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Reproduction of identities through media: A discussion on the otherness and national identity

Bediz Büke İren Yıldızca – Norrköping

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Thanks to global culture a lot of media products are being marketed beyond the borders of their origin. Actually, it may not be irrelevant, if we borrow Robertson’s glocalisation and discuss glocalization of media in terms of having replicas of several media products in various countries by having them culturally adjusted (1995). As a product of this industry, TV serious “Shameless”[i] is adapted in Turkey as “Bizim Hikaye” (Our Story). As the agreements between the producer of the original series and the reproducers, adaptations should be different at certain level. However, here what is critical and worth focusing on, is the level of alternation in the name of being adapted to “Turkish” culture.

My aim in this paper to understand how these two versions of the same story is so distinctive and is there something meaningful in terms of the role of media by favoring dominant ideologies, leveraging the reproduction of specific norms and values, while constantly ignoring diversity and serving the “Turkish Identity”. It is clear that this question embodies several other aspects in relation to representation of genders in media, Turkish modernization and secularism, nationalism and citizenship discussions in Turkey, fundamental Islamism in Turkey, contemporary feminist/gender/queer movements in Turkey etc.; and each requires separate discussions and papers. However, I would like to have this paper to facilitate as an introduction to those discussions by having the focus on how the need of “differentiation” in the main characters, how this alternation portrays the reproduction of certain features of Turkish Identity, if we may talk about there is one.

It may be useful to mention the starting point of the arguments in order to make it clear, on which aspects this paper will be approaching to the aforementioned topic. From my understanding, the formation of otherness is embedded in national identity, which is highly reproduced within and by the family and other ‘ideological state apparatus’ (Althusser 1971). All in one, serves for the perpetuity of the state. By adopting Althusserian concepts and having the intersectional perspective, I will try to discuss national identity, the function of family in reproduction of social norms and values and the role of media feeding into idealized national identity. Therefore, the TV series presented at the beginning will only function as a simple example of a glocalized media product, which will facilitate to show the differences and similarities of American and Turkish contexts around the same discussions of otherness and national identity.

To give the context, let’s first briefly see what is at stake in this particular TV series. Hitting the seventh season the TV series Shameless[1] in the USA adaptation, tells the stories of the members of a poor family, which is headed by an alcoholic single-dad but actually held together by the eldest child of 6. We see characters of different backgrounds, races, sexual orientation, class, religion living in the same neighborhood and trying to survive within the everyday life struggles. A true mosaic indeed, there are characters; like who is representing a Muslim gay, who lives in a heterosexual marriage with a “white” Muslim woman, a teenager gay who tries to get into American army, a color of woman who does not want kids etc.[ii]. It is an important example of American break through from the “traditional American family structure” as described by Collins and Yuval-Davis that feeds the national identity, to an alternative, which contains almost all kinds of “irregularities” and gives space to understand intersectionality (Collins 1998 and Yuval-Davis 1997, p. 26-38). This is not to say that, what Collins and Yuval-Davis are discussing, lost relevance but just gives a window of opportunity for society to transform itself by making visible, what was already within the society but kept hidden within the heterosexual family rhetoric as also Collins argues herself. Actually, this was also, what Collins suggested while she was concluding her arguments by saying (Collins 1998, p.78):

“Instead of engaging in endless criticism, reclaiming the language of family for democratic ends and transforming the very conception of family itself might provide a more useful approach…”

