- “Beam Me up, Ömer”:Transnational Media Flow and the Cultural Politics of the Turkish Star Trek Remake
While subjected peoples cannot readily control what emanates from the dominant culture, they do determine to varying extents what they absorb into their own, and what they use it for.—Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation
In the recent Turkish sci-fi comedy G.O.R.A. (2005), writer/star Cem Yilmaz thoroughly lampoons many of the Americentric traditions of Hollywood science fiction. After the film opens on a space station in which all the characters are speaking English, one character points out the anomaly, pleading, "Can we not have it in Turkish?" Indeed, Turkish turns out to be the galactic lingua franca in this narrative, with everyone—including the alien races—conversing in the Turkish language and using Turkish lira to trade. It is not America that has colonized the people's consciousness—to paraphrase those infamous words of Wim Wenders—but Turkey. This pointed inversion of the U.S. bias in Hollywood science fiction narratives, however, is balanced with an obvious affection for said films, with the film also offering loving homages to such iconic U.S. films as Star Wars (1977) and The Matrix (1999).
This tension between oppositional critique and mimetic reverence illustrates one of the many layers of ambivalence that lie at the heart of transnational processes of cultural exchange. While the film undoubtedly offers a critique of the Americentrism in science fiction narratives, it also draws upon and imitates elements from those same cultural products. Indeed, this is a relationship that can be traced throughout much of Turkish cinematic history, most evidently in those cycles of popular cinema from the 1960s and 1970s that are known within Turkey as Yesilçam. Steeped within what Nezih Erdogan terms "mimicry beyond innocent inspiration" (166), these films self-consciously appropriated elements from U.S. popular culture, often taking characters, plots, and music and recontextualizing them within films produced in the local industry. These ranged from unlicensed remakes in which stories were translated for local audiences, such as in ¸Seytan (Satan, 1974), which follows the basic premise of The Exorcist (1973), albeit with the Catholic iconography replaced with that of Islam, to films such as Dünyayi kurtaran adam (The Man Who Saves the World, 1982), in which footage from Star Wars (1977) was appropriated and used as special effects sequences in a wholly unrelated narrative.
These processes of cultural hybridization reflect what Marwan M. Kraidy describes in his recent Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalization in that they represent globalization not as a unitary one-way process of cultural homogenization but as an interstitial process through which cultures borrow from and interact with each other. Nevertheless, while these examples point to the hybridizing nature of cultural exchange, this does not mean that we should neglect the fact that these processes of hybridization are highly contingent on structural factors. As Kraidy argues, while most analyses of globalization that focus solely on cultural imperialism tend to overemphasize the structural factors of economic power and dominance, and most analyses that focus on processes of hybridization tend to offer a politically benign vision of diversity, an alternative framework that he terms "critical transculturalism" would pay attention to the hybridizing nature of cultural exchange and yet still retain the broader concerns of cultural imperialism around unequal power distribution (9). In this article I utilize this framework of critical transculturalism to explore Turkish appropriations of American popular culture, looking specifically at how Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda (Tourist Ömer in Star Trek, 1974), the film more commonly referred to within Western fan culture as the "Turkish Star Trek," reconfigures [End Page 3] and recontextualizes the world of Star Trek.1 Rather than see this unlicensed remake as a derivative plagiarism of the earlier TV series, I position Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda within wider debates on the transnational flows of media and the overlapping, intersecting nature of cultural production. Opposing the essentialist positions that envision cultures as "pure" and under threat of being tainted by the "other," I intend this model of transcultural exchange to draw attention to the intricate...