Turkish musician sentenced to 4 years for parody video

Turkish musician and YouTuber Porçay has been sentenced to 4 years and 2 months in prison for a song he released which parodied the music of famous Turkish rapper Ezhel. Ezhel himself was arrested on 24 May 2018 and accused of “glorifying drug use” in his songs, but the case was dismissed a month later. Now Porçay has been given over 4 years for the same offence.

“YouTuber 'Porçay'a, who made a parody video, was sentenced to 4 years and 2 months in prison for 'encouraging drug use’!” said news website T24 while announcing the news.

The fact that Ezhel was acquitted from the same accusation which Porçay has now been sentenced to jail for perhaps shows the fact that Ezhel’s fame and the pressure his fans created on the judiciary resulted in his release. Being a much smaller artist, Porçay has not benefited from publicity or support, and so the judges have decided to throw the book at him.

That’s right, the guy who made the parody video gets four years, but the guy who he was parodying walked free because his case was generating bad publicity for the Turkish government. What does this say about the Turkish judiciary?

“Because of the parody of Ezhel that I made, the judge decided to sentence me to 4 years and 2 months in prison today,” Porçay himself said. "I still do not understand the reality of the event so it would not be right to talk about it, I will describe the process I went through in a video soon.”

The video which got Porçay in trouble is called “Ot İçiyorum”, or “I am smoking weed.” The lyrics of the song are silly and repetitive, and it is clearly not supposed to be seriously advocating smoking weed, but rather gently mocking people who might confuse being a pothead with a fully rounded personality. 

This is not the first time Ezhel’s lyrics and use of autotune have been parodied. Rapper Norm Ender famously mocked Ezhel’s success and love of cannabis in his Mekanın Sahibi track in 2019, rapping “Hey, hey, let’s go, Mary Jane, Mary Jane, what should we do? The owner of the venue is back, let’s take the babies off the track.”

Does the Turkish government not understand what a parody is? I think they probably do, but they are ideologically opposed to all cultural expression which is not in line with their moral values. Like the conservatives in Britain, who are concerned about “left wing academics” or “left wing comedy”, they hate the fact that while they control all the levers of power, they cannot control the culture at a grassroots level. So the answer is to ban it, to jail people, and intimidate the counterculture into silence.

In fact, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself seems to believe that organic culture is part of a conspiracy against Turkish values.

This should be put in a wider context in which the vast majority of the Turkish media landscape - upwards of 90 percent - is now controlled either directly or indirectly by the state, and the few expressions of overt resistance which are left are brutally attacked to the point where it is almost impossible to criticise the government without being concerned that someone will open a legal case against you.

Opposition newspaper BirGün has been targeted for their criticism of the government so much that they’ve resorted to a sarcastic cover to the newspaper which says “The Chief is a wonderful person!”

Since the Turkish government is so literal minded that they think parody videos are serious, my suggestion would be for all the opposition journalists in Turkey to couch their criticism of the government in exclusively sarcastic terms. They should go over the top in their praise, even, like the lyrics to this song about Erdoğan which was handed out for people at one of his rallies to sing.

There is something self-defeating about a government trying to control the culture of its people. Attacking Turkish musicians for writing parody songs seems likely to backfire, as it leads to negative press, and a growing grassroots support for ordinary people who are being bullied and persecuted just for saying something the government doesn’t like. 

Ironically, Erdoğan is making the same mistake that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, made when he tried to interfere in the cultural practices of average Turkish people. Where Atatürk shut down religious shrines, banned the fez, controlled the press and tried to fundamentally shift Turkish culture in the direction he wanted, it did not work. And now Erdoğan is trying the same thing, it will also not work, because you cannot coerce culture to be what you want it to be.

Did it stop Ezhel criticising the government when they put him in prison for a month? Of course not. Now he’s openly writing lyrics that criticise the President and posting them on social media. 

Culture is something that grows from the ground up. It is arrogance for any state to think they can control the culture of their people. Culture is like water, it moves around repression and violence and taunts the powerful with its weaknesses, that no matter how powerful the ruler, they can never control what their people think or feel.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.