Continuing from that point, I just want to step back and have an emphasis on how this is related to national identity. It may be said that the USA has achieved a lot since the play Melting Pot of Israel Zangwill (1909). It has been discussed highly, how the theory of melting pot was suggesting assimilation of ethnic minorities, immigrants towards white supremacy in favor of having a unified identity. By then, also it was pretty obvious that American society was diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. However, at the same time, the need of having a common identity to sustain the idea of a nation state was at stake. This very urgency of adopting homogenized “shared identity”, widely shaped the constitution of the USA to determine who is entitled to access to what. Actually, the problematic part emerges within this moment and it would be pity, if I do not acknowledge the fact that most of the feminist literature and intersectionality emerges from this very point. It may not be irrelevant to argue that national identity, is the outcome of the multiple relationships between nation state, power dynamics within different groups and classes, and family as an agent for reproducing social norms and values (in this context national values). One step further, who will be identified as citizens relaying on national identity shaped by the groups, who managed to place themselves in a comparatively advantageous position out of these hierarchal relationships. Thus, family as an ideological state apparatus, which would serve as a means of sustaining the State and the system in which states survive, would have a critical function to play. Maybe coming from a different background but, Collins also argues that how family functions in a way that it constantly feeds the nation state, while reproducing heterosexism, racism, and ethnicity. It is also crucial to see, how family as the smallest unit of the society and seen as the smaller prototype of the nation, functions as Collins refers, in terms of realizing the hierarchies between the genders and races within heterosexual relationships (1998). Here lays the intersectionality, not only within the gender, sexuality, and race but also within the nation, national identity, power dynamics and family where intersectionality finds another form to flourish.

On the other hand, going back to American Identity, one should not ignore the recent developments took place in the United States on human rights of the LGBTI+ individuals’, yet I am not sure, whether, we can talk in the same way for the human rights of women of all colors. Besides, it is also disputable, what is reproduced within families formed by LGBTI+ individuals. Chavez and Bracke both argues, how heteronormative family values have been adopted by some LGBTI+ individuals as well as by some Queer scholars and transformed into “homonormative” one as called by Lisa Duggan (Chavez 2010; Bracke 2012). My intention is not to come up with a quick deduction with a selective focus from some very rich discussions of scholars, and ignoring the rest of the arguments. In between, what I want to stress is, how heteronormative family values and homonormativity create a space for reproduction of national identity through a new formation of “family”, which at the first place did not want to provide any space for existence of LGBTI+. Going back to the TV series “Shameless”, and the family structure portrayed in the show, portrays clearly the mere reflections of these arguments. As a product of media, thus one of “ideological state apparatus”, it plays the role it is given: promoting diversity, elaborating everyday struggles of each individual within their intersectionality present the dilemmas of the society, but also feeds into homo-nationalism, conceptualized by Puar as an identity and creating the “other” within the same discourse (Althusser 1971, p.151; Puar 2013).

It is obvious that, discussion on American national identity, Queer theories and its relations to sexual politics is stand-alone topic of another paper. However, what have been discussed so far was to give the perspective on how sexual politics and its political and social linkages to “family” is being reproduced through a single TV series in American context. Now, I can move on to Turkish adaptation and discuss how it is diverse from its American version but yet functions in the same way.

Explaining in what ways the Turkish adaptation differs from the American version is not the objective of this paper. I rather aim to mention dramatic changes to underline “adaptation”. Accordingly, it would not be wrong to say that the major change in Turkish adaptation is the main features of the characters. In local version of the series, there is almost no diversity. We do not see individuals from different ethnicities, race, sexual orientation or religion. The only diversities exist in the adaptation may be named as gender and class. The image of women represented in the adaptation is problematic as well. All women characters are victimized, including the lead character, which indeed portrayed as a strong young woman, yet still craving for acknowledgement from the father for her sacrifices and finding this lack of compassion in affection to romantic heterosexual relationship. (I am rejecting this Freudian perspective)

Although, in the American version not all the women characters were represented as strong or independent, the emphasis was not on victimization. Whereas, in the Turkish adaptation almost all the stories around the female characters based on physical and psychological violence they have been exposed to in relation to their unapproved behaviors. If needs to be clarified, the reactions of the same characters to the same situation differs in the adaptation in line with the changes in features of each character. That certain situation in the original version was not leading any kinds of violence against woman by the “male” character, while in the adaptation that same situation leads physical and psychological violence by the same male character in addition to social pressures and disapprovals of the close community.

