I thought I had seen pretty much everything on trash television. Being exposed to the American network channels for half a decade and then watching all kinds of imported reality show formats and domestically produced serials back home contributed to this idea. I was almost sure that entertainment television had already hit the bottom. A news item today proved me otherwise. A new private Turkish TV channel (Kanal T) proudly announced a new reality show where an imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk will try to convert atheist contestants to four different religions. So the last bastions of human life, belief systems and religion were eventually to be exploited for the sake of ratings on entertainment television. Sexuality was long consumed, as violence and romance. Political institutions and family have always been easy targets for sitcoms, dramas, quiz and reality shows. But religion?
The name of the program will be “Penitents Are Competing” (Tövbekarlar Yarışıyor). We learn from the announcement that the mastermind behind this “brilliant” idea is Seyhan Soylu a.k.a. Sisi, the transvestite. She is also listed as CEO of the channel. Sisi, as a former police officer has recently appeared on the agenda related to Ergenekon case and taken under custody briefly and released. A former MIT (National Intelligence Organization) agent Mehmet Eymür implied her being a JITEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter terrorism) member and somehow involved in February 28, so called “postmodern coup”. Sisi denied all allegations and is staying as an enigmatic figure since then. We also learn that she is currently busy in finding persuasive religious leaders for this TV show. Those figures will try to convince the atheists to leave their sinful lives and begin to believe in God as all “normal” people. And 10 atheist contestants are expected to listen to all the representatives of four religions and choose one of them. On the press release, the mottoes of the show are “everybody will be a believer some day” and “the grand prize is to reach God.” Besides this ultimate spiritual prize though, there is also an earthly one: A free visit to Mecca, Jerusalem, Tibet or the Vatican City. Of course this trip will depend on the atheist’s relevant religion pick. We wouldn’t expect such a holy mission to be crowned by some monetary value, would we?
Here are my humble predictions about this outrageous show scheduled to debut in September: The concepts of God, faith and religion are not going to work on entertainment TV and the show is going to receive a lot of negative reactions from the Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı), Higher Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) and other related agencies. Sisi will not be able to find, let alone ten but one single outspoken atheist to expose himself/herself on television. She will then realize the bravest atheist, Aziz Nesin who had barely escaped to be burned alive in Sivas has already passed away and the memory of 37 mostly Alevi intellectuals’ murder by Islamic fundamentalists in 1993 is still very vivid. Turkey has a problematic past with its atheist population and the concepts of “diversity” and “tolerance” do not stay much on public consciousness. As this television format shows, atheism has always been considered an illness to be cured or a perversion to be fixed. On the show’s big announcement, it reads, “you will reach to the ultimate peace with this competition. We are giving you the greatest gift of all times, to believe in God.” Obviously we have not reached the lowest of the low in television industry, at least not so far.