What strong lungs Israeli girls have! And Israeli grandmas and moms and granddaughters – who filled Yad Eliahu stadium with a 10,000 strong shower of female power, a few dozen males scattered among them in defiance or embarrassment. Long lines of traffic snaked around the stadium as fans arrived for the first of two concerts by Ozcan Deniz, 47, who plays Faruk in “The Bride from Istanbul” and is the biggest telenovela sex symbol Israel has ever known.
Every part of the show was accompanied by numerous extended roars that rang out in perfect unison: When the show was late in starting, they roared. When the first notes of the “Bride from Istanbul” theme song were heard, they all stood as one and screamed. When it seemed that Faruk was at last going to take the stage the decibel level rose another notch.
When he finally appeared, and sang every song in Turkish which few in the audience understood, and said “Good evening, Tel Aviv” and “Hey, Tel Aviv,” one excited older fan behind me, sighed and said, “Say Israel. We came from all over the country.” She was immediately scolded by everyone around her: Don’t say that! What will he think? Just say thank you that he came, gorgeous Faruk. The walls shook, the sound was swallowed by the chaos and at the end, when it was clear there would be no encores, the crowd roared because it was over.
Had they risen as one and gone to the Knesset to protest the plague of violence against women in Israel, the necessary funding to tackle the problem would have been found within minutes. But why should they embark on an organized mass protest when the man of their dreams, the desperate fantasy that will always be unattainable, is standing right there on stage – even if they can barely see him – and blowing kisses in the air?
It was a dazzling spectacle. Females aged 7-70 had fired up their hair irons, donned sparkly evening dresses or carefully ripped (and also sparkly) jeans, and descended in droves on the stadium.
Even the event organizers were surprised. They thought one show would be plenty, but they quickly discovered that every ticket – from the 1000 shekel ($280) VIP tickets to the 200 shekel "cheap seats" – was snapped up. They had to add another show.
Turkish television reported that Deniz only came to Tel Aviv because of a million-dollar contract, but the thousands in the stadium, fingers aching from snapping endless photos and videos, were certain he had come for love.
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I brought a new friend with me to act as my mirror – to reflect for me all the aspects of this super-fandom that I could not understand. She is 58, works as a secretary for the Rehovot Parks Department, and has reached the point where she can’t go to bed without watching several episodes of the show, whether for the first time or repeat viewing. Before we headed out Saturday night, she urged her husband to quickly make Havdalah (the prayer said at the end of Shabbat). Sometimes she slips and calls him Faruk, but he doesn’t mind. Her son, who is married with children, watches the show now too. She’s even managed to get her very religious sister addicted.
My regular friends adamantly refused my invitation to share the experience. They informed me that I was out of my mind, worried that I had joined the forces of the patriarchy and had lost it as a feminist. "The Bride from Istanbul," they informed me, was the exact type of case where it was okay to condescend to the masses, because with all due respect to cultural relativism, there's a limit, and this show has crossed it.
I decided to cross the line, too. I had partly worked out the secret of the show’s charm. Telenovelas are very powerful social tools for maintaining the old order in worlds where men with penetrating glances, long silences and fancy mustaches rule and make money and can cheat on their wives at will, but not rebel against their mothers. A world where women marry their rapists out of love, happily forgo a career and self-expression because it’s disrespectful to their husbands; meekly accept their husband’s betrayals and children he fathered from illicit affairs; mothers-in-law from hell; poverty as immutable destiny and thousands more dictates that reinforce the patriarchy and mercilessly grind them down.
On the way to the concert, Ilana tries to explain to me: “But that’s the way it is with the Turks, like with the Arabs,” and is taken aback by the suggestion that perhaps it’s the same way with us too, or that at least the local addicts, including a Facebook group with 109,000 members, share an intense yearning for this old world.
“No way, those aren’t my values,” she insists.
So then why the addiction to the show?
“It’s a great show with fantastic acting. Faruk is a dream gentleman.”
How can you say that, I persist – Look at how he treats Sureyya, the bride from Istanbul – with lordliness verging on violence. He forces her to obey his mother, the witch from hell, forbids her to sing and perform in nightclubs, keeps her imprisoned on his wealthy family’s estate, cheats on her.
