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CONFIGURATIONS OF STEREOTYPES AND IDENTITIES: NEW METHODOLOGIES

My Big Fat Turkish Wedding: From Culture Clash to Romcom

Daniela Berghahn

From the destructive fantasy of a wedding that never takes place in Shinns Hochzeit (Shinn's Wedding, 1976) to the misery and even tragedy associated with arranged marriages in Dugun—Die Heirat (Dugun—The Wedding, 1991) and Aprilkinder (April Children, 1998), weddings and marriage practices occupy a prominent place in Turkish German cinema.1 In particular the theme of arranged marriage throws the fissures and tensions between values and traditions of Turkish and German cultures into stark relief and functions as a contested site of difference. The choice of bride or groom and different ideas of what marriage is or should be typically give rise to intergenerational conflicts in the family. While the parents endeavor to preserve the family's ethnic identity through arranged marriage within the Turkish (diasporic) community, for their children these considerations are hardly relevant when falling in love with a partner from German majority culture. Whereas in the above-mentioned films the Turkish tradition of arranged marriage is portrayed as irreconcilable with Western notions of romantic love and individual self-determination, more recent productions such as the television comedy Meine verruckte turkische Hochzeit (My Crazy Turkish Wedding, 2006) and the feature film Evet, ich will! (Evet, I Do!, 2009) emphasize the convergence of Turkish and German cultures. They center on the paradox of similarity and difference and celebrate interethnic romance with the spectacle of a big wedding, allowing the romantic couple to cross ethnic divides.

This essay traces the paradigm shift from culture clash to cultural convergence and links it to a concomitant change in the representational strategies of Turkish German cinema. While April Children and Dugun as well as the earlier social problem film Yasemin (1988), made by the ethnic German director Hark Bohm, are in keeping with the conventions of social realist drama, Evet, I Do! and My Crazy Turkish Wedding follow and inflect the generic conventions of the romantic comedy. The essay situates Sinan Akkus's Evet, I Do! in the framework of genre criticism and aims to identify the distinctive features of the ethnic romantic comedy and wedding film. It adopts a transnational perspective, comparing this Turkish German romantic comedy with the similarly themed Hollywood and British Asian films My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and Bride & Prejudice (2004). These wedding films can be regarded as a particular subgenre of the romantic comedy that gained prominence with the British box-office hit Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 and has been reworked many times since, in films such as My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), The Wedding Singer (1998), and The Wedding Planner (2001). Wedding films bill the dual attraction of a romantic happy ending coupled with the visual spectacle of one or even several wedding celebrations in the title (see Ingraham 1999). What wedding films set in an "ethnic" milieu add to this tried and tested formula is the exotic allure of non-Western wedding rituals, dress codes, music, and dance. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Bollywood-style wedding films of which Monsoon Wedding (2001) and Bride & Prejudice represent the most prominent examples in the West. This essay, then, proposes that Evet, I Do!, set in Berlin's sizeable Turkish diasporic community, inscribes itself into this popular generic trend and asks how the film negotiates cultural difference on the levels of narrative, aesthetics, and ideology.

The wedding practices of diasporic communities capture the popular imagination because they seem to crystallize the Otherness of diasporic culture. As Homi Bhabha has argued in relation to colonial discourse, Otherness is invariably charged with ambivalence, attempting to position the Other simultaneously inside and outside Western knowledge (1994: 94-131). The Other is split between contradictory positions with the negative pole connoting inferiority and the positive one fantasies of exotic allure. Stereotypes have the function of arresting the ambivalent sliding between the polarities of similarity and difference in a fixed image that is repeated over and over again.

Diasporic wedding films capitalize on these ambivalent connotations, capturing the interest of culturally diverse audiences and inviting different viewing positions. For diasporic audiences wedding films are often redolent with nostalgia. They provide the comforting reassurance that cultural traditions and family values of the homeland can and do live on despite displacement and dispersal. To Western majority audiences, Jigna Desai suggests, wedding films offer a "non-threatening spectacle of otherness that ... can be absorbed into the narrative of universal heterosexuality. [... At the same time, c]ross-cultural consumption of wedding films relies on the rejuvenation of an anthropological desire for knowledge of and intimacy with the other" (2004: 222).