Similarly, but also differently from the USA context, while, discussing the representation of genders and different identities throughout the media and its products, it is important to be aware of the political climate in the country and despotic governance. Because it is expected that media would feed into power elites to sustain their positions. In a parallel way, homo-nationalism as an identity, was a mere product of political ideology of the USA, however, there is a space for freedom of speech and tolerance for different productions, where complete different ideologies being reproduced. On the other hand, as of today, in Turkey almost majority of the anti-government journalists are in prisoned or still having their trials on accusations of being “terrorists”, which are not yet proved. According to Progressive Journalists Association the number of journalists being arrested and imprisoned in Turkey is 147 (2017). Similarly, until the very same day of this paper is being written (25 October 2017) 14 human rights activists have been imprisoned for 120 days with the accusation of being “terrorist” (T24 2017). Moreover, in governments war against the terrorist group[iii], who attempted the coup d’état on 31 July 2016, government started to terminate considerable number of civil society organizations, who are “accused” to have any relations to that particular “terrorist groups” with the help of decree laws granted by state of emergency, which avoids any further legal process to be initiated. Quite a number of NGOs, which were working on human rights, child rights were closed just relying on accusations.

The point, which seems important about what has been mentioned in latter in relation to the topic of this paper, is how “terrorism” is associated with “otherness”. Let me elaborate it more in terms of, what has been discussed so far. The discussions of homo-nationality in Puar’s (2013) and Bracke’s (2012) articles have a commonality on explaining, how discourses of modernism associate sexual politics with the rights of the women and LGBTI+ individuals reclining on western secularism[iv] and rhetoric of development in contrast with the rest of the world named as less developed and in need of being rescued. In doing so, finding a new subject for itself to attribute “otherness”, to reproduce its national identity. Like, Sartre’s anti-Semite, who needed an inferior other to be able to call himself superior and become the French National he lacks (1995). In American context, having homo-nationalism as an ideology, which interpellates the new American identity, it also creates automatically the identity of the “other” as “Muslim” actually carries to extreme levels by leading to xenophobia to be able to have the recognition as a subject (Althusser 1971, p. 174). By adopting Freudian perspective, Ahmed suggests how fear and anxiety, forms the “other” by establishing the relationship between the different objects and fear, which leads identification of what is fearsome. Having the own self as reference point, while trying to “turning away from an object”, other which seen as the source of the fear is the reflection of “that which I am not” (2004, p.128). Therefore, it cannot be refused once Ahmed also says latter on her discussion (2004, p.128):

To this extent, fear does not involve the defence of borders that already exist; rather, fear makes those borders.”

Similarly, conceptualization of terrorism and terrorist and how it finds its place in politics can be understood in the same way as she explains in following sections of the same article. Now, having made connections of otherness with fear and terrorist conceptualization, we can return to Turkish context once more to discuss on how “terrorist” discourse is functioning in politics in Turkey in relation to national identity.

It is widely discussed by journalists and scholars how the political climate in Turkey is polarized. Dangerously, this polarization maintained by government and leaders by adopting discourses of otherness. There are several examples on how President Erdoğan himself identifies “others” like, who does not vote “yes” in the referendum, or does not voted for his political party (AKP), atheists, secularists, women protesting governments against their sexual politics, European countries, United States this list may be extended. Simply, it is at a stage that anyone, who opposes government or an argument of the President, finds his/herself as the “other”, who is identified as a potential threat, object of fear. Fear of losing power is transforms into fear of losing of cultural identity associated with the supported ideology. The national identity represented by President Erdoğan his political party and the national identity that was tried to be established from early republican years are in conflict for so long. It may not be irrelevant to argue that this conflict is actually coming from Turkey’s “western modernization” process, which, ended up having different groups in the society and had their political reflections in the parliament on having different stand points for so called western values, like secularism as the part of the national identity. Turkey having its own particular experience of westernization which, includes oppressing some groups, now facing harsh reflections of the fear of certain values that are now, identified as being “western”. In accordance with this argument, Ahmed’s discussion on materialization of norms clarifies this dynamic, staying away from what is identified as threat to assure survival (2004, p. 134).

