Home Communication Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens
Turkish German Film and the "Normalization" of the Berlin Republic
Although in the early 1990s the discourses of German normality and Leitkultur (dominant culture) were still primarily associated with conservative politicians and intellectuals and their call for a historicization of the German past, by the beginning of the new millennium, the call for a more "normal" Germany—one that is more at ease with its past and presents itself as a more self-confident nation—has become "a mainstay of Germany's social and political consensus" (Taberner and Cooke 2006: 8). The change of government in 1998 played a crucial role on this road to normalization. One of the explicit goals of Germany under Social Democratic Chancellor Schroder was to redefine Germany's identity in the global arena. The hope was that this normalization in the political realm would have a positive impact on international attitudes toward Germany and thereby improve the marketability of its cultural products overseas.
The 1990s saw a renewal of German cinema, with German filmmakers of Turkish origin being perceived as the new auteurs. Young filmmakers are celebrated as stars (Hake 2008: 199), put in the spotlight by the media that shape consumer expectations. Authorial self-reflection—interviews, appearances in talk shows—is a vital part of the marketing process. This cult of personality coincides with a global (auto)biographical turn, mirroring an ever-growing desire for insights into the "personal" life of the author/auteur.
On the one hand, the presence of migrants in the media and literary culture of Germany highlights the fact that Germany has become a multiethnic society. On the other hand, the "striking and sudden visibility of 'minority' personalities in the media" (Taberner 2004: 14) points to what Tom Cheesman, in the context of Turkish German literature, has termed the "diversity envy" of the Germans: the fact that in a globalized market "in which the exotic is at a premium," Germany has historically had little to contribute. Commentators are therefore drawn to the "naturally cosmopolitan" migrants in their search for an internationally marketable new product (Cheesman 2002: 182). The celebration of difference thus becomes a marketing strategy, promoted by both migrants and the media "in order to sell more 'product'" (Taberner 2004: 2). Furthermore, migrants symbolize Germany's postunification openness and tolerance (Hake 2008: 200). At the same time, the threat of global terrorism after 11 September 2001 has added authority to the debates about the dangers of Islamic radicalism and questions of European and German identity.
The change of government in 2005 and the rise to power of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) coalition government under Chancellor Angela Merkel marks another shift in the debate about German normalization. The second half of the new millennium's first decade saw a new sense of pride in Germany, coupled with a relaxed, easy-going self-representation that could be felt, for instance, in the public viewing areas during Germany's hosting of the 2006 World Soccer Cup or, more recently, during the public celebrations of Germany's winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. At the same time, however, the CDU/CSU's emphasis on a German Leitkultur and Germany's (and Europe's) occidental, Christian heritage implies that for conservatives, Germany is not a country of immigration, but of integration—with assimilation and adaptability (Anpassungsbereitschaft) being key goals. The rejection of dual citizenship for migrants as well as newly established institutions such as the Islam Conference, the Integration Summit, and the German Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees may suffice to illustrate the importance of the National Integration Plan for the CDU coalition government. Consequently there has been a strong emphasis on so-called model migrants (Vorzeigemigranten) whose stories serve as examples of successful integration into German society.
The year 2005 was also the year of the formal opening of negotiations about Turkey's membership in the EU, which further revealed that for Europe, "the Turk" not only represents an internal Other, but also, as an external, oriental Other, challenges the validity of the (Christian) borders of Europe (Halle 2008: 142). Germany's Christian Democrats argue that Turkey should be offered a privileged partnership rather than full membership. Thus, in the debates about a normalization of Germany, the more liberal stance of the progressive politicians and intellectuals toward migrants is confronted with a more conservative position which demands a version of integration marked by cultural assimilation (Hake 2008:
191). These contrasting ideas about what signifies German normality are reflected in the more liberal newspapers Die Zeit, Spiegel, and Suddeutsche Zeitung, as compared to the more conservative Welt and Bild.
As B. Venkat Mani and others have argued, the construction of hyphenated German identities allows for a concentration on certain aspects of those hyphenated identities (Mani 2007: 124). In Akin's case, which part of his identity is emphasized in the press—Turkish, German, or the hyphen itself—depends to a large extent on newspapers' stances on issues of migration and is deeply connected to the shifting self-image of the Berlin Republic, as the following overview of the reactions to Akin's films in the German press will show.
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