“How can she leave him? She’s pregnant,” Ilana replies.
In the alternative script that I propose, Sureyya hires crafty lawyers, secures a quite decent alimony arrangement without having to go to court (thus preserving family honor), and returns to Istanbul where she revives her career as a singer. Ilana scoffs, with good reason.
“Seriously? Who would watch such a show?”
Say 'Israel' just once
The Bride from Istanbul is an intriguing, somewhat puzzling and, above all, authentic, phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of female viewers didn’t get hooked on the show through some clever advertising campaign. Interest in the show spread organically, by word of mouth, and the fandom grew. And along with it – the amplifying power of social media, location tours in the Istanbul suburbs, parodies on the Israeli sketch comedy show “Eretz Nehederet” and YouTube, merchandising, and the number of people saying “Marhaba” and saying “Allah Allah” rather than “God have mercy.”
Most of all, the show has Faruk. A man’s man. An available fantasy, a dream man “who is so loving and indulgent.” The beauty of a fantasy is that it is both very safe and exotic - it doesn’t intersect with normal life or the social order. It is a fantasy that can never be put into effect, as Ilana puts it, “You really think any of these women would go with him? He’s not Jewish.”
Asli Enver, who plays the bride Sureyya, is also much loved by viewers, who endlessly analyze her actions and motivations: Her smiles, tears, her shaky emotional state after her tragic miscarriage, relations with her mother-in-law and more. Her every move is examined and weighed according to rigid critical parameters, since every female fan is absolutely certain about how “a real woman” should behave in all of these situations.
In the few minutes she spent on stage, she made sure to twirl around the stage so that she could be seen from every part of the packed hall. She said a sentence or two in English, let her Faruk lead her in his usual way, and disappeared.
“Why didn’t she sing?” people around me wondered. “Because she’s not a singer,” others explained knowingly. “But she sings on the show!” the first group protested. “You think? She’s just lip-synching,” said the same woman who’d longed for Faruk to say “Israel” just once.
At the concert, it was impossible to tell if Ozcan Deniz was actually singing live, or if only the musicians were really playing. The giant screen was set up behind some massive lights that hid half his face. At times, in the middle of songs, Deniz appeared to be arguing with the stage manager, who was clearly visible as he scampered about the stage like a maniac gesturing wildly at different people.
It’s been seven or eight years since Deniz has performed as a singer, as he explained to the fans via an interpreter, because he wanted to focus on his career as an actor and director. Another loud roar from the audience. “But thank you for reminding me of the music,” he says, closing his eyes and placing his hand over his heart. And the women go nuts yet again, willing him to wave at them, to blow them another kiss.
He may have been better off not singing. His voice was no match for the awful sound system. It got swallowed up and wasn’t very convincing. “He’s no Eyal Golan, that’s for sure,” one bunch of fans agreed. He’s no Omer Adam either, not to mention a Pe’er Tasi.
The small and mediocre voice is one thing, but the songs are also musically bland, no translation of the lyrics was provided and the overall production, including the annoying dichromatic lighting and beams of fire that did little more that sputter, felt incredibly amateur.
But behold the power of fandom: All the women agree on their way out that it was just perfect! A once in a lifetime experience, they write on Facebook. I can't believe it, I really saw him, they gush. He has to come back! Worth every shekel! What a sweetie! So gorgeous!
I observed as bunches of fans, united in their assessment of the show, paused inside the venue to watch their videos from the show that just ended. Attached to the wall is a life-size photograph of Deniz/Faruk, and a huge line is forming there for selfies. One woman directs her daughter, who can’t be more than eight: “Stand straight! Look him in the eyes! Give him a kiss!” and the excited girl happily complies. Eyes gleaming, she tells me that this was the best experience she’s ever had, and her mother says, “There’s a lot to learn from this show. It’s about values, honor, family.”
Ten thousand screaming women can’t be wrong… in their world at least. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be part of that world for a moment – until I recalled the episode in which Bade the maid decides to marry Faruk’s brother Murat who raped her when he was drunk, because she loves him. How tremendously fortunate that Faruk doesn’t behave this way, so we can keep obsessing over him – until the next Turkish star shows up.