Harmless Entertainment?

It’s been a long time since Hollywood worked with Washington to make films supportive of U.S. government policy. This happened during both world wars, but it ended with HUAC and Vietnam. And today, while some action films are still made with Defense Department help, the vast majority rely on stock villains—ruthless tycoons, corrupt politicians, power-mad generals—that would hardly pass muster with the Pentagon’s Office of Public Affairs.

Conservatives deplore this conspiratorial tendency, and so do I, especially when pondering the impression it makes overseas. But would it be better to have Hollywood devote its vast resources and talents to churning out propaganda useful to the regime? For a taste of what this might look like, consider the current state of action films in Turkey.

In 2006 a Turkish movie called Valley of the Wolves Iraq (Kurtlar Vadisi Irak) broke box office records in Turkey and did respectable business in 14 other countries, including Germany. It also, in the words of Turkish-German politician Cem Ozdemir, “portrays the Kurds … as puppets of the Americans and as a motley crew of dirty, cowardly soldiers”; U.S. troops as “attacking a wedding and killing the groom as well as a child—in front of its mother”; and “Christians and Jews … as repugnant, conspiratorial holy warriors.”

Valley of the Wolves Iraq begins with a re-enactment of the “Hood Event,” the July 2003 arrest of eleven Turkish soldiers by U.S. troops at the Turkish-Iraqi border and their display to the media as hooded, handcuffed “terrorists.” Many Turks were outraged by this insult, so it might be tempting to dismiss the film as payback and move on. But unfortunately, this kind of payback is now paying handsomely—not only in Turkey and Europe but also in the 22-nation Arab market.

In March I wrote about a Turkish soap opera that became hugely popular on the leading Arab TV channel, MBC. As it turns out, that love story was the exception not the rule. In 2009, a TV series called Separation (Ayrılık), caused an uproar by depicting Israeli soldiers wantonly killing Palestinians. In one scene, a Palestinian man holds a baby over his head, only to have it shot by the IDF. In another, an Israeli soldier spits on a fallen Palestinian youth, then approaches a young girl standing with her back to a wall, and with seeming satisfaction shoots her in the chest (click here).

When Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman complained about Separation, his counterpart, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, replied that the Turkish government was not responsible for the content of a TV series. But Separation was produced by TRT, the state-owned channel. And that government entity was also responsible for dubbing the series into Arabic and selling it to MBC, where it began airing last month.

The Valley of the Wolves films and TV series (of which there are several) are produced by a private company, Pana Film. In January one of these series, Valley of the Wolves Ambush (Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu), showed Mossad agents kidnapping Turkish babies at gunpoint. This sparked a confrontation between the Turkish ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, and Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon. (In a symbolic tit for tat, Ayalon humiliated Celikkol by making him wait for the appointment, then seating him on a sofa far below his own chair.)

I asked Pana Film whether there was any government involvement in the Valley of the Wolves franchise, and they wrote back: “Pana Film, the producer of the Kurtlar Vadisi series and films, is an independent commercial production company. We have no relevance with government agencies nor have any manipulations by anyone.”

I have no evidence to the contrary. But it’s striking to note that this private company will premier a new series this November, called Valley of the Wolves Palestine, which sounds a lot like the state-produced Separation. At best, it seems a fine line between Turkey’s government and its dream factory. And as Turkey reaches out to the larger Middle East, the dreams it is purveying look a lot like hate propaganda.

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