The new normal after Turkey's earthquake: A TV host and comedian gives his take

Screenshot taken from a video of the new episode, aired on the Guldur Guldur YouTube channel.

The Güldür Güldür Show,” a popular weekly comedy show in Turkey, often presents sketches and jokes based on current events and contexts. So it was not surprising that after a several-week break due to the devastating earthquake in Turkey's Southeast provinces, the new episode that aired on Saturday was all about the earthquake. The highlight of the new episode was the speech delivered by the host of the show Ali Sunal. A renowned comedian, who has continued his father, Kemal Sunal‘s legacy as one of the most prominent comedians in Turkish cinematic history.

What is normal?

Right at the start of the show, Sunal, stood on stage, in a theater room packed with viewers, asking one simple question, “What is normal?” He then, carefully, unpacked the question, exploring what it means in Turkey:

It has been weeks since the earthquake, and everyone is after normalization. What kind of normalization are we after? Are the architect diplomas bought with money, incompetent contractors, unqualified officials the normal? Is it normal to grant zoning amnesty for faulty buildings? Or is it normal to be selling tents at a time like this? Is it normal to send thousands of people to their deaths in plain sight? And after such a disaster is it normal that not one person has come forward accepted their mistake, apologized and resigned?

The state is widely thought to have mishandled the earthquake response, as delayed search and rescue operations, unorganized aid campaigns, lack of state preparedness or emergency measures, missing donations, and more prolonged people's suffering led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. No officials have apologized or resigned thus far, leading to a massive public outcry. A little over one month since the earthquake struck ten provinces, anger against the state continues to churn.

The exposure government's misstep and corruption has made citizens question the one-man rule system that has been in place for 20 years, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the center.

A recent journalist investigation revealed that the Turkish Red Crescent, a state-backed aid wing, opted to sell donated tents to displaced people, rather than distributing them for free in the aftermath of the earthquake. Further investigations revealed that the Red Crescent also sold canned food and second-hand clothes donated to the Crescent to other aid organizations and companies who were rushing to help people hit by the earthquake. The arrest of some 230 people, mostly building contractors, has made little difference in the wave of public criticism. A video of President Erdoğan praising zoning amnesties also trended online shortly after the earthquake. Zoning amnesties or “zoning peace” allowed construction builders to skip crucial safety regulations for a fee. In that speech delivered in 2019, President Erdoğan boasted about solving “the problem of 144,156 citizens of Maras with zoning amnesty.” The speech was delivered in Kahramanmaraş (also known as Maraş), one of the provinces hardest hit by the quake.

Sunal's speech trended on Turkish Twitter space. Quoting Sunal, users thanked the comedian for putting into words what they have been feeling and thinking over the last month. Writer Yekta Kopan shared these thoughts on Twitter:

The speech is short, succinct and clear. I was expecting [a speech like this] from Ali Sunal and the team behind Guldurguldur show. I am actually surprised the channel even allowed to air this speech. Perhaps its because of BKM (Besiktas Kultur Merkezi). Note: Here is to the days when we no longer feel surprised hearing these kind of speeches delivered on television.

Show TV, the channel that airs “The Güldür Güldür Show,” is one of the mainstream media channels in Turkey. Last year, the show creators were forced to cut a satirical sketch about the Minister of Finance and Treasury Nureddin Nebati from their lineup after network management demanded they remove it. Ahead of the episode, the show aired a promo video where a comedian impersonating Minister Nebati appears to answer questions about the nation's banking system, unemployment, and other pertinent issues the country has struggled with during the last year's economic crisis. “I am very interested in the banking sector,” explained the mock minister, adding, “I have two credit cards.” In another question, he was asked whether he had any solutions to reduce the unemployment crisis. “I do,” he said, “find them jobs.”  It was this sketch that was removed from the final version of the show before it was aired. Kopan's mentioning of the channel alluded to this and the overall state of censorship in the country, where mainstream media channels avoid criticisms of the state or state officials.

Terrific speech about the earthquake from Ali Sunal. I sign under each and every word.

Thank you to guldur guldur team, script writers and Ali Sunal for delivering this truth easily on mainstream media.

Sunal ended his speech with the following words:

No, sir, there is no such normal, this is not normal. We will no longer return to this normal. From now on, what is normal, is holding all those responsible to account. What is normal, is listening to the science that tells us how to prevent every disaster before it happens. What is normal is having experts do the job rather than officials’ relatives, family, party members, partners or friends. As Atatürk said, ‘He who loves his country the most is the one who does his duty the best.’ We are hopeful, this will happen one day, we believe it. But until that day comes, we will continue looking at all mistakes through a magnifier glass of satire. We will continue to shed light on you. Because laughing does not mean forgetting. To laugh is to live, to laugh is to ask. Laughing is remembering. I hope laughing is good for all of us in these difficult times. Welcome to the Güldür Güldür Show.

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