Likewise, people who are supporting secularism in education, human rights of women’s and LGBTI+ individuals are considered to be a threat. In order to maximize the effect of the fear, “terrorist” conceptualization plays its part within the political discourse. Ahmed, phrases it so well and it also fits in Turkish context: “Those who speak out against the “truth” of this world become aligned then with the terrorists as seeking to cause the “ruin” of the world” (2004, p. 135). By doing so, a new national identity is presented, which does not shelter as much “western values” as it did before. In the Turkish context, we cannot name it after Puar’s homo-nationalism (2013), but how ever we name it, it is evident that it follows a really similar pattern. It is ironic yet meaningful that, how identification of the “other” corresponds each other in the Western and Turkish politics.

The action of signifying the “other” itself proves the presence of diversity. Therefore, it is clear that Turkish politics are aware of the diversity Turkish society embodies. However, harboring policies towards a homogenous national identity still hinders the intersectional perspectives in policy discussions in Turkey. On the contrary, to reinforce established power relations, the social norms and values of the majority are normalized, generalized and are reproduced through media. Therefore, also in the Turkish adaptation of the TV series Shameless, we cannot see any diversity that reflects the reality of the society in order not to challenge heteronormativity, traditional family structure, binary in gender, gender roles, social norms and values, thus the Turkish identity represented by government. As a product of media being an ideological state apparatus, reproduces the socially accepted characters, genders, classes of Turkish Identity, which will serve the power elite to sustain their tyranny.



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Althusser, Louis (1971). “Freud and Lacan”, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster. London: New Left Books, 195–219)
Bracke, S. (2012). From”Saving Women” to ”Saving Gays”: Rescue Narratives and Their
Dis/Continuities. European Journal of Women’s Studies,19(2): 237-252.
Chávez, K. (2010). Border (In)Securities: Normative and Differential Belonging in LGBTQ and Immigrant Rights Discourse. Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies,7(2): 136–155.
Collins, P. Hill (1998). It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race and Nation. Hypatia, 13(3):62–82.
Progressive Journalists Association 2017, cezaevindeki gazeteciler listesi, viewed 25 October 2017 <http://www.cgd.org.tr/index.php?Did=222>
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Global Law Review, 4(2): 23–43.
Sartre, Jean-Paul (1995 [1944]). Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate. Trans. George J. Becker. New York: Schocken Books
T24 2017, Büyükada davasında tutuklanan insan hakları aktivistlerinin tamamına tahliye kararı, viwed 25 October 2017 <http://t24.com.tr/haber/buyukada-davasinda-tutuklanan-insan-haklari-aktivistlerinin-tamamina-tahliye-karari,473333>
 Robertsen, R. (1995). Global Modernities. London: SAGE, Chapter 2 Glocalisation: Time-space and Homoheneity-Heterogeneity, pp. (35-53)
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Nation, pp. (26–38)
Zagwill, I. (1909). The Melting Pot, published by MacMillan Company
 [i] The American TV series of Shameless tells the story of an alcoholic single dad headed family with 6 kids. The eldest of the siblings is a young woman, who sacrificed her education over the caring of her younger siblings and working at multiple jobs to sustain the family. The second and the third eldest siblings are boys. One of the boys is the promising clever member of the family, and the other one is a hidden gay, which is one of the main story of that character. The number 4, is the second female member of the family, who is portrayed as the most devoted child to their father. Finally, the fifth child is a color of boy, which was important to specify taking into account that the other members of the family were white, and there is a suspicion about the mother having an affair and this boy was the offspring of that affair.
[ii] The list of characters fort he American version may be reached from: http://www.sho.com/shameless
[iii] Fetullah Gülen Terör Örgütü (FETÖ). Recognized as terrorist organisation by Turkish government.
[iv] I want to differentiate western secularism from the secularism as a standalone concept. The way secularism is perceptionalized, conceptualized and practiced in western mdoernization is something and what is idealized with the concept of “secularism”, is something different. I strongly against condemning an ideology with a bad implementation.


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