Special Section: Dizi: forms, contexts, and
circulation of Turkish television
New directions in
Turkish television dramas
by Baran Germen
In the aftermath of the two massive earthquakes hitting southeast Turkey on February 6, 2023, with devastating ongoing impact in and beyond the country, a nationwide civil initiative instantly took the lead in rescue and aid efforts. As a result of the Turkish state’s long delayed initial response to the catastrophe, which later also proved inadequate vis-a-vis its magnitude, constituents of civil society –civilians, businesses, organizations, etc.–unhesitatingly rushed to the region to give a hand to those in need. The dizi  [open notes in new window] sector too became a part of this collective action of spontaneous voluntarism, and not only with its popular actors and actresses’ active participation on the ground or publicity campaigns on social and conventional media. In a period of national grief when all TV channels overhauled their programming, halting the broadcasting of dizis for almost a month, dizi production companies lent their equipment at the service of the rescuers for rubble removal in the earthquake zone. What once served as technologies facilitating filming for TV was thus repurposed as a vital instrument to save lives in times of emergency.
This infrastructural transformation is a striking instance of the various, complex ways in which dizi gets entangled in civic life in Turkey. The essays in this section pursue dizi’s entanglements in the local with attention not just to its social life but to its aesthetic, generic, political, and industrial significance as well. Departing from prevalent approaches to dizi primarily as a cultural product of transnational exchange and consumption, this special section explores dizi as a form of televisual seriality in its local context through the prism of media and TV studies. This shift in focus and disciplinary approach, however, does not suggest the dismissal of the transnationality of dizi as a media object. Rather, the privileging of the local allows us to expand on the conventional formulations of dizi’s global popularity. Essays extend examination of dizi in the contexts of melodrama, quality TV and detective genre, as well as social media channels of the Turkish state and online streaming. In conversation with concepts and theories from these subfields of study, the section invites a rethinking of dizi in novel territories with implications for its transnationality at the same as it uses dizi as a global form to call into question some of the disciplinary tenets and premises of media studies.
In addition to the primacy of the local, the essays in this section diverge from the dominant trends and methods found in the scholarship on dizi with their shared emphasis, albeit to varying degrees, on the analyses of specific examples of the form. Dizi’s ever-growing commercial success and popularity in the world since the beginning of the second decade of the new millennium indeed garnered due scholarly interest. Marwan M. Kraidy and Omar Al-Ghazzi’s pioneering collaborations on dizi’s reception in the Middle East paved the way for the outburst of scholarship focusing on its transnational itineraries in various national and regional contexts. The allure of their conceptual offering, “Neo-Ottoman cool,” has led to the conception of dizi as a media import negotiated by agents within various national and regional contexts. In addition to this vein of work from communication, audience, and cultural studies, industrial, political-economy, and ethnographic studies of dizi resulted in monographs, conferences, and workshops, cementing its place in the curricula of higher education classes in and outside of Turkey alike.
In the extant models of scholarship, dizi form and its relation to content are, to a large extent, addressed indirectly as secondary to, or the consequence of, external factors–be it the site of reception (the audience, fans, public, authorities, etc.) or market dynamics–in assessments of its cultural, social, political, and market import and impact. Despite methodological and theoretical distinctions, the authors of the section form the first collection of essays that build their investigations of dizi’s textual, generic, historical, and social entanglements in the local on the recognition of dizi primarily as a cultural form. As such, these essays take seriously the question of form and content by either centering on specific dizi or using them as case studies in pursuit of unforeseen linkages, promising not only to diversify the field but to invite further inquiries into the study of dizi.
In the essay that opens the section, I present an infrastructural lens to explore dizi aesthetics taking the cue from the principal mode of dizi production, location shooting, in the context of the literature on the melodramatic mise-en-scene. Focusing specifically on the historic waterfront mansions, yalıs, used as the prime setting in domestic dramas, “The Yalı Mise-en-Scene and Frontality: An Infrastructural Take on Dizi Aesthetics” builds a theoretical framework to examine the textual codes and visual formulas of dizi aesthetics with implications beyond this genre. What I name as the aesthetics of frontality asks that we consider the dizi form in relation to a long history of architectural form, urban culture, and popular imaginary that dates to the Ottoman late seventeenth century.