Although Desai's observations hold true for the ethnic romantic comedies considered in this chapter, they need to be qualified for social problem films such as Yasemin, Dugun, and April Children. These films appeal to the "anthropological desire for knowledge of the other" but use the insights they convey into the lives of the Other and, in particular, the social practice of arranged marriage as evidence of an irreconcilable culture clash between liberal and enlightened German majority culture and Turkish or Kurdish tradition. Bohm's widely discussed Yasemin was instrumental in establishing the paradigm of young victimized Turkish German women, who get caught in the conflict between traditional Turkish patriarchy and German culture, imagined as enlightened, liberal, and based on gender equality (see Berghahn 2009; Burns 2007a and b; Gokturk 2000 and 2002a). When Yasemin's older sister Emine fails to produce the required bloodstained bridal sheet as evidence of her virginity after her wedding night, the girls' initially fairly liberal father transforms into a despotic patriarch, intent on protecting the family honor that Emine has supposedly violated. Yasemin's revelation that the groom's impotence rather than her sister's sexual transgression is at stake challenges the archaic principles accorded to Turkish patriarchy, which blames the woman for the man's shortcomings. The seventeen-year-old title heroine is put under house arrest to be deported to Turkey, but is rescued by her German boyfriend in the last minute.

Gegen die Wand (Head-On, Fatih Akin, 2004) and Die Fremde (When We Leave, Feo Aladag, 2010) testify to the persistence of the stereotype of the victimized Turkish German woman. In these more recent films, however, the protagonists Sibel and Umay do not depend on men to be saved from patriarchal oppression. Moreover, the weddings featured in these two films represent unconventional updates of Turkish weddings and marriage practices: In When We Leave, the wedding of Rana, Umay's younger sister, may look like a traditional Turkish wedding but the marital union represents a hybrid between a modern love marriage with premarital sex and a baby on the way, jeopardized by an archaic honor code that almost prevents the groom from marrying into a family dishonored by Umay's perceived moral trespasses, and salvaged through a financial deal closed by the family patriarchs.

The wedding celebrations of Sibel and Cahit in Head-On mark the beginning of an alibi marriage by the beautiful and promiscuous Sibel in the hope to escape from her father and brothers' vigilant efforts to protect her modesty and family honor. The drop-out Cahit appears to be the ideal husband in such a set-up, since he has nothing to lose and is likely to give Sibel the freedom she desires, while his Turkish background makes him acceptable in the eyes of her parents.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish German films Dugun and April Children modulate the familiar theme of victimization by focusing on young men instead of women. In Ismet El^i's Dugun Metin is lured from Germany, where he has a job and a German girlfriend, back to his native village in rural Anatolia under the pretext that his mother is dying. When Metin realizes that his father has arranged for him to get married to a local girl, Aygul, he rebels—but to no avail. The wedding with its numerous rituals is presented in considerable ethnographic detail. In contrast to South Asian diasporic wedding films, Dugun does not stage the wedding as an exotic spectacle but instead foregrounds the other-worldliness of these atavistic rituals. When Metin abandons the bride on the wedding night, without having consummated their marriage, he is evidently not aware of the consequences this will have for her. The dishonored bride knows all too well and commits suicide, unbeknownst to Metin, who is already on his way back to Germany.

Yuksel Yavuz's April Children, about the everyday life of a Kurdish German family in Hamburg, ends with the arranged marriage of the family's oldest son Cem to one of his cousins from the family's Anatolian natal village. Acting like a good Kurdish son at home while leading a westernized life outside the domestic space, Cem earns his living in a non-halal slaughterhouse and is in love with Kim, a German prostitute. Nevertheless, he bows to family pressure and marries the bride brought to Germany from "back home." The wedding ceremony does not hail the promise of a happy ending. Even after lifting the bride's veil and discovering a very beautiful young woman, Cem looks sad. Although Yavuz refrains from passing an explicit judgment, be it on Cem's parents or on Cem, the wedding scene conveys an overwhelming sense of resignation and claustrophobia. The newlyweds are at the center of a circle formed by their families who witness the unveiling of the bride, the kiss on her cheeks, and who clap to the rhythm of the music that accompanies the wedding ritual. But the approving smiles on their faces momentarily look like sarcastic grimaces—or so they may seem to Cem from whose point of view the scene is shot. As the couple begins to dance, the camera swirls and swirls round in ever more rapid circles. The faces of the onlookers get more and more blurred and eventually disappear completely, reduced to an abstract rapidly moving line that encircles the dancing couple until Cem is completely caught in the circle of his family—and there is no escape from it.

