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Friday, September 23, 2016

Quitting the Throne

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

In an urbane and emotively atmospheric article about the complex entity of cities and celebrity, Mark Mahey questions whether Turkish singer Tarkan has chosen self-love over self-respect in a bid to win the battle of perception over his popular persona.

The holidays are over in Turkey.

Amongst the traditional sacrificial slaughter of animals - or the more commonly accepted Turkish way of donating a symbolic sum to charities that distribute food parcels and feed those less well off - people are returning to the big cities after a long break for the feast.

Returning kicking and screaming (internally at least) back to work as usual, back to the usual, and the sluggish Monday blues is an urban infection shared by all of us who live in a metropolis. Citizens of concrete and steel moulded by the working week's fire.

Kindred spirits of the cities recognise each other - the smell of coffee, cigarettes and cynicism - and while recent terrorist targets have made blood brothers of most cities, they have other things in common with each other.

All obvious cultural and regional differences aside, Istanbul shares something with its urbane brothers and sisters, which I can attest to having worked in Paris, London, Rome and this once second Rome of Christendom: The back to work blues the sprawling giants imbue into us all, and the sleepless nights.

Nocturnal nakedness and the dressed up blues; those dark velvet low tones of brick and concrete that envelopes the narrow cages of commerce and capitalism. Each city is a monstering whisper of shadows and expression, a film noir of the senses. A morality play on how you get mucky for your brass.

In the dirtier life of today, therefore, defining the discourse of the city should be more than just its darker aspects: Sharing restrictive spaces with the private lives of the public millions looking forward to payday is just one cog in a large wheel. And popular culture and celebritydom has often been a way to open a sensitive space (or easy escape) from the insensitiveness of the large clamour of the city.

Sensitivity, romantics, and music (or the Brangelina split) can polarise as much as it can unify, like a moment of pause or quiet, because it touches from a distance. And whether the point of art, and the artist, is to touch the heart or the mind - or both - the ultimate point is to humanise, because it is a conscious choice to create a beautiful thing.

Angelina Jolie's split from Brad Pitt, though, is a primordial example of the problem with popular art. We tend to focus more on the celebrity and personality of those who create, than the creations themselves.

For you can bet your bottom dollar that Jolie's attempts to raise awareness of the rape of nearly 20,000 Bosnian women between 1992-95 didn't generate as much interest as her public dumping of Pitt.

Undeniably, a lynching or epic fail is an escape for the mob just as uplifting as art can be, but where one humanises, the other dehumanises. For a sacrificial feast of the famous, then, the slaughter on the altar of celebrity has always been a particularly bloody one. One slip-up and we pull them kicking and bleating to the public chopping block.

Courting success and celebrity has always been like characters caught in a tragic film noir, trapped in eternal stasis, imprisoned by and bound together by economical ties as if by hoops of steel, never to escape the inevitable downward spiral in the race to posterity.

Known and unknown simultaneously, the celebrity walks a tightrope where their fear and love of publicity goes hand in hand. Candid memoirs of one of Britain's leading screen actors of the 1950s and 1960s, John Fraser's unveiling of fellow actor Dirk Bogarde's hopes to take the secret of his sexuality to the grave gives an insight into the battle fought between the public and the private sides of a popular persona.

In Fraser's book, he describes a time when consenting homosexual relations between adults was still illegal, but wished Bogarde had found the courage "for the pursuit of understanding and the promotion of tolerance ... to make one dignified allusion to his true nature. Self-love is no substitute for self-respect."

Naturally, for every successful celebrity there comes a fork in the road, where they believe they must choose between protecting their image and producing their talent. In this respect, ascerbic wit and Turkish TV's David Letterman, Okan Bayülgen has recently opined that Tarkan has failed to do the latter.

Guarding against negative public perception is normal for any celebrity in any country, and as Istanbul is similar in its concrete core to cities across the world, Tarkan is a concrete celebrity we see the world over. He is a chip off the old block of the West: The longer a celebrity holds fame, the less famous they are for what they do, and more for what they are perceived to be.

He can be forgiven, then, for swapping the pomeranian on his arm for a preening wife pushed out in front of the media to give reports about how estatic married life is at his shows. He can be forgiven for the orchestration of accidental meets with his former exes at private dos. He can be forgiven for the hard man image in recently published books about him or the promotion of his Harbiye concerts this year as being high in demand, when in truth sponsors couldn't give tickets away.

Only when a celebrity slips up, and this chasm between what is portrayed and what is hidden widens is it understood whether the sacrifice was worth it. Why bother with persona, when what stands the test of time - like a city - is the architecture, not the architect.

More importantly, having Tarkan so focused on creating a hard man persona takes away from the energy of creating music, which is what people really care about. Watching your favourite star become farcically self-serious is obnoxious, but more seriously, it signals a creative rock bottom.

Obviously, it would be more honest if the man and the image were the same, but would the music and live performances be any different? And it would be a very thin society if there were not performers like Tarkan, and truthfully, should we care what the real persona of Tarkan is? It's none of my business. What I care about is that the music I listen to is good, not an artist's sincerity or sexuality.

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

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