While the dizi Aşk-ı Memnu helps me bring to life the frontality of dizi aesthetics, the next contribution to the section provides a holistic look at the extended but interrupted screen life of Behzat Ç. over twelve years from broadcast television to online streaming. Through Şebnem Baran’s lens, the series provides a window into the shifting political atmosphere and media ecology in Turkey as she shows how the tension between, on the one hand, social demands for, and on the other, political pressures against the continuation of the series, results in the transformation of Behzat Ç. in the direction of the absurd that ends up on a VOD platform. Baran’s detailed survey of the series carefully lays out the challenges the dizi poses to the norms and standards of the detective genre as well as quality TV while linking the televisual surge in the mode of the absurd–expressed mainly in the genre of black comedy and through characterization–with the political reality in Turkey. In this respect, “The Many Lives of Behzat Ç.: Transformation of the Text and its Context of Production” can be said to open avenues of inquiry into the increasing popularity of dizis of court drama as well as those with scripts based on actual accounts of psychologists like Gülseren Budayıcıoğlu.
Lastly, in “Extreme Dizi-ness: Stretching the Bounds of Genre in (New?) Turkish Television,” Josh Carney expands our understanding of the dizi genre by taking an incisive snapshot of the shifting media ecology. Carney specifically studies the new shapes and forms dizi takes in two distinct emergent media formats as a paratext: the Turkish state agencies’ social media video production and the serials of the VOD platforms. Through an analysis of the modes of storytelling as well as the encoded messages, Carney maps two opposing trajectories–conservative and dissident–for the evolution of the dizi genre in these venues at a moment of increased activity in the media policies of the Turkish state. On the one hand, dizi lends itself as a rich aesthetic and affective resource to government propaganda, and, on the other, it equally resourcefully serves for resistant politics in its new life on online streaming. Marking a change of direction from Carney’s important earlier work on the historical genre, the essay provides an insightful reconceptualization of dizi at a moment of change in a productive dialogue with media theory.
The trajectories Carney charts out for the future of dizi signal the ongoing contestations in Turkey, paralleled in other national contexts, which these essays engage as global streamers–Disney, Netflix, etc.–enter local markets as producers of local content that circulates transnationally. The growing regulatory control of the Turkish state in the media market as well as the emergence of native VODs like BluTV point to continued salience of the local and national frames of analysis that make dizi a distinct form. On behalf of all the contributors, I extend my thanks to Jump Cut, especially Julia Lesage, for their support in the making of this section. Various stages of the making of this journal were seriously affected by the social and psychological impact of a devastating tragic regional disaster and a fervent two-round presidential election. The flexibility and understanding shown at the time not only made this section possible but also allowed for a sequel to follow this section–I encourage potential authors to contact me. We hope that the essays will usefully add to the existing scholarly interest in dizi by inviting new approaches to the form.
2. The list of the equipment offered includes: “trailers, portable toilets, lighting, heaters, raincoats, generators, and batteries.” My own translation. “TRT ve yapım şirketlerinin film ve dizi setlerinden deprem bölgesine teçhizat yardımı,” NTV, February, 08, 2023, https://www.ntv.com.tr/amp/n-life/kultur-ve-sanat/trtnin-film-ve-dizi-setlerinden-deprem-bolgesine-techizat-yardimi,nnj5gI4xk0SbgVxdaYwMuA.
3. See Marwan M. Kraidy and Omar Al-Ghazzi, “Neo-Ottoman Cool: Turkish Popular Culture in the Arab Public Sphere,” Popular Communication 11, no 1 (2013), 17-29 and Marwan M. Kraidy and Omar Al-Ghazzi, “Neo-Ottoman Cool 2: Turkish Nation Branding and Arabic-Language Transnational Broadcasting,” International Journal of Communication 7 (2013), 2341-2360.
4. Especially noteworthy examples are the workshop, “The Turks are Coming! The Popular Outreach of Turkish TV Series,” organized at the Leiden University between December 6 and 10, 2021 as well as the first monograph printed on the subject in English, Arzu Öztürkmen, The Delight of Turkish Dizi.