Both El^i's and Yavuz's films illustrate what Rob Burns has theorized under the term "cinema of the affected," a particular type of social realist drama borne out of the authenticity of personal experience. These films inscribe a perspective testifying to filmmakers' alienation from their cultures of origin. "[T]he focus [of the cinema of the affected is] unremittingly on alterity as a seemingly insoluble problem, on conflict of either an intercultural or intracultural variety" (Burns 2006: 133). Although this Manichaean world view has not been rendered entirely obsolete but continues to inform in a more nuanced form recent productions such as Aladag's award-winning film about an honor killing, When We Leave, on the whole, these gloomy images of alterity have given way to more favorable portrayals over the past fifteen years or so. The reappraisal of predominantly negative stereotypes went hand in hand with the attempt of second-generation filmmakers to move Turkish German cinema out of the ethnic niche into the mainstream. Some Turkish German filmmakers have liberated themselves completely from the "burden of representation," eschewing the identity politics in which migrant and diasporic filmmakers are expected to partake (Mercer 1990). Others have abandoned the social realist approach in favor of popular generic templates, notably gangster films, road movies, comedies, and romantic comedies.

Turkish German romantic comedies culminating in a wedding take their inspiration from the surge of mainstream romcoms made in the wake of Four Weddings and a Funeral. What distinguishes the ethnic romantic comedy set in a Turkish German or any other diasporic milieu from that set in a white middle-class milieu is the centrality of the family. This points toward the generic affinity between romcom and family melodrama.2 In order for the couple, typically configured as a minority culture bride and a majority culture groom, to get together in the final minutes, they need to obtain the consent of the bride's parents whose ethnic minority background automatically implies that they are the last bastion of traditional family values.

According to the narrative formula "boy meets, loses, regains girl" of the romcom, the couple has to overcome a major obstacle in order to get together. Since the happy ending and the formation of the couple constitute the moment when desire is satisfied and when romance turns into marriage, romcoms delay this moment, thereby heightening desire through a series of obstructions that need to be overcome (Shumway 2003: 400). Typical obstacles in romcoms set in a white, middle-class milieu are a romantic rival (whose unsuitability serves to prove the rightness of the central couple's romance), fear of commitment, intrigues, misunderstandings, false consciousness and differences of social class and education. In romantic comedies in which the couple has to overcome racial or ethnic divides, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Evet, I Do!, the chief obstacle is the parents' anticipated or actual disapproval. The parents perceive outmarriage as a threat to the ethnic homogeneity and lineage of the diasporic family. They also worry that a partner from Western majority culture will fall short of the superior family values on which diasporic families pride themselves.

Ethnic romantic comedies are "unlikely couple films," as defined by Thomas E. Wartenberg. They trace "the difficult course of a romance between two individuals" whose different ethnicities make "their involvement problematic. The source of this difficulty is the couple's transgressive makeup, its violation of a hierarchic social norm regulating the composition of romantic couples" (1999: 7). Unlikely couple films such as It Happened One Night (1934) and Pretty Woman (1990) offer criticism of existing social norms and power structures by mobilizing sympathy for the transgressive couple, whose love represents a human value that transcends the sociocultural differences and prejudices that the couple overcomes.

In this way the unlikely couple film potentially challenges social hierarchies and ethnic or class stereotypes.

Although there are quite a few unlikely couple films in which the lovers negotiate their future together along racial and ethnic divides, including Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, 1974), Jungle Fever (1991), Mississippi Masala (1991), and Ae Fond Kiss ... (2004), by no means all of them are romcoms. The paradigmatic ethnic romcom to cast the lovers as an unlikely couple is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The unexpected box-office success of this American "indie," with a modest production budget and a skilful marketing and release strategy (Perren 2004), partly stems from its effective use of ethnic stereotypes and a clever reworking of familiar generic conventions. The film centers on Toula Portokalos, a second-generation Greek American woman in her early thirties, and Ian Miller, a WASP high-school teacher. The Portokalos embody a nostalgic dream of family life of a bygone era that supposedly still exists in American immigrant culture but has become extinct almost everywhere else in Western societies. They are emotionally very close, live in each other's pockets, and maintain an extended kinship network. The Millers, by contrast, are emotionally reserved, only have one son and, ostensibly, no other relatives at all.

