Conservative Art is Coming to a Theater Near You!
By: Ece Temelkuran
Published Friday, April 27, 2012
French writer Andre Malraux, during his time as the French Minister of Cultural Affairs once said, "The state is the servant of the theater.” Obviously this is just the opposite of what’s happening in Turkey and the theater is becoming the servant of the political authority – if not a propaganda tool – which is being used to create an even more conservative and obedient society.
Since last week, all the shows in Istanbul Municipal Theater have been and will continue to be selected by appointed bureaucrats of the municipality that is run by the AKP. A repertoire of "as the AKP likes it" is on its way. Obviously all the world will still be a stage, but not all the men and women will be merely players but rather a few of them will make it to the actual stage.
Over the past two weeks, Turkish media has been busy with a discussion concerning a rather insignificant but extremely critical change in the regulations of the Istanbul Municipal Theater. The theater is run with the support of the Municipality of Greater Istanbul which has a history dating back to 1914. The new regulation prevents art directors from having a say in the theater’s repertoire and hands all the artistic authority to bureaucrats of the municipality. As a result the plays will be selected by the vice general secretary of the municipality.
Moreover, there was a tiny addition to the article that regulates the duties of the administration of the municipal theater. It stipulates that apart from improving the aesthetic sensuality of the society, the administration is also responsible for assuring that the selected plays are "sensitive to the ethical values of the society." Which ethical values? Or rather, whose values? I think we all know the answer.
Following the implementation of these regulations, three members of the artistic administration board and the art director of the municipal theater resigned in protest. The actors and the actresses, the playwrights and the directors, and almost all the artistic staff of the municipal theater demonstrated against the regulations only to find out that the municipality has no intentions to step back.
Moreover, it has been said by the connoisseurs that all other AKP municipalities will adopt similar policies with local theaters. Since these theaters are autonomous by law, AKP could not have done it through general regulation but rather leave it to the municipalities to act on their own right.
So it is possible for us to assume that all Anatolia will be a stage for those shows selected according to some municipality vice general secretaries' personal (or rather political) taste. Even imagining the possibility of repertoires under the new regulations is enough to give a severe headache to those who spent their lives for theater.
The new regulation, as it is always, was justified by the government as a more "democratic way" to run the theaters. Of course. As for the "sensitivity toward the ethical values of the society" a new so-called public discussion was underway. Government supporters argued that a "conservative art" is possible, which prompted many artists to note that such a statement is an oxymoron.
In the midst of this new political move there is only one thing that is certain. AKP – as I wrote in one of my previous articles bearing the title "The Biomen Society" – is done with creating his own political individual and has now started to go in deep to reshape that very individual in their own aesthetics as well.
It is not hard to guess that theater in Turkey will no longer be a way to observe the character and the essence of the human being, but rather a tool to manufacture a new one: obedient, conservative, and uniformed. At least we now know that the theater will be a rather peaceful place, just like an Islamic calligraphy exhibition and most likely as inconsequential. Which is good... Which is good...
Ece Temelkuran is a political commentator, novelist and author of several books published in Turkish and English.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.