Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has so far won many political battles against all odds, but it keeps losing on the public relations front, particularly in cinema and TV, in spite of vigorous and costly efforts.
Enjoying strong electoral support, the party has been forming governments for more than a decade, has consolidated its power in all state apparatuses, channeled large amounts of money to pro-AKP businessmen and created its own partisan media network. Still, all the pro-AKP dramas, whether on the big screen or TV, keep failing at high costs.
Take the movie "Kod Adi: K.O.Z," a political thriller whose title ("kod adi" means code name) uses the Turkish word "koz" (trump) as an abbreviation for the phrase "it's time for a mole operation."
"Kod Adi: K.O.Z" was an attempt to project the AKP's grand narrative to the masses — a narrative that basically argues that Turkey's president and national intelligence chief are two knights who fight against an international conspiracy spearheaded by their former political allies, the Gulenists and "Great Britain."
The action-packed movie came to the big screen ambitiously in 850 theaters across Turkey on Feb. 13, with the goal of breaking the national box office record, currently held by a comedy about the coach of a children's soccer team, "Recep Ivedik 4," which attracted 7.3 million viewers last year.
"Kod Adi: K.O.Z" ultimately flopped at the box office before it left theaters last month with a total of 312,914 viewers in a country of more than 77 million. In its last week, the movie was watched by only 11 people, according to daily Cumhuriyet.
The movie, slammed by almost all Turkish cinema critics, could "top" only one list: the Internet Movie Database's "Bottom 100," according to thousands of Turkish viewers.
The failure to attract more interest in the movie comes as a surprise, considering the initial support and resources it enjoyed. Its production quality was decent and a Turkish journalist reported that some theaters showed it free of charge for weeks, while at least one pro-AKP employer allegedly told his employees to show him a ticket for the movie if they did not want to be fired.
"The Third Reich [of the Nazis] also had their own official filmmakers, but I have never seen such a worthless movie," Turkish cinema critic Vecdi Sayar told daily Radikal on Feb. 12 while reviewing "Kod Adi: K.O.Z." Other critics used words such as "agitation" and "bad propaganda" to describe the movie.
Pro-AKP dramas underperform on TV, too.
"Reaksiyon" (Reaction), a "Homeland"-style action drama that revolves around Turkish military and intelligence officers, has a similar international conspiracy theme. Less than three months after its first episode was aired in September, the expensive production was taken off the air by private Star TV due to poor ratings.
"Kizilelma" (Red Apple) is another drama that openly praises Turkey's National Intelligence Agency on state-run broadcaster TRT, which is being financed by Turkey's taxpayers. Even the AKP's election campaign song was used in this drama by its producer, who is known for the controversial "Valley of the Wolves" series, but it could not save itself from being taken off the air due to poor ratings.
Meanwhile, an Ottoman detective drama titled "Filinta" (Handsome) is still broadcast despite poor ratings — perhaps, thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's blessings and the generosity of TRT, again.
Erdogan, whose son Bilal is reportedly a business partner of the producer of "Filinta," visited the film set last month and promised its German actor that her request for Turkish citizenship would "immediately be solved."
"Filinta" is not the only historical drama that attempts to justify and glorify the AKP's neo-