Family structure and food habits are deployed as the chief markers of difference: when the Millers are invited to one of the Portokalos's family feasts, they bring a modestly sized, dry Bundt cake as a gift, whilst the Portokalos family provides an abundance of Greek culinary delights, including a whole spit-roasted pig; the Millers try to abstain from alcohol, whereas the Portokalos family drink gallons of ouzu and spontaneously break into Zorba-the-Greek style bouzouki dance. Although the patriarchal family structure and the emphasis placed on communal family values restrict Toula's personal freedom, the film leaves us in no doubt whose family has more fun and more love and whose family we would rather belong to. Thus, not surprisingly, Ian and even his parents "go Greek" in the end.

Evet, I Do! borrows a number of plot elements from Joel Zwick's Greek wedding film and combines these with the multi-stranded narrative structure of Four Weddings and a Funeral, an international box-office hit about extravagant white weddings in a predominantly upper middle-class British milieu. Akkus's wedding film intertwines four narrative strands about Turkish German, Kurdish German, Turkish, gay, and heterosexual couples.3 The central couple are the Turkish German Ozlem and her German boyfriend Dirk, both university students in their early twenties. He is shy and under his mother's thumb (an inversion of the stereotype of the oppressive Turkish patriarch), she is beautiful, confident, and a far cry from the stereotype of the victimized Turkish woman. Dirk and Ozlem are an unlikely couple in the above sense, whose romantic fulfillment is potentially thwarted by social expectations and norms, were it not for the fact that the generic conventions of the romantic comedy open up a utopian space for the realization of romantic love. "Particular films may toy with the progress towards a 'happy ending', but it remains a firm structural expectation, which the path of courtship leads towards" (Neale and Krutnik 1990: 139). The couple in romantic comedies can scoff at social decorum and social conventions and find happiness in "a self-sufficient marital unit distinct from their social milieu"—a path not open to couples in family melodrama, who have to resign themselves to the "strictures of social and familial tradition" or else suffer exclusion (Schatz 1981: 222). Ethnic romantic comedies conjoin the narrative conventions of romcom and family melodrama in as much as a happy ending without the family's approval would be inconceivable. The transgressive couple cannot find happiness in isolation but needs to be reconciled with and reintegrated into their families (or at the very least the diasporic family with its superior family values). The ethnic romcom achieves this through reappraising cultural traditions and norms hitherto regarded as incontestable truth.4

Romcoms typically narrate and visualize this process of negotiation as the crossing of borders. "Validating love as a traversing of borders, romantic comedy moves each partner from the territory of the known to the sexual and emotional space of the other. On occasions, the motif of boundary crossing is directly visualized. The locus classicus is found in It Happened One Night (1934) where the unmarried protagonists, forced to share a bedroom, erect a rope-and-blanket partition to demarcate their respective spaces" (Krutnik 1998: 26). In order to overcome what they refer to as the "Walls of Jericho," at least one partner has to undergo a fundamental transformation. More often than not, it is the woman who needs to be taught the correct values and demeanor by the man.5 By contrast, in the ethnic romcoms under consideration here, the majority culture male needs to be educated in the customs and traditions of the minority culture bride before he can marry her.

Evet, I Do! imagines the crossing of borders both in spatial and ritualistic terms. Turkish tradition prescribes that a proper marriage proposal does not just require for the man to elicit the magical words, "Evet, I do" from the woman he loves, but that the father of the bride also gives his consent. Therefore, the film's most important scene, repeated with variations in all four narrative strands, is the meeting between the bride's and groom's families.6 Dirk and his parents are required to enter "alien territory," a high- rise building inhabited almost exclusively by Muslims, as Dirk's father notes when he reads the foreign-sounding names next to the doorbells.

