In Turkey today, 2.7 million people use online dating apps like Tinder, OKcupid, and Bumble. While dating apps have fortunately lost some of their social stigma, the digital component does open up some unique possibilities as well as opportunities for awkwardness. Both of the promises and the pitfalls of online dating have become more extreme as the coronavirus affects how people approach physical and emotional intimacy. A number of recent documentaries shed light on people’s experiences searching for sex, love, and/or entertainment on these platforms.
The Turkish streaming platform BluTV has been making waves with original content from the mystical detective show Alef to documentaries about poor urban youth. Now the creators of popular BluTV documentary Pavyon have returned with the five-part series Dijital Flörtleşme (Online Dating). The documentary follows the stories of several young people active on dating apps and includes commentary by sex and relationship experts.
The highlight of Dijital Flörtleşme is the interviews with Sena, a woman who is interviewed out on the streets of Kadıköy as she gets ready to drink coffee for the first time with an online match. As a white-collar worker, Sena explains, it can be hard to meet anyone outside of work. While apps create a useful way to meet potential dates, the way people behave on these platforms is often absurd.
Sena humorously breaks down the haphazard way men often communicate, with a laconic slm used in place of the Turkish greeting selam. Alternatively, when she decides its not worth continuing a conversation with a match, they often get defensive or aggressive. Many times these men continue writing for months on end, even if they never receive a response from her.
In her commentary for the program, renounced sexologist Rayka Kumru describes how dominant ways of approaching relationships in everyday life bleed into the digital domain. In the same way that men catcall women in the streets and get angry when they don’t receive a response, men online assume that matching with someone means that they owe you something. Jealousy and possessiveness similarly run rampant in online dating. Another young woman interviewed for the documentary describes a relationship she formed with a man off Tinder. Though they met on the platform, eventually the man began judging her for being online in the first place, demanding to know how many men she slept with.
We get a different window into how people see online dating from the men in Dijital Flörtleşme. Two guys interviewed in a gym describe how scoring a date is simply a matter of having muscles, money, and jokes. Their comments are cross-cut with women describing how off-putting it is to see biceps and fancy cars as online profile pictures. Similarly, the men’s ideas of witty repartee is simply saying “You have nice lips” or pretending to like the same movies or music as the women with whom they are trying to meet.
In this way, Dijital Flörtleşme provides ironic commentary on how some women and men’s perspectives on dating differ, or even contradict one another completely. While there are still four episodes to come, one finds oneself wishing that the series discussed other types of relationships besides straight ones and included perspectives from non-cis people. There is also the cricial issue of how Turkey bans dating apps specifically tailored to LGBTI people.
Yet Rayka Kumru’s commentary does shed light on the way the social mores trap heterosexual people in unsatisfying and stifling patterns. For example, Kumru describes the calculations women often make to not be seen as “one of those girls” who has sex on the first date. This category of “those girls,” she argues, keeps women from using these potentially freeing platforms in the ways they might want to. While someone might want to use the app simply to “hook up,” the same social pressures that exist at home, at work, and in the street enter the digital realm.
The online documentary channel Mevzu provides an additional perspective on the world of app dating. The episode “It’s a Match,” released on YouTube last week, includes interviews with a person who works as a “camgirl,” dancing for customers on videochat, and uses digital platforms for dating and sex. “It’s a Match” also features commentary from a young gay man who describes some of the more humorous interactions he has had online and candidly describes meeting up for sex as a positive outcome of app-use.
Similarly, the YouTube channel +90, funded by Deutsche Welle, has a recent video story titled “App States of Love: Finding Love Through Matchmaking Apps”. It features a wide variety of characters, from a straight married couple who met on Tinder to a non-binary student in Eskişehir who uses dating apps to find like-minded people.
While Dijital Flörtleşme, “It’s a Match,” and “App States of Love” all take up different sides of the complex world of dating online in Turkey, more recent events add another wild card to the mix. Alongside most aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has also affected dating. As people across the world face state-mandated lockdowns and/or calls to stay at home to flatten the curve, many have turned to online dating as a place to seek romance.
On Sunday March 29, for example, Tinder marked 3 billion swipes across the world, a new record for the platform. The app OKCupid has seen matches rise by 15% and the number of messages rise by 10%. There was also a 900% increase in mentions of coronavirus and social distancing on the platform. In response, OKCupid (which matches profiles based on answers to personality questions) wasted no time in adding coronavirus-related content. Users in Turkey and across the world were asked “How do you plan on dating during this time of coronavirus?” 94% of those who responded said they will keep dating but will do it virtually. Catering to people’s need for intimacy across distance, most of the major dating apps now offer a video chatting option to allow people to date virtually from the safety of quarantine.
Yet as summer approaches and the process of “normalization” begins in Turkey, prospective dates will be faced with new choices regarding how to both act responsibly and meet their very real need for friendship, flirting, conversation, intimacy, sex—whatever it is that brought them to the apps in the first place.
Earlier this week, the Turkish management of the clothing chain LC Waikiki banned LGBTQI+ symbols on their products and displays—or even anything that might be confused as an LGBTQI+ symbol. LC Waikiki’s memo comes as hate speech against LGBTQI+ people surges across Turkey. As LGBTQI+ issues grow more visible, the reaction is ever more vehement.
