Camera Obscura 15.2 (2000) 105-148
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Turkish Cinema in the New Europe:
Visualizing Ethnic Conflict in Sinan Çetin's Berlin in Berlin
The Turkish media landscape underwent sweeping changes in the 1990s, the result of peripatetic shifts in political regimes and cultural norms within Turkey as well as of rapid technological advances and the decentralization of Turkish broadcasting from the exclusive state monopoly Turkiye Radio and Televiz- yon (TRT) into private and commercial industries. Within a free- market context, radio and television networks now find themselves competing not only for domestic Turkish audiences but also for the attention of wider European populations variously invested in cultural, ethnic, economic, or religious aspects of the broader Turkish "imagined community" that exceeds the nation's geographical borders. This essay assesses the implications of these developments for film production, taking as its point of departure the Turkish filmmaker Sinan Çetin, whose work offers substantive material for those preoccupied with the parame- ters of national cinema within an evolving pan-European con- text. The thematic content of his most recent Turkish-German [End Page 105] coproduction, Berlin in Berlin (1993), 1 especially invites exploration by German studies scholars seeking to determine the contours of national cultural production as they take shape in confrontation with various vectors of identity. In assessing this particular film's capacity to provoke viewers of different cultural positionalities (most particularly German, Turkish, and bicultural) to come to terms with the ultimately discursive and therefore perpetually contested nature of ethnic identity, my own investigation is informed by current debates on postcolonial identity politics, by spectatorship studies, and by neo-Gramscian cultural analysis. In this latter regard, such an undertaking traces a path parallel to Marcia Landy's recent reevaluation of the writings of political theorist Antonio Gramsci, in which she revives his discussion of the "Southern Question" in the context of the current shift in media attention from an east-west to a north-south axis and reassesses his expiations on the political nature of folklore and "common sense" as expressed through popular culture, and most especially, the filmic medium. 2
The theoretical ground for the ensuing discussion of the Turkish-German cultural exchange originates in cultural studies, as it affords a more differentiated way of looking at the complex relationship between ideology, text, and the various subcommunities popular opinion has begun to acknowledge as irreversibly constitutive of unified Germany. As one German studies scholar, David Bathrick, has maintained, "The designation of cultural studies has tended to stake out an area of conflict concerning the very meaning and relation of text and context, representation and the represented, cultural production and the world in which such production takes place." 3 Accordingly, my own discussion addresses Çetin's film less as a coherent entity to be analyzed with- in the context of secondary mediated phenomena and attempts rather to explore the various and conflicting spectatorial positionings structured into the film as sites where knowledge is not only organized but, in fact, constituted through its reception. Such a line of reasoning provides the conditioning logic behind my preoccupation from within the Anglo-American academic enterprise of German cinema studies with the work of a Turkish [End Page 106] director himself preoccupied with Turkish emigrés living in Berlin. This project is relational in nature, operating across the mutual divide of cultural and gendered differences that constitute its epistemological ground.
Built upon the reformulation of Marxist social thought in the writings of French structuralist Louis Althusser in the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as upon renewed interest in Antonio Gramsci's prison notebooks, the heuristic premises of cultural studies offer a means to investigate ethnicity not as a fixed cat- egory pertaining to natural or essential differences, but rather as referring to provisional identities and attendant inequalities of power necessarily considered in their historical specificity. 4 Althusser's theories about ideological configurations within society, outlined in his "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," have mapped a well-trodden path within any number of schol- arly articles...