The decor of the living room marks Ozlem's home as equally alien territory: the settee in shades of beige and brown is old-fashioned, the wallpaper dazzlingly patterned, the room stuffed with laced table mats and quaint objects, the most peculiar item being a mosque-shaped alarm clock that goes off to remind the parents to roll out their carpets, turn toward Mecca and say their prayers. The scene makes much of the two families'

Dirk's family visiting Ozlem's home in Evet, I Do!, DVD capture

Figure 1.1 Dirk's family visiting Ozlem's home in Evet, I Do!, DVD capture

inability to understand each other without the help of Ozlem and her sister who happily translate or mistranslate as they see fit. Dirk's parents bend over backward to demonstrate their open-mindedness regarding Turkish customs and traditions. Dirk's mother has donned a headscarf since she assumes that this is the appropriate dress code for such an important occasion but Ozlem's mother seems puzzled by Helga's strange attire. Dirk's father has learned a few words from the Koran but mispronounces them so that Ozlem's parents are unable to understand him. He has also carefully considered whether he should begin proceedings by saying, "In the name of Allah and our Prophet," or "your prophet," and eventually stutters "In the name of Allah and a Prophet."

Evet, I Do! translates inverse class snobbery, a plot device common in screwball comedy and still to be found in postclassical romcoms, into inverse ethnic snobbery, whereby the ethnic minority family considers the majority culture groom unacceptable. Dirk's amorous pursuit of Ozlem can only be accomplished if he is prepared to assimilate to Turkish culture. Turkish identity post-9/11 is defined first and foremost in terms of religion. The shift in conceptualizations of Turkish identity from exploited guestworkers over oppressed Turkish women, through drug-pushing and otherwise delinquent young men to Muslims indicates that religion has become central to discussions about identity, difference, and belonging. Yet in the popular imagination, Islam has all too readily become associated with Islamic fundamentalism, which explains its negative image.7 Both Evet, I Do! and the thematically similar television comedy My Crazy Turkish Wedding explicitly address this form of negative ethnic stereotyping, thereby voicing fears prevalent in German majority culture.

The generic conventions of comedy allow for the containment and domestication of ethnic and religious difference by incorporating "alien" elements within normal, everyday life (see Neale and Krutnick 1990: 244).8 In My Crazy Turkish Wedding, for example, the groom's friend and business partner wears a T-shirt with the slogan "Bin im Laden" (literally "I'm in the shop"), an obvious pun on Osama bin Laden.9 Similarly the formation of the couple deflates the perceived threat of Muslim Otherness and its exaggeration in the specter of Islamic fundamentalism by incorporating difference into the family unit through the conjugal bond between a German man and a Turkish German woman and through the groom's conversion to Islam. In an attempt to subvert the demonization of Islam, the film stages Dirk's conversion as the performance of its allegedly most alien or embarrassing ritual practice—circumcision. Dirk, who is terribly scared of the surgical procedure, initially provides fake photographic evidence of a circumcised penis (though not his own). When he finally succumbs to the operation, his father joins him—but for all the wrong reasons, since he believes that circumcised men make better lovers. An Islamic cultural and religious practice is translated into a secular Western system of values by associating it with improved sexual performance. In this way the supposedly irreconcilable differences between the Islamic world and Western secularism as delineated by Samuel Huntington in his controversial study about "the clash of civilizations" are literally reduced to the existence or non-existence of a tiny piece of skin (1996).10 For this German male, the removal of the foreskin is loaded with fear as unjustified, the film seems to suggest, as the fear of Islam and its association with Islamic fundamentalism and the threat of terrorism. Evet, I Do! uses humor to trivialize ethnic difference and, thereby, make a case for the rapprochement of Turkish Muslim and German secular cultures.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding also uses sexual innuendo in order to secularize and normalize "alien" cultural and religious practices. In this ethnic romcom, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant groom Ian Miller needs to be baptized and become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church before he can marry Toula. His sexy and voluptuous sister-in-law sensuously anoints Ian's muscular body, whereupon the priest dunks Ian three times into an inflatable paddling pool, which serves as the supersize baptismal font required for the christening of a fully-grown man.