If anything, perhaps this continual updating of folk music in Turkey does prove its timelessness. This does not mean that these songs are without history, but that however much the world changes, we will always have need for songs that express the meaning of love, infatuation, mortality, and loneliness in the simplest terms possible.
Given the LGBTI+ community’s history of seeking spaces of freedom amidst the ever-tightening grip of individual and organized hate, this year’s Pride Istanbul theme is “Where am I?” The online talks, workshops, and discussions center on issues like migration, isolation, and safety.
Just because 'Naked' moves beyond certain stereotypes does not necessarily make it “Turkey’s boldest woman’s story”. If including nudity or sex scenes was a barometer of political progressiveness, then the Turkish porno craze of the 1970s or the dirty programs watched through satellite TV in the 1990s would be perfect models of feminism.
After months of staying at home and practicing distancing, it is inevitable that people will occasionally swing too far in the other direction—once given the opportunity. This is a wider social problem, one which no amount of “pandemic-shaming” (polarized along political lines like most things in Turkey nowadays) is going to solve.
Though some of the correspondences are superficial, the coincidence of the protests in the U.S. erupting just as people here are commemorating Gezi has lead to some soul searching about the similarities and differences in state violence and racism in both countries.
It’s a spring day in Athens. Over 120 Greek musicians and performers gather on the steps of the southern slope of the Acropolis to sing in Turkish. They gathered to express their solidarity with the Turkish protest band Grup Yorum.
Music festivals are among the many things that COVID-19 has taken away from us. There is simply no way to cram into a sweaty mass of dancing people and preserve one’s social distance. Yet event organizers are trying their best to find creative ways to keep the festival spirit alive.
Nilipek is an Istanbul-based singer and songwriter whose latest album Mektuplar (Letters) perfectly captures the emotional atmosphere of the quarantine days. Trapped between four walls, one is left alone with one’s own thoughts and memories.
The teen drama Aşk 101 (Love 101), Netflix’s latest Turkish-language offering, is full of clichés but is not without a certain charm. Yet the intense controversy that preceded the show’s release on April 24 had little to do with the story.
One positive outcome, if we can call it that, of the pandemic is that many of us have begun learning new skills. Bread has become the classic example. Yet certain habits are more difficult to satisfy at home. For many friends I know, drinking rakı at a meyhane is one of those experiences that they have missed the most.
At a time when many of us turn to fictional narratives to make sense of the mess that is our world, the detective show Alef and the podcast series Karanlık Bölge (The Dark Zone) provide just what the doctor ordered.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Recognizing that artists would also be hit hard financially by the coronavirus, countries like Germany and the UK have created emergency funds for creative workers. In Turkey, securing support for creative workers such as musicians has been an uphill battle.
The Turkish government has encouraged citizens to avoid going outside, even asking them to declare their own state of emergency. Yet many do not have this luxury. A number of recent mini-series and documentaries released online paint a picture of everyday life in the parts of Istanbul where necessity continues to drive people—especially young people—onto the streets.
Music writer Barış Akpolat spent “200 Hours with Ezhel” conducting interviews that shed light on Ezhel’s musical journey from street concerts in Ankara to sold-out stadiums, from a jail cell in Istanbul to the New York Times list of the most important emerging artists in Europe. Akpolat’s book also provides insight into Ezhel’s political beliefs.
Turkey’s usually thriving artistic and cultural scene has been brought down to a whisper amid coronavirus outbreak. For those with the luxury or necessity of self-quarantine, artists and event organizers are trying their best to bring the arts directly into people’s homes. Or more accurately, to their computer screens.
A deadly virus has struck Istanbul. Panicked people flood the streets hoping to snatch up whatever necessities they can find. They attack each other while lining up for bottles of drinking water. Now that The Protector’s third season carries undeniable resonances with the most hot-button issue of the day, contagious viruses, it seems the most we can expect from the show is this kind of accidental relevance.
Since 2015, young, female musicians who upload covers or DIY music videos on YouTube have spearheaded a new strand of Turkish pop. Amongst them is the rising star Ekin Beril who released a debut LP last week.
With such names as ELZ AND THE CULT, She Past Away and Brek, Turkey's darkwave scene is thriving. In a predominantly conservative country, the scene offers spaces of hope.
Turkey's rising rap star Murda shows that the local scene is growing. And with it comes the North American blend of rap, pop and mawkish R&B.
Can Evrenol’s latest film, Girl With No Mouth (Peri: Ağzı Olmayan Kız), cements the director’s place as one of the leading figures of genre film in Turkey. While Turkish independent cinema is experiencing something of a renaissance, the material conditions for making and selling quality films are increasingly difficult.
Despite efforts to silence him, Demirtaş has remained an active figure in Turkey’s political scene, and now its literary scene. In late 2019, Demirtaş released Leylan, his third book written from his prison cell. Amid all denunciations and counter-denunciations, the literary significance of the work itself gets lost. Its voice and structure demonstrate newfound confidence.
For the past five or six years, venues owned or run by holding companies, corporations, and other massive commercial interests are increasingly the only places where music fans can see their favorite bands. One might say music fans are damned with them and damned without them.
2019 was a good year for Turkish music and 2020 is looking even better. A number of Turkish indie bands are releasing uncompromising music that has gained them an ever-growing following across the world. While the Turkish psych trend is in full swing, other bands are building a global fan-base without having to play up their Turkishness.