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The Not-So-Wonderful World of Dizi

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Popular Turkish soap operas don’t feature much sex, but plenty of violence against women

Turkish soap operas have become a pompous, colorful, stressful, romantic and ultraviolent global phenomenon. But above all, let’s forget this archaic term soap opera; since the Turks created their own genre. Well, I don’t know if they really created it, but they label it under the name DIZI; This is what we usually call a soap opera. But the Dizi genre is not far from using the same narrative tools that, for example, Latin soap operas have used since the beginnings of television: stories full of problems for the characters in their search for happiness, love tribulations, romantic triangles, an emphasis on the importance of family, and numerous secondary characters whose subplots overwhelm the viewer.

The main differences are clear: obviously, because it is a Muslim country, there is no kissing, no sex, no alcohol, but it considers violence necessary. It is astonishing that the Turkish soap opera industry has become one of the most powerful in the world. Currently, it is the main export product of this country and is surpassed only by the cultural production of the United States. By 2023, its global distribution is estimated to exceed $1 billion. So from now on we will refer to Turkish dramas as they themselves wish: Dizi.

For a few years now, global television networks and streaming platforms have been full of content from Türkiye (a country formerly known as Turkey). This phenomenon began in 2011 with The Magnificent Century, a fiction about the life of Sultan Suleiman at the time of the Ottoman Empire, extended to 139 episodes in prime time on Turkish television, with chapters even exceeding two hours. The Magnificent Century was an incredible start to what is today a global dramatic hegemony. This show told the fictional life of Sultan Suleiman and how a young slave became his main, but not only, wife. The staging was brilliant; costumes, artistic direction… By God, these people spared no effort to take the viewer to the heart of the Ottoman Empire, applying narrative formulas very close to those typical of Latin soap operas. Perhaps this is why Dizi is extremely popular in Latin America and in countries like Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and the United States (and even Venezuela), millions of people see them.

The formula

Of course, to make a Dizi, there is a formula and it is very simple: There is not a single unattractive human being in the cast; so prepare to only see attractive people. Forget seeing Danny DeVito jump around the corner. It will not happen. Another problem is family unity; and this is something that Turks take very seriously. In the first years of Dizi, family union was the axis of all stories: improvement was always sought, a struggle for the evolution of the family, of love, of the fight against all obstacles. Before, say, ten years ago, when Dizi only broadcast in Turkey, it didn’t matter how long each show was or how long each episode was (the longer the better, since the channels TV shows could include many sponsors in commercial breaks). Another characteristic is that if there is no love triangle, it is not a Dizi; love always arrives in the midst of obstacles and there is always a third person who is there to complicate everything.

And the storylines, subplots, entanglements, and happy endings filled viewers with a sense of aspiration: “Yes, it’s possible for a slave to be a sultan’s first wife!”, and stuff similar crazy ones. All this: the music, the dances, the food, the spectacular sets, the actors, became a cultural mirror that showed for the first time to a wide audience what characterized the Turkish community, which quickly found an echo in the Balkans, taking a leap towards international success. …and then Netflix came along.

Let’s make this huge!

Dizi’s original dramas had two themes: historical dramas or dramas based on the present, with Turkish families and their problems that they tried to resolve amidst arguments, unrequited loves and all the twists and turns that, I repeat, with the exception of the absence of some drunken and passionate kisses and some erotic scenes, it is very similar to the format of the Latin soap opera. Always with a happy, hopeful ending (it doesn’t matter if the husband beats his wife). But it felt like wasting so many beautiful people doing business as usual… Then when Netflix started making original Turkish productions, oh my God, things escalated to another level. First, there was no longer a need for two-hour episodes, because Netflix doesn’t have commercial breaks, and then, yes, there are still historical dramas, but Dizi’s stories have broadened their reach. spectrum to… well, vampires, thrillers, submarines, hitmen. and whatever comes to mind.

And Netflix took the opportunity to create original Turkish series that keep the same narrative lines and formulas (there is always a love triangle, family ties, etc.). After a distressing scientific investigation that led me to waste an insane number of hours of my life watching my gray hairs grow from anxiety and suffering, laughing and believing that despite everything, life should to be beautiful, whatever challenges we face, my love. will always prevail and even if we are poor… but, you know, sometimes you have to kill people… Sorry, I’ll recap: after watching too many episodes of several Turkish series, my brain is like a mix between a minefield and an island full of illusions and romance. Simply put, I think I’ve gone crazy.

Netflix offers an extensive Dizi catalog. And during my research, I watched a few limited series, and many episodes of various series; I will only cite a few, because I am not trying to review them, but to show the general panorama of the Dizi world and its discrepancies between the screen and reality within Islam. But I immersed myself in the following series: “Yakamoz S-245” (action/drama); “The Club” (drama); “Ethos” (drama/thriller); “Rise of Empires: Ottoman” (period drama); “Masum” (criminality); “50M²” (thriller); “Midnight at the Pera Palace” (period drama) and “Fatma”, which has everything you could imagine, murder, extreme violence, love, drama, more drama… more drama… suicides, sexual abuse and a terrible ending. Far from the original Dizi spirit.

What catches my attention is the number of female protagonists in Dizi. Before going into detail about women in Turkish series, we must mention the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, which is the Turkish government body that monitors and establishes censorship in films and series. Censorship is everywhere, especially when it comes to sex, alcohol and political topics.

But many shows present violence against women at truly extreme levels. Sure, then some of these women (the characters) are recovering from their trauma and blah blah blah. Although we shouldn’t be hypocrites and point the finger at Turks for the violence against women in Dizi dramas, because Hollywood has a long history of subjecting women to extremely gruesome beatings on the big and small screen. So if a Turkish woman’s partner pulls her hair by her hair because she wants to do things her way, well, that’s not so bad, is it?

However, there is also a false narrative when Turks say that their Dizi is different from Hollywood productions, because America only shows decadence… when the truth is that Dizi and Hollywood show the same thing in their own way.

But I take the example of the limited series “Fatma”; the protagonist is a poor cleaning lady who becomes a murderer and in doing so, the story seems to justify her actions and even give her power and the respect of the public… But absolutely all Muslims on planet Earth know very well what will happen to her arrive. , to a woman who would follow the path of this character. Actually, and again, when there are so many female protagonists and when there is so much emphasis on the fact that Turkish dramas differ from Hollywood in their approach to reality, well, certainly in some ways it’s true : when you show that all gender violence goes aside before novels, great empires and sumptuous settings and locations… We must remember the situation of violence against women in Turkey and the embarrassing rate of femicide which is the one of the highest in the world. A a study showed that between 2013 and 2021, 3,035 women were murdered, most of them by their husbands, partners, ex-husbands. Another study investigates the relationship between violence against women and possible influence of Turkish series.

And the truth is that I prefer to watch a series despised in Türkiye, Sex and the city. People criticize the series because it does not show reality but rather the emptiness of American society. But man, I’d rather see Carrie drunk or having sex… I think there’s more dignity in this content than in a mirage that hides a real, much darker hole in Dizi’s universe.

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