This rather grotesque rite of passage integrates the majority culture groom into the ethnic minority community and even transforms him from an unsuccessfully dating high-school teacher to a desirable Greek

Ian Miller (John Corbett) is baptized in My Big

Figure 1.2 Ian Miller (John Corbett) is baptized in My Big

Fat Greek Wedding, DVD capture man, as testified by Ian's proud proclamation, "I am Greek now!" But interethnic romance has not only hybridized Ian's identity; Toula, too, has been transformed from an ugly duckling, waitressing in her father's restaurant, to a beautiful and confident bride who has finally learnt to accept her Greek American identity with its emphasis on a vast kinship network, consisting of Toula's twenty-seven first cousins, uncles and aunts, parents and brothers, and all-embracing family love.

In Evet, I Do! the groom's integration into the Turkish German family fulfills a similar function in that it facilitates a return to traditional family life and marriage. Whereas Dirk's parents, both members of the so-called '68-generation, rejected marriage as a capitalist bourgeois institution, their son's choice of a Turkish German bride and big Turkish wedding signifies an act of rebellion and a return to a more traditional family life, and one supposedly rapidly disappearing in Western society.

The trope of inverse cultural assimilation hints at a nostalgic longing for more traditional forms of family life (typically imagined as an extended multigenerational family of a preindustrial and preurban era) and the invigorating encounter with the exotic Other. After initial reluctance, Dirk's parents embrace Turkish culture with proverbial German thoroughness. At her son's wedding, Helga performs a Turkish belly dance in which everything moves except for her belly, while her husband Luder happily mingles with his new in-laws. These wellmeaning German parents, at whom the film pokes as much fun as it does at the Turkish German families, do not get it quite right. Nor would they have to try so hard to demonstrate their acceptance of Turkish culture, for Germany is already "Turkified," as the film's playful engagement with notions of cultural hybridity suggests.

Dirk (Oliver Korittke) and Ozlem (Lale Yavas) in Evet, I Do!

Figure 1.3 Dirk (Oliver Korittke) and Ozlem (Lale Yavas) in Evet, I Do!

Berlin Cathedral and television tower in Evet, I Do!, DVD capture

Figure 1.4 Berlin Cathedral and television tower in Evet, I Do!, DVD capture

Evet, I Do!'s final frame captures the Berlin Cathedral and the television tower at night. The juxtaposition of these two architectural landmarks of Berlin's cityscape creates a vista that looks like a mosque with a minaret. The Orientalized architecture epitomizes what Doreen Massey has theorized as "a global sense of place," which reflects the time-space-compression of the postmodern era, a progressive sense of place characterized by the continuous crossing of social and ethnic boundaries and a positive integration of the local and the global (1994: 146-56). The fusion of the Berlin Cathedral and the television tower in the image of a mosque and a minaret translates the notion of hybridity from the domestic sphere of the family into the public sphere, thereby reinforcing the symbolic function of the family as a microcosm of society.

However, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam remind us that any celebration of hybridity needs to be attentive to the asymmetrical power relations implied (1994: 43). As I have argued above, Evet, I Do! valorizes Turkish Muslim identity only up to a point. While at face value endorsing the assimilation of Germans to Turkish Muslim culture, ultimately the film promotes assimilation to a moral universe in which Western values of romantic love, premarital sex, gender equality, and individual selfdetermination are prioritized over a Turkish Muslim value and belief systems.

Just as the unlikely couple does not mount challenges to the social norms and hierarchies of dominant culture, the film's aesthetics conform to mainstream Western generic templates rather than embracing a diasporic optic, defined by Sujata Moorti as a particular "visual grammar that seeks to capture the dislocation, disruption and ambivalence" of diasporic subjects and that taps into a "warehouse of cultural images," generic conventions, narrative and musical traditions, languages, and performance styles from more than one (film) culture (2003: 359). We can observe the "sideways look ... that does not reside in one place, but in several locales simultaneously" and that Moorti identifies as characteristic of the diasporic optic, at work in another ethnic romcom, the Asian British Bride & Prejudice (2003: 359). Gurinder Chadha's film translates European high culture via its popular inflections in the shape of screen adaptations of Jane Austen's canonical novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) into the idiom of Indian popular culture, notably Bollywood cinema. It Bollywoodizes stylistic conventions of European heritage cinema and mainstream romantic comedy, as programmatically announced in the film's tagline "Bollywood meets Hollywood ... and it's a perfect match." The film's hybrid aesthetics and playful use of pastiche disavow hierarchies of high and low cultural forms, of ostensibly sophisticated Western art and allegedly lowbrow Indian entertainment. Bride and Prejudice is based on the premise that in today's globalized world the commonalities between cultures outweigh their differences and that matchmaking and marriage follow the same rules the world over—and have done so since Jane Austen's times. Evet, I Do! also articulates difference by emphasizing similarity but does so by relying on a homogenizing rather than a hybridizing aesthetics to convey its message.

In contrast to the Turkish German social realist dramas, briefly considered at the outset, which identify the practice of arranged endogamous marriage as a key signifier of cultural difference that marks the Turkish diaspora as premodern and out of synch with the Western world, the ethnic romcom Evet, I Do! portrays marriage and the spectacle of a Turkish German wedding in unambiguously positive terms. It thereby aligns itself with the celebratory stance that other contemporary ethnic romcoms—notably My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bride and Prejudice—have taken to ethnically mixed couples. Differences between Turkish minority and German majority cultures provide a rich source of humor and determine the obstacle course that the couple has to negotiate on their path to romantic fulfillment and heterosexual coupledom in marriage. By ostensibly inverting gender and ethno-racial hierarchies— only to ultimately reaffirm Western notions of love and marriage—these ethnic romcoms revolve around the dramatic and narrative tensions between similarity and difference. Nobody expresses this paradox of similarity in difference more memorably than the father of the bride at the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Having welcomed both the Portokalos family and the Miller family, who have come together for Toula's and Ian's big day, Mr. Portokalos invents yet another one of his funny, farfetched etymologies. He explains in broken, heavily accented English, "the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word milo, which is apple," and Portokalos "come from the Greek word portokali, which is orange," which leads him to conclude triumphantly: "So here tonight we have apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit."

Notes

This essay is part of a Research Fellowship on "The Diasporic Family in Cinema," generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain.

  • 1. I use the term "Turkish German cinema" here to refer to films about Turkish diasporic subjects in Germany regardless of whether the films are scripted and directed by filmmakers of Turkish descent or by German majority filmmakers.
  • 2. According to Kathleen Rowe (1995: 191-212) postclassical romantic comedies are heavily infused with melodrama, expressed in emotional pathos, a feminization of men, gender inversion and, especially with regard to the minority culture couple, the family. Moonstruck (1987), set in an Italian American milieu, is paradigmatic in this respect.
  • 3. The inclusion of gay characters or gay couples has become de rigueur since Four Weddings and a Funeral. The film's main gay characters, Gareth and Matthew, invalidate common prejudices against gay promiscuity, embodying deep love and commitment to each other that becomes thwarted by Gareth's sudden death. Yet in spite of validating gay love, the film at the same time denies its vitality and long-term future by linking it with a funeral rather than a wedding.
  • 4. The widely held belief that marriage outside one's own ethno-religious community or social class involves high risk, jeopardizing family lineage, cultural traditions and the prospect of a long happy marriage exemplifies such an "incontestable truth."
  • 5. George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1916) is the archetypal text, which has been modified countless times, e.g., in My Fair Lady (1964), Educating Rita (1983), and Pretty Woman (1990).
  • 6. In the case of the gay couple, Tim and Emrah, the family's official marriage proposal involves a Turkish German woman and results in the disclosure of Emrah's homosexuality.
  • 7. This conflation of Islam with Islamism, a form of religious absolutism and particular variety of religious fundamentalism characterized by a rightwing totalitarian ideology, explains why Islam has been associated with terrorism in western societies (Tibi 2008).
  • 8. This also holds true of the ethnic comedy The Infidel (2010), which downplays the differences between Jewish and Muslim identity.
  • 9. My Crazy Turkish Wedding spins out this narrative thread, adding further trials such as the halal slaughter of a sheep, fasting, and sexual abstinence during Ramadan, which the German groom has to master before he can elope with the Turkish German bride, who is about to marry a Turkish German man, and even obtain his father-in-law's approval.
  • 10. In the British Asian comedy East is East (1999) the circumcision of eleven-year-old Sajid constitutes an important aspect of the film's ethnic humor. It is also secularized in the sense that Sajid's Muslim-Pakistani father decides to "bloody fix him," a term one would use for the neutering of a cat or a dog (see Mather 2006: 67-117 on ethnic humor).
 
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