Is it possible to depict Erdoğan as a cartoon character?
Comedian, writer and talk show host Stephan Colbert, who is also known as one of the toughest critics of United States President Donald Trump, began producing a satirical animated series called “Our Cartoon President” in 2017 – mocking Trump and his cabinet, advisors and family members.
“Our Cartoon President” is a political comedy that is highly critical of the Trump administration but it also does not curry favour with anyone else. In general, although the series mostly slams Trump and his family members, from time to time, it also pokes fun at figures such as the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and the leaders of the Democratic Party.
A show like this is now unthinkable in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not tolerate even the slightest criticism. During a time when prosecutors and judges take immediate action against critiques, “Our Cartoon President” pushes people to think differently.
We used to have similar television programmes in Turkey. The 1990s programme “Plastip Show” did not hesitate to criticise the country’s political figures by animating them using plastic puppets. Even Kenan Evren, known as the architect of the 1980 coup and the post-coup president, featured in the show, and he was also criticised like other Turkish leaders.
Similarly, a programme called “Class of Leaders” in the 1990s starred kids impersonating leading politicians of the day, often in quite a scabrous manner. In one episode, the Islamist Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan was even depicted as being drunk.
It is now highly unlikely that any programme would dare to attempt that kind of criticism of Erdoğan. The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) would either close down the channel, or if it was on an online platform the site would be banned.
However, neither the United States nor Turkey, back then in the 1990s, was disturbed by these kinds of programmes. Such criticism, and even tougher ones, was not considered to be a threat. Those who perceive them as dangerous are mostly autocratic leaders or dictators.
Trump's children have been criticised in “Our Cartoon President”. For example, Eric Trump is depicted as the dumbest one in the family. Ivanka, on the other hand, fawns over her brand rather than taking care of her kids. First Lady Melania Trump is mostly depicted as bitterly struggling in her relationship with her husband
But in Turkey, neither Bilal Erdoğan can be criticised like Eric Trump nor Sümeyye Erdoğan as Ivanka Trump. It is rarely seen that First Lady Emine Erdoğan has been ridiculed, except for in a few cartoons.
The lack of political satire not only works for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also is in favour of other political parties as their perspective is often not so different from the AKP on some points.
So while it is very hard to criticise Erdoğan and his inner circle and any attempt might lead one to end up in court or jail, the opposition parties' silence over similar attempts to stifle freedom of expression among their party bases is also disappointing. As a result, even if power changed hands in Turkey, it seems that those who might replace the current political elite could just behave in a similar way.
Perhaps a revival of political satire in Turkey could be done through first caricaturing and satirising opposition figures, so that at some point in the future it could be extended to satirising the people around Erdoğan, even if it might still be hard to include the president himself in such programmes.
Erdoğan will never allow anybody to depict him in such satirical programmes, because he aims to sacralise himself as the national leader after his death. However, history never gives that sanctity to such oppressive leaders.
© Ahval English
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.