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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tarkan, Sex and the Prevention of Swine Flu

A Point of View
By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

What is popular today is what is used in the headlines to catch the attention of the surfing public on the internet. It's an indicator of what was being talked about at that time. For example, as Milliyet correspondent Sina Koloğlu put it, although yoga isn't passée, we're more likely to click upon a headline that says "Yoga prevents Swine Flu", because swine flu is a current topic this year.

Or like the American vampire craze that has taken over almost every aspect of social media for the second instalment in its "Twilight Saga" movies - if something is all the rage, people will come looking at the mention of its name.

Turkish TV series Ask-i Memnu is rocking Turkey with its illicit sex scenes
Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ is rocking Turkey with his illicit sex scenes in Turkish TV series Aşk-ı Memnu
What is current in Turkish pop culture seems to be all things to do with sex, whether it is in the illicit sex scenes of current popular TV series, family melodrama Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love), or anything else that has sex in it, ensuring it's pushed into the variety headlines quicker than a political scandal, unless that's about sex, too.

Actor and folk singer Yavuz Bingöl - known as the "Tarkan of Turkish folk music" - has been complaining about this very nature of the celebrity press, as he tries his hand at a very left-wing political drama for the theatre.

"You're trying something different with a serious story about life in prison and all you get asked is about the sex scene in the play - when it's a re-enactment of a man's dream. It's sad, and upsetting for the theatre and for me as an actor," he was quoted as saying in a recent interview for Milliyet's variety section Cadde.

When he repeated this claim on Hülya Avşar's current affairs show - a celebrity herself - she shrugged it off as the "ignorance of the gutter press", and then proceeded to question him about the play's "live sex scene" with actress Azra Akın, Miss World winner and one-time girlfriend of Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ - known as the Brad Pitt of the Middle East and currently getting his rocks off in Aşk-ı Memnu.

This isn't an anomaly individual to Turkey, it just means Turkey isn't immune to the current trends sweeping the globe. However, is popular TV culture in Turkey only just getting its sexual awakening from eighties America, or is there absolutely no barrier of sexual behaviour that TV network executives aren't willing to cross in an attempt to mine ratings like today's America (aka the CW show Gossip Girl with a group-sex plot)? Maybe it's something in between - the sheets, that is.

It's a time to take your top off, or to take yourself off the top, it seems. Or if you're not careful, to do both.

This is real life, and sometimes the celebrity monster does get a reality check.

Make a Splash...or Die Drowning

Adam Lambert kissing his keyboard player at the American Music Awards; Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black shirtless in the New Moon Twilight movie
Adam Lambert might have gotten better press by kissing Taylor Lautner from the Twilight movies... or then again, maybe not
Runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol, Adam Lambert made quite a splash at the American Music Awards a few nights back, but not in a good way if the reports are anything to go by.

But is it Lambert's male on male kiss at the award ceremony that has shocked America, or that a celebrity is openly making sex an issue, crossing the bounds of the suggestive? It was only a matter of time until we saw Lambert kiss a guy.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, on making his sexuality public, Lambert had spoken about his own idea of celebrity; it was a case of don't beat them, but join them.

"There's the old industry idea that you should just make sexuality a non-issue, just say your private life's your private life, and not talk about it. But that's bullshit, because private lives don't exist anymore [sic] for celebrities: they just don't.

"I don't want to be looking over my shoulder all the time, thinking I have to hide, being scared of being found out, putting on a front, having a beard, going down the red carpet with some chick who is posing as my girlfriend. That's not cool, that's not being a rock star. I can't do that."

And no, we're sure Lambert wasn't having a dig at the ambidextrously sexy recording artist Tarkan. There's enough people in the Turkish press that do that already.

The most recent attack that comes to mind is the one after Tarkan went native in America and got himself a Mohawk haircut. The public tweets of two Turkish journalists, Cüneyt Özdemir and Oray Eğin, bantered about "the look". Eğin was adamant - perhaps wishful thinking on his part as he is gay himself - that it proved Tarkan is homosexual, and that he would set up a special team (a Team Tarkan, but not like a Team Edward or Team Jacob - those Twilighters among you will know what I mean) to out him.

But even those workers in the gutter press industry can have a reversal of fortunes, too. The industry is an unfaithful mistress; inevitably it will bite the hand that feeds it.

A Spoonful of Sleaze Helps the Medicine Go Down

In what almost seems like a melodramatic twist, both those Tarkan tweeting journalists are now being forced to take some of their own medicine.

Nilay Örnek from Haberturk has been lashing out at her male colleagues that twitter, claiming, especially on Özdemir's part, that it has rendered articulate, polite and thoughtful people on TV into uncharismatic egos that tweet complete rubbish online. Still, Özdemir might not consider "twitticide" like British celebrity Stephen Fry did last month, but it is a revealing point.

Eğin has had it harder and on the opposite end of the stick, with fellow celebrity correspondent Yüksel Aytuğ from Sabah accusing him of attributing to the "stomach-churning trash" on Turkish TV with his talk show.

Describing the events during the course of one of Eğin's shows, including gay innuendoes parleyed about over the course of taking out an earring, Aytuğ bemoaned, "You say this is what the public want, so you give them trash and say what can you do? Well I say, do anything but this rubbish!"

With criticism being directed at Eğin and Özdemir, how does it feel to be on the other end of the spoon, and be sucking it up instead of dishing it out? You learn, like Fry did, that this celebrity lark is all well and good, but if you're going to accept that people will comment about those in the public eye, then you're going to need a thick skin - as thick as the one needed to be subjected to the celebrity in the first place.

Sometimes, both sides of the Turkish celebrity fence feels like something we'd see in a TV melodrama.

Another guy, and vociferous Tarkan critic, who has been lampooning the dregs of Turkish TV for years on his late night shows, has also recently got to know what it feels like to have the shoe on the other foot.

Actor and talk show host Okan Bayülgen got his comeuppance when his comments about singer/songwriter Serdar Ortaç producing the same, formulaic pop mush came up against protests by a guest female singer.

After telling Bayülgen off and to "control his mouth", she promptly stormed off the set, leaving him flustered and open to criticism in the celebrity columns the next day that he had gone too far. Sabah columnist Ayşe Özyılmazel - the Özyılmazel who's known for her petty attacks on Tarkan until just recently - came out in defence of Ortaç.

A case of the pot calling the kettle black? Or is the wheel of fortune finally turning in favour of the celebrities? Or maybe it's just a woman scorned, after all Özyılmazel is Bayülgen's ex-girlfriend. (My final idioms for today, else the article will begin to sound like the lyrics from Tarkan's 2007 record Metamorfoz).

Would close friend, female singer Sibel Can do the same thing for Tarkan? We think not. She would just defend rather elegantly. But then, she wouldn't appear on Bayülgen's show anyway.

Like actor Bingöl said (remember that guy? The unsexy one who is currently fondling a previous Miss World in a play - yeah now you remember) when asked to comment on the walk out during Avşar's show, "If you invite the donkey, you gotta put up with its stink."

Possibly the best line to sum up celebrity. Yet, asking a serious actor, who comes on to your show about an über-serious political play, such a question might seem a bit "ignorant" - but hey so what? Avşar would just shrug it off. After all, she knows what is popular, even if it does stink.

And this is the methane-filled atmosphere that Tarkan works in, or tries to create in. It's amazing he ever gets anything done. Oh well, at least he doesn't have swine flu.

Great, now that would make a great headline for the gossip mongers...

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