19/10/2012

Sex, Crimes and Videotape


News sites illustrate their 'sex pieces' with images of foreign pornstars, or stock images of scantily-clad women with their faces blurred-out, wilfully ignoring Turkish porn stars like Sibel Kekilli (above) and Şahin K. (below).
Sex, Crimes and Videotape: Porn in Turkey

Sex is on my mind of late. I take as much personal responsibility for this as any testosterone-producing organism, but in my defence, it is quite impossible to escape its ever-presence in today's society, is there? 

Sex is a truly omnipresent psychological force. For example, today's most read article on HaberTürk was nothing to do with the recent Syrian crisis or BDP controversy, but the death of 70s porn star Sylvia Kristel - better known as Emmanuelle. And if that seems surprising, it shouldn't be. Last week Milliyet's celebrity section had the fantastic headline "We fucked like Kenyan Marathon runners" - an intriguing article about American actress Oliva Wilde, which included my favourite quote of the day: "It was as if my vagina was dead", regarding her fling with someone or other.

Our preoccupation with sex is satiated every moment of the day, from TV advertising, to university coursework assignments and public trials.

Ah, hang on, actually that last example might just be Turkey. Allow me to explain...

This week, two former students of Bilgi University, Deniz Özgün and Elif Şafak Urucu (who from now on will be known as D.Ö and E.Ş.U, out of respect to Turkish press traditions), are awaiting the verdict of a trial which could land them in jail for as long as four years, for having shot and produced an unadventurously-titled porno called "The Porn Project", as the final project for their degree in Communications. 

The filming took place in January 2011, and received the lowest possible grading by the professor who apologetically cited its poor technical quality. However, this wasn't enough, and the university then decided to fire three members of staff, only tenably linked to the incident - including an engineering professor. This ignited mass protests by students on campus (shown on the left) last year.

Now things have gone much further, and almost two years after the original incident both students have been indicted by the Istanbul Republic Prosecution group on obscenity charges for having shot the film within the university campus - a public space.

I've learnt two Turkish legal terms today. The first one, stehcenlik, means "obscenity" and is enshrined in article 226/4 of the Turkish Penal Code, the second one, ahlaka mugayir, although translated as "raunchy", actually means "immoral" or "contra bonos mores", to use the legalese. This word was contained in the public indictment against D.Ö and E.Ş.U in court this week, leading some to question if it is "illegal to make a porno in this country?"

On the Rise or Flopping Under Pressure
Turkish Porn in a Historical Context

Pornography in Turkey is a murky issue, and one constantly liable to change. The first hardcore porn film was produced in 1976, Öyle Bir Kadın Ki, but the subsequent wave was halted after the military coup, which attempted to engineer a sense of conservatism in Turkey by legislating a harmonising of religiosity and nationalism by judicial and educational means. Despite this, stars like Şahin K. (pictured, moustached) gained fame making amateur pornography during the 90s, and German-born Sibel Kikelli, now a successful actress in her own right, was filmed in studios in Europe with a wide sales to Turkey.

Although they hire from within the country, Turkish porn studios are mostly based elsewhere, as the fortunes of the industry are always changing. In 2004, the AKP introduced a law banning obscene material, in the form of Article 226/II. By 2006 the Playboy channel was banned along with several other porn channels available on the Digitürk digital agency. In 2008 Edibe Sözen introduced a law banning the sale of pornography to minors, however this soon became redundant with the rise of internet pornography.

It is now difficult to access most pornography websites in Turkey, thanks to the extension of bans since 2008. According to Freedom House, there are currently 15 000 banned websites in Turkey, most are of a pornographic nature with some others representing pro-PKK Kurdish language news, or 'insulting' state founder, Mustafa Kemal. After attempting to introduce a nation-wide filter last year, the option to have unfiltered access was granted in November 2011, to the satisfaction of most of the public.

Distribution is more or less banned, despite the presence of sex shops in many areas of major cities. The banning of distribution is not directly banned, but consequent of the key-wording of a law, updated this summer out-lawing, along with violence and bestiality, "unnatural types of sex", with the maximum punishment for this being four years in jail.

Testing the Limits

It is upon the inclusion of production as well as sales, that the recent pair are currently being tried, as oral and anal sex are being included in "unnatural types" in this case. Yet lawyers are still divided, Mert Şahinci states that as a trade, porn is now illegal, as according to the law it is neither scientific or of artistic merit along with representing a risk to children. However, M. Gökhan Ahi says that "obscenity alone is not a crime", as the law specifically states that it is a protection against children's viewing or involvement, and does not state anything about producing porn for sale or any other purpose.

It will be interesting to see what will come of the trial, especially for D.Ö, as it was his sole wish to shoot the porno to "test the limits", it being in a public university. Actress, E.Ş.U, had the same attitude about production too, stating to a press more interested in what her parents' had to say than anything else, that her "body and decisions are my own".

The Googletrends Test

To those unfamiliar with Google Trends, the website is a God-send for finding information about the computer habits of various times and places. For example, typing in PKK, you will find that searches spike up at the time of an attack, thereby having an idea of the frequency of such attacks. Therefore it is a simple and very useful journalistic tool. You can also find what searches are popular by country-to-country comparison. In the interests of this piece for example, I found that "foot fetish" is endemic to India, "balloon sex" is a relatively Czech phenomenon, and, more importantly, the highest rate of searches for "porno" came from Turkey.

Whatever the controls are, they have not succeeded in curbing Turkey's internet addiction - and an upward rise is visible every year. According to a shocking report earlier this year, Hürriyet reported that every minute 2 million Turks are watching online porn. That's a world record the AKP probably arn't proud of.

Depending on what the verdict of the current trial is, we will perhaps see either directly, or indirectly as a political response, just how dedicated certain sections of the government are to the cause of eradicating "obscenity" from the public.

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