TURKEY: Losers’ Club (Kaybedenler Kulübü, 2011)


The Losers of Turkish Cinema

by Neal Franklin

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Thank you.

Karl Marx, premature ejaculation, and leek recipes are all topics that the movie Kaybedenler Kulübü tackles. This is the first video source I utilize for this essay and originates from Turkey. This film, based on a true story, follows the rise of a controversial radio station in the 90’s from Istanbul. The two hosts of the radio show grapple with what they should and should not say on the radio. This often involves weighing risks between getting shutdown or encouraging more listenership. The two hosts, Mete and Kaan, also struggle with how the show affects their relationship with the people around them. The film circulated first around Turkey, and then spread to Europe shortly after ().

The second source a video taken with a phone of the performance art piece Faust by Anne Imhof. The piece attempts to convey several messages, most importantly it points out people’s expectation of how people should act by violating them. Cultural norms are violated through infringement on people’s personal space, noises, and strange movements. Faust debuted in the Venice Biennale Festival in the German Pavilion. The piece went on to win the Golden Lion, the highest award at the festival (Steer).

The reason that these two pieces are placed together in the video essay is to show the difference between western art and Turkish censorship. On the one hand, Kaybedenler Kulübü the radio show was censored, while Faust receives awards for the controversies it tackles. Turkey has a policy of strict political censorship that is not present in the rest of Europe.  In Turkey “every Turkish film must obtain a certificate of registration from the Ministry of Culture for commercial distribution” (Kuyas). Blood, political dissident ideas, and excessive sexual expressions are some of the things often censored by the government in Turkey. In the rest of Europe, no such approval is required from the government. The state of censorship in Europe is such that in the case of Turkish director Kazim Öz, “European screens have often been the first outlets for Öz’s films, primarily because of political censorship of his work in Turkey” (Kocer). This kind of censorship is notably absent from Faust which consistently aims to create discomfort through the violation of societal and cultural norms.

However, the movie Kaybedenler Kulübü passes censorship restrictions in Turkey in a way that the radio show of the same name did not. This raises the question: Why was this film allowed to pass through Turkish censors when it discusses ideas in opposition to the government? In thinking about this question, I have developed several possible answers.

Firstly, that the medium of the screen itself allows for distancing from the actual events and controversy. By watching both Kaybedenler Kulübü and Faust on a screen the audience is removed from the event. An audience listening to the radio show while in Turkey or in the crowd at the Venice Biennale has a different experience than one that views the performance from their couch. The gaze of the audience allows for some level of comfort because they are not being actively confronted. An audience viewing a video is not likely to face the same consequences as they would by listening to the radio broadcast within Turkey or a building with aggressive performers. The level of confrontation is not conveyed through the screen appropriately. The watered-down effect of filming in this case is one of the possible reasons that this was allowed to circulate. Act I explores how the gaze of the audience is made to be comfortable through the removed medium of film. Act II aims to bring the discomfort to the viewer as much as possible.

Secondly, the historical nature of the film allows the film to displace some of its accountability onto the historical event. The film was written by Mehmet Ada Öztekin, who experiences many of these events first hand (“Mehmet Ada Öztekin.”). The movie would be considered acceptable because it is the radio show that is controversial and not the movie. This is explored throughout the video essay by discussing the story and chronology of the movie.

The third possibility is that the movie itself was self-censored. Filmmaker Esra Saydam notes that liberal filmmakers or radio hosts “feel enormous pressure for self-censorship” (Kuyas). There is a possibility that stronger language that was left out of the film to avoid potential confrontations with the censors. The reasons for censorship are often arbitrary so this is hard to predict. In Act III this is explored through the discussions with the producer of the show. Meanwhile, Faust is receiving positive reviews and is not censored in Europe. This shows the difference between Turkey and the rest of Europe in terms of free expression.

Finally, I hypothesize that the existence of this film serves as a lesson to Turkish citizens and other artists. The character of Turkish censorship is such that censorship is only becoming stricter under the leadership of President Erdogan (CBC News). More artists will likely be censored as time goes on. In the film the characters Kaan and Mete are both punished for their controversial statements. Their experience is similar to the experiences that other artists have had. Kazim Öz for example, was initially granted leeway to create a film. However, after a scene that depicted a battle between government forces and a Kurdish population, his permit was revoked. (Kuyas). Artists are punished for subversive work and this film plays a role in accepting that reality. This is explored in Act IV by looking at the characters and the end of their stories in a fabricated ending reminiscent of American films with happier endings. The title of Kaybedenler Kulübü in English is Losers Club. Because of the consequences that artists face for controversial films they, in effect, lose. This film may have been allowed to circulate because it serves to further the government’s policy of censorship.

This essay compares the censorship of Turkey to western art and explores all the possible reasons for why Kaybedenler Kulübü was allowed to circulate in Turkey. There is no one single answer to this topic, but the questions posed here are important to consider.


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