When I watched TRT 1’s “Seksenler” (The ’80s) for the first time some months ago, I asked myself what it is all about -- perhaps a timely, pedagogic effort to explain to viewers the perils of a past period filled with military interventions and the adoption of a non-civilian-inspired constitution by means of a weekly soap opera? Upon closer inspection, though, and more episodes, I must conclude this is far from it! Apparently, “Seksenler” somehow carries the message that nostalgia is chic and that those tumultuous times were not that bad after all. Yet there is a more sinister side to it, and I do not entirely understand the intentions of the scriptwriters, to be honest.
Let me continue by stating that I am against censorship, of course, and happy to have the liberty to watch what I want to (or perhaps not). So would you. Yet political commentators not only have a right but, as far as I am concerned, a duty, too, to critically evaluate from time to time what television channels put on the air.
Actually, not just columnists but politicians, too, should take a few hours off each week from their busy schedules and position themselves not in front of a camera but in front of their television screens, as public opinion heavily depends on what the electorate watches. Directors of weekly series or soaps often add hot topics to their manuscripts or, alternatively, aim to influence opinion on such matters. Neither every politicians nor every commentator will always like what they see and hear but a) that’s diversity in democracy and b) a perfect mirror image of what people are going to talk about the next morning at work. And people do talk at work about what was on television the night before; hence, any intended or unintended effects from whatever news or soaps they have watched are multiplied.
The times may be shown as they were, but the fact that your local neighborhood was more or less run by men in uniform (police officers in this case) and that the people who inhabit the studio-built street used as a backdrop seem rather indifferent to this is surprising. For example, in a recent episode, a kitchen pot and utensils cleaner working on the street had his few possessions confiscated by one of the men in uniform, and when one of the housewives whose wares he had been cleaning realized this, she did not complain about the fact that the authorities had interfered with a harmless activity but that her pot had disappeared.
This detail shows -- planned or unplanned -- that the Turkish people of the 1980s were obedient, authority-loving individuals who would not question anything. I am pretty certain this was never the case; actually, if I were Turkish, I would feel seriously insulted at being portrayed in this way! I would not have been surprised had another cut shown a tank rolling through a nearby boulevard with the actors portraying Turkish citizens of the time applauding. While this scene is not in the script, it would be the logic continuation of the scene I described above.
Between the lines, and at times more obviously, foreigners are portrayed as evil, and if the topic focuses on the military coup, they are made responsible for it, with the story explaining that foreign agents had infiltrated Turkey and planned to create chaos and anarchy. Every student demonstration was apparently the work of shady international conspirators having descended upon Turkey only to ultimately destroy it.
What’s more, how can a parent explain to a child or teenager growing up today that what is shown on “Seksenler” is fictional? How will they explain that foreigners are not bad? I am not joking -- the other day I overheard my own daughter coming back from school telling me that all Americans in Turkey are spies, according to her friends who watched the same “Seksenler” episode!
So, back to the 1980s? I dare say, luckily, only on television!