The average Turkish voter and Fırıldak ailesi
On Sunday, 31 March, Turkey is once more going to the ballot box, this time for local elections. Like all the other elections in recent years, whether presidential, parliamentary, or mayoral, it’s as if the whole country were enveloped in a sense of coming to the end.
When it looks like the government may lose an election, there are claims of insidious hostile powers trying to break Turkey into pieces, and if it’s the opposition losing, they say the country is on the brink of bankruptcy and the incumbent government cannot save it. For voters, there are very few resources to help them understand which side is right, or what they are promising, or even the differences between them because it seems like a good part of the media is working for a government office.
It is at this point, when the best candidate is revealed, that the nature of Turkish people comes into play. One TV show that best describes what the Turkish electorate is like is the animated series Fırıldak Ailesi (Fırıldak Family), which aired between 2013 and 2016. Produced by Varol Yaşaroğlu and made by Grafi2000, the show’s slogan is “If the word stops, they turn.” It’s also Turkey’s first animated TV programme made for an adult audience.
Briefly, the cartoon is about the father, Sabri Fırıldak, his wife Yıldız, his three children (Zeki, Afet, and Tosun), and Dürdane, the grandmother. There are a ton of references to Turkish and American pop culture in the show. They weren’t able to find a channel that would broadcast even one season, so they aired it on YouTube instead. All of the seasons (with English subtitles) can still be found on YouTube.
First, I should clarify that Fırıldak Ailesi reflects both government-supporting and opposition voters because the family’s characteristics, the way they react to various situations, and what happens to them is exactly based on the average Turkish family. Of course, some things are exaggerated, but there is nothing out of the ordinary for a cartoon.
For example, in the first episode, when Sabri Fırıldak gets angry about some workers going on strike, he resembles a pro-government voter in every way. After that, as a result of a brain injury, he becomes the leader of the workers and almost brings the government to its knees, which is a comical reflection of Turks’ image of themselves that they can be successful at anything anytime they want.
These days, it’s as though voters do not take action out of their own self-interest but out of fear of getting into trouble, and in the end, they are satisfied with the results and go about their lives. However, no one is thanking anyone for bringing this change about, and on top of that, they still believe people who do want change are being “divisive.”
Since the local elections are on today’s agenda, I have to touch on the “Muhtar Adam” (Neighbourhood Representative) episode of Fırıldak Ailesi. Aired on YouTube in 2014, this episode is about Sabri Fırıldak finding out that neighbourhood representatives can make a lot of money, so he decides to run for that office. Within a short time, Sabri edges into first place in the polls, so the incumbent neighbourhood representative and his team start a smear campaign against him. To retaliate, Sabri and his team make a video of the incumbent talking to a bank cashier, which they then dub over and start showing in the neighbourhood cafés, calling it a sex tape. One person in a café doesn’t believe this, and all the others try to beat him up, saying that television wouldn’t lie.
What is unsaid in this episode is that the belief in whatever’s on television was, until perhaps a few years ago, one of Turkey’s starkest realities. When the Prime Minister or a government official said something on TV, a majority of the public accepted their words as true without really thinking about it. And of course, a sex tape scandal is one of the most widely known incidents in the recent history of Turkish politics. In 2010, a video was posted on the Internet that claimed to be of the main opposition party leader, Deniz Baykal, which led to his resignation as party leader. This wasn’t the first time we’d seen this type of campaign.
Still, at the end of the episode, Dürdane, the family matriarch sort of speaks to the public by breaking the fourth wall and saying, “How wretched you all are! Do you honestly believe all of this? Are you really swallowing all of this? Are you taken in by these games? You’re a partner in this depravity, you!” Her words are still valid today.
Fırıldak Ailesi is often reminiscent of the Simpsons and Family Guy, and sometimes even South Park, which is expected because it’s perfectly natural for Turkey’s first adult cartoon to be influenced by these shows. But the Fırıldaks are actually nothing like the Simpsons or the Griffins—they are a Turkish family through and through, which will be obvious to anyone who watches an episode or two. On top of that, despite how many years have passed since it was made, the topics on the show are still relevant today.
In light of the current elections, the episode “Zeki Başkan” (Zeki the President /The Clever President) from the second season would be especially entertaining if you can find the time to watch it. On April 23rd (National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, a public holiday in Turkey), Zeki sits in the President’s chair, and the office somehow passes onto him. Given the similarities to what we’re witnessing today, it’s deeply tragicomic when he fields questions from the press, causes a crisis at an international summit, and tries to change the constitution in order to declare himself President for life.
However this weekend’s election turns out, and even though no one knows what will happen after, Turkish voters will, despite everything, go on with their individual lives, just like the Fırıldaks. Whether they supported the winning candidate or not, their lives aren’t going to change very much. As the members of the Fırıldak family, Turkish voters will continue to dream and face similar sorts of problems, but they will never change their ways. Still, they’ll come together in the most difficult of circumstances; they’ll protect each other’s rights and support each other because for families in Turkey, no matter how much they argue or how different their opinions are, everyone knows they will come together in difficult times, just like the Fırıldak family.