Despite its popularity, the series has not escaped fierce criticism on the grounds that it poses risks to Turkish family values by encouraging extramarital affairs and presenting obscenity as if it were something normal.
The program, which first aired in 2008, tops the ratings almost every Thursday evening, garnering an average primetime audience share of over 25 percent.
As its name suggests, “Aşk-ı Memnu” tells the story of an extramarital affair between the seductive, attractive and young Bihter, played by Beren Saat, and her husband’s nephew Behlül, played by Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ. Living in the same big, posh and luxurious mansion, Behlül and Bihter carry on their affair behind the backs of the other residents of the mansion. They give each other fervent kisses in the hidden corners of the house and keep telling lies to others in order to keep their affair secret.
The abundance of series such as “Aşk-ı Memnu” on Turkish TV has alarmed many who say these TV series have a negative impact on the public, present extramarital affairs as a normal activity and encourage adultery.
Just last Friday, Family and Women’s Affairs Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf said she was very irritated by the “erotic” scenes in the series, while noting that such scenes were a factor in encouraging people to become sexually active at very young ages. A recent report prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that people become sexually active in Turkey as early as 13.
“I am very disturbed about such scenes,” Kavaf said.
Yet, sociologists and opinion leaders do not think these series have a deep impact on people’s lives to the extent that they would damage family values, while admitting the importance of having some control over obscenity on TV.
Stating that series like “Aşk-ı Memnu” promote extramarital affairs and sexuality and present them as normal, Yasin Aktay, a sociologist and a columnist for the Yeni Şafak daily, said that such series can also have the opposite effect on society because people tend to put a distance between the fictitious life on TV and their real lives.
“While people watch these series, on the one hand, they take lessons from them and they embrace their own values more strongly on the other hand,” Aktay told Sunday’s Zaman.
Asked whether there was any need to have a censorship mechanism to monitor such series, he said censorship would not be something he would welcome but noted that there could be an oversight mechanism such as a board of experts who could put limitations on what is shown on TV.
“Series producers have a large responsibility in this regard,” added Aktay.
“Aşk-ı Memnu” is so popular that it has even become a part of political polemics. Last month, while downplaying allegations about a military action plan to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal said: “They said an assassination plan against the deputy prime minister had been uncovered. Then came a new excitement. It was like ‘Aşk-ı Memnu.’ Every week, some circles are trying to inject new excitement into people’s lives with new scenarios.”
Nilüfer Narlı, a sociologist at İstanbul’s Bahçeşehir University, agreed with Aktay that TV series portraying adultery and deceit may influence people to a certain extent; however, she explained that for a portrayal to have any influence on an individual’s life that portrayal must take place consistently in that individual’s environment and be regarded as normal.
“When a situation is portrayed in a TV series, for example, an act of violence or adultery, but is not frequently seen around a person and is seen as abnormal, its power of influence fades,” Narlı explained.
Is punishing the producers the right move?
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has issued several fines and punishments for the series due to its “fervent kissing” scenes and because it presents an extramarital affair as normal, damaging the public’s values.
Bugün daily columnist Gülay Göktürk does not think the RTÜK punishments are the right approach. “If there were truly a great censorship effort afoot to make the various ‘forbidden loves’ of the world invisible, unknowable and inaccessible, then a great portion of the world’s literature, films, songs and poetry would need to be burned and destroyed,” she explained.
In her view, those willing to censor illicit love affairs want us, the adults, to have a secret, private life we can hide from our children, and they want us to perpetuate a relationship with them based on lies.
“This is deceit, and it means establishing a hypocritical relationship with our children. What they need is not censored information about adults, but just the opposite, one presenting all deepness and aspects of reality. They can only become mature individuals by knowing what we do and what we cannot do, what we feel proud of and what we feel embarrassed about,” she suggested.