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Monday, December 04, 2006

The Celebrity Game

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Tarkan on German TV/RTL ImageI recently posed the suggestion to a colleague in Istanbul that using Tarkan's music as the entry point for a cultural analysis of Turkey would be an interesting way to articulate the make-up and values of the society that created him.

I was told in no uncertain terms that Turkey did not create Tarkan, they - the Turkish media - had created him and that if Tarkan continued to "bite the hand" that fed it, the media would "end" his career in Turkey.

It got me to thinking - can the media make or break a pop star's career? And do only those who zero in on doing the best job of manipulating the media with their celebrity clout manage to survive?

Playing to win

Being a pop star with celebrity in any country means friction with the tabloids. Britney Spears and Michael Jackson are prime examples - or easy targets - for the celebrity press.

There has to be an understanding of the three-way relationship that supports celebrity. The public may hanker after celebrity, and the celebrities themselves promote it, but it is the media that manages it. And celebrity can and must be cultivated and nurtured, as David Beckham and his wife have so ably shown.

With contemporary Western culture making recent in-roads in Turkey with the appearance of a Turkish version of MTV and Turkish editions of Rolling Stone, Billboard and Empire magazines, the mathematics of celebrity is going to start adding up Turkey.

This celebrity game has to be played well, otherwise as my colleague suggested, it will result in lost, misguided or simply desperate celebs, hungry for the spotlight.

Now, in an ironic twist - using the same media he criticised - Tarkan in a recent interview for a Turkish newspaper attacked his domestic celebrity press, signalling that he was going to cut out the media "middle man" from this three-way relationship.

Tarkan vs Turkish Press

Tarkan in Cosmopolitan magazineTarkan's battles with his home tabloids are nothing new. Ever since he appeared on the Turkish music scene in 1992, bare chested and brassy, the pop star has directly and indirectly irritated the traditional moralistic stance of the media.

When to the chagrin of his critics Tarkan would not go away and - even worse - became more successful than anyone could have ever imagined, for the sake of revenue the belly-dancing pin-up boy and the press became uncomfortable bedfellows.

Searching for friends from the media, Tarkan has since then polarised the journalists as much as he has polarised his Turkish homestead about how he should be perceived.

But after the release of his 2006 English album, media criticism and run-ins with the media - with Tarkan uncharacteristically vocal in lashing out at journalists - has prompted more and more columnists to ask whether they are watching Tarkan in the last gasp of his celebrity.

One of the worst examples has been one time old friend Rahşan Gülşan. In her column printed by Turkish newspaper Sabah, while asking the question whether we are witnessing the end of Tarkan, she made uncomfortable - if completely unrelated and unfounded - parallels to Michael Jackson's fall from grace.

"Tarkan's outbursts are like those people with low IQ at road jams," Gülşan writes. "These scenes remind me of Michael Jackson - someone Tarkan is influenced by. Tarkan, pull yourself together! I'm saying this as a fan, and an old friend, what you're doing now isn't going to fuel your fame anymore." (Translation by Ali Yildirim)

However, it seems that none of the reporters are calculating in the "talent factor". Tarkan is not a talentless, manufactured pop star. Not only can he sing, he has a "star quality" that seems to attract people from all walks of life.

The Talent Factor

Tarkan's popularity has never been based on what papers have said, but on what the singer has sung. And I can't help but wonder, had Tarkan's English album been an overnight success would the media have been so quick to target Tarkan?

Back in 1968, Andy Warhol said: "In the future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." This prophetic line rings true for most low list celebs, but those with talent will stick to a country's consciousness.

The Turkish celebrity press mustn't confuse artistic talent with celebrity. They may attempt to "dent" the celeb status of Tarkan, but that is as far as they can throw the dirt, because Tarkan's talent and his continued music success will ultimately be tagged to his productive output.

After all, shouldn't it be "celebrity is as celebrity does", and not as the media would have them do?

But Tarkan should also be reminded there is a flipside to trying to push out the celebrity media from the equation. If the public want to see more of Tarkan - and the pop star wants to control the images the public get to see - arguably he'll have to get better backing to manage his public image. He should apply the adage to be "seen and not heard" - protesting a little less, and concentrating on proving his critics wrong.

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