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Fight Scenes: Popular Culture as Battleground for Turkey's Identity Struggles

Fight Scenes author, Lisel Hintz of Johns Hopkins University, draws on Turkish media content and relevant commentary, to argue that pop culture forms such as films, TV shows, novels, and music serve as particularly effective platforms of identity production and contestation for regimes and those that challenge them.

Date & Time

Apr. 21, 2022
11:00am – 12:30pm ET




From Turkey’s “soft power” promotion of its soap operas to new Middle East audiences to its indictment of novelists for “insulting Turkishness” to its viral rap videos challenging the government’s vision for society, contemporary Turkey is ripe for analysis that links its many identity debates to popular culture. The content and context of entertainment media comprise a valuable window onto otherwise difficult-to-access debates about the complex roles identity plays in politics, from the everyday to the international. Rapid foreign policy reorientation, the politicization of Islam, opposition crackdown and resistance, and other identity-related shifts witnessed in Turkey pose significant puzzles that gain nuance and clarity when viewed through a pop culture lens. As the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidated its political power at home and reoriented foreign policy abroad in the 2000s, for example, its supporters also promoted a particularly conservative understanding of Turkishness through various forms of entertainment media. Concurrently, the party used formal and informal channels to marginalize and vilify competing proposals for Turkey’s identity, delineating onscreen and on the airwaves those who did and did not belong in the reality of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “New Turkey.” Despite these strident efforts to cultivate what I term “Ottoman Islamism,” strengthened by the AKP’s increasing grip on the requisite institutional and financial tools to do so, citizens opposed to this vision for Turkey’s society also turned to entertainment media to express their resistance, mock regime policies and actors, and bolster their own solidarity.


Fight Scenes examines these dynamics of inclusion, exclusion, and subversion through the lens of pop culture to provide unique and timely analysis of contemporary Turkey’s inter- and intrastate struggles over identity. Drawing from media content and relevant commentary, the book argues that pop culture forms such as films, TV shows, novels, and music serve as particularly effective platforms of identity production and contestation for regimes and those that challenge them. To structure its study, the book weaves insights from media and cultural studies as well as anthropology into three platforms or levels of analysis: geopolitics (e.g. O’Tuathail 1995, 2006; Dodds 2000, 2003; Yanık 2009); regime cultivation of the nation (e.g. Gerbner and Gross 1976; McQuail 2002; Abu-Lughod 2005; Çevik 2020); and opposition resistance (e.g. Hall 1981; Mitchell and Feagin 1995; Scott 1985, 1990). Organizing the study around these platforms helps parse out specific dynamics of how 1) states promote and police how their national identities are portrayed to various international audiences; 2) regimes and regime-friendly actors promote and police the national identity they seek to cultivate in domestic audiences as a platform of nation-building; 3) opposition actors can use pop culture forms as a creative platform for subverting regime authority, building solidarity, and mobilizing new support for their efforts. This framework also helps identify common points of inquiry on which scholars studying the politics of entertainment media in other cases can engage each other’s work and refine their own research questions. This book’s pop culture approach to analyzing state-society relations can thus serve as a touchstone moving conversations among scholars from various disciplines and regions forward, as well as offer a unique window onto these dynamics in the richly multifaceted case of Turkey.

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History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program makes public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, facilitates scholarship based on those records, and uses these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

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