duty because he got his first major exposure on a TRT show in 1993; he did it because he knows he wants to be part of that magical five percent, and he's not sure if the other stations can offer that.

Although, if nothing else, if he does finally succumb to the pressure and join the necessary crap, at least he'll get the chance to be part of one of the most colourful TV landscapes in the world - even if it means eating his own words on prime time Turkish television.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>

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* Sturgeon's Law - the one about 95% of everything being crap - you've probably never heard of him. That's because his novels and stories are pretty poor. Ironically, he's not part of the five per cent that makes the rest of the rubbish bearable.

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