Cablegate: The New Eu? Arranging Marriages On Turkish

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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (u) Summary: With Turkey on the verge of receiving a
historic invitation on December 17 to begin membership
negotiations, Europe is seized with the question of whether
Turkey is sufficiently "European." Religion and economic
disparities aside, Turkish television provides a window into
some key cultural differences. Television fare here largely
tracks with the offerings available in the U.S. and Europe --
romantic and dramatic serials, popstar competitions,
melodramatic soap operas. Over the past few years Turkey has
also adopted the latest western television craze, reality
television, but has given it a uniquely Turkish twist. End

2. (u) According to Sinevizyon, the leading local producer of
reality television programs, the trend started here with the
wholesale adoption of the "Big Brother" format. With only a
few minor changes (installing private dressing rooms,
single-sex bedrooms, and a few behavior rules), Sinevizyon
has had five seasons of highly-rated programs. The dating
and marriage shows, however, have not translated into Turkish
culture as easily. Sinevizyon's Pelin Akat admitted that
they bombed with a show based on supermodels and with another
which tried to help couples resolve their interpersonal
problems. This season, however, Sinevizyon has scored their
biggest hit, "Will You Be My Bride?," by creating a radically
different format.

3. (u) In "Bride," 5 mothers and 10 would-be daughters-in-law
live in the same house (Big Brother-style -- very little
privacy, on-screen 24 hours a day). Each week the
most-popular contestant (as determined by call-in votes)
earns the right to vote off another. Effectively, the
mothers screen the daughters as potential brides for their
sons, who live in a separate house and occasionally interact
with the women, but have no real input in choosing their
partners. Instead of a prize check, contestants compete for
100,000 euros in gold coins sitting on the coffee table of
the studio house (Note: Such coins are traditional,
ubiquitous wedding gifts in Turkey. End Note). This is
reality television Turkish-style.

4. (u) The format has broad appeal in a society where a large
percentage of couples are still matched by some form of
arranged marriages or, at the very least, must seek parental
approval for their fiances. Turkish audiences particularly
relate to the empowered, even domineering, mothers. "Mom,
why did you vote off Aysegul? I love her!," asked one son.
His mother responded, "Love?! You don't know what love is!
I'll tell you when you're in love." Traditional Turkish
society continues to put its sons on pedestals, leading
audiences to sympathize with the girls who have trouble
"measuring up." One of the mothers offered her more modest
underwear to a girl wearing a g-string; the same girl later
saw her reputation in the house plummet briefly when she was
falsely accused of having previously worked as a belly

5. (u) One of the most popular and successful television
programs in Turkey's history, "Bride" will air its season
finale on December 18. Having racked up 30 percent daily
ratings and as high as 50 percent on the weekend call-in vote
episodes, "Bride" is the most widely-watched and discussed
reality television show in Turkey to date. It is also showing
on Turkish affiliates in Europe. Although Sinevizyon has no
details on viewership in Europe, they claim that a previous
(and less successful) program which also allowed viewers in
Europe to call in their votes recorded more votes from the
European audience than it did from the audience in Turkey.

6. (u) Comment: "Bride's" depiction of the Turkish family,
the dominant role that mothers play, and the influence they
wield over their children seems at odds with the more modern
values common in Europe today. Akat told us, however, that
two major European reality television producers may soon
purchase the rights to market similar formats in Europe.
Perhaps American and European mothers are just as influential
(albeit more subtle) in family life as Turkish mothers. In
any case, the EU may not have to wait for Turkey's accession
to begin absorbing some of its values.

© Scoop Media

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