I have a suggestion for a new way to measure power and influence – the TV melodrama index. Turn on a television in Bogota or Asuncion and you’ll probably find much of the schedule taken over by Mexican and Brazilian soap operas, full of shaky scenery and impressive moustaches (I gather Latin American telenovellas have also penetrated the Russian market). In Africa, it’s the Nollywood film – rapid turnaround films churned out with multinational casts (and a lot of shouting) in Lagos. And in a growing swathe of Eurasia, from the West Bank to the Gobi Desert, families settle down each night to catch up on the latest episode in endless series of Turkish soap operas.
Forget BRICS and G20s – the real measure of rising power virility is to broadcast absurd plotlines to glowing television screens across a swathe of this planet.
I am guessing that I’ll have to work a bit more on this idea before it’s truly viable, but the kernel of a good idea is here. I came across the growing influence of Turkish TV soaps when working with my colleague Dimitar Bechev on this article, written just as we were publishing ‘What does Turkey think?’ Dimitar used the soap operas to demonstrate the growth of Turkey’s soft power, and its burgeoning regional influence – the precise issues that ‘What does Turkey think?’ tries to investigate, by pulling together a selection of penetrating essays by authors from inside Turkey itself.
Dimitar and I also talked a lot about the recent elections – here is a podcast that I recorded with him picking apart what the results mean for Mr Erdogan and his ambitions for renovating the creaking Turkish constitution. The big challenge ahead for Mr Erdogan and his AK Party is to balance these ambitions – in the face of increasingly credible political opposition – while keeping a keen eye on sustaining the economic success that has underpinned AKP popularity.
Next to the sclerotic European economy, Turkish growth rates nudging 10% (to accompany the tentacle-like reach of those TV soap operas) have allowed Ankara to carve out a confident role as a rising regional power. Links to the European economy have helped, but Turkey is no longer sitting patiently in the limbo of an EU waiting room. The economy, however, may now be overheating, and tinkering with something that is an evident success is always a real political challenge, perhaps comparable to overhauling a winning football team before any decline is able to set in.
Understanding these and other issues from an insider’s view, of course, is at the core of ‘What does Turkey think?’ Have a read and let us know what you think. In the meantime here’s something for your Friday afternoon – a new take on Latin American soap operas from a British programme The Fast Show (NB probably not to everybody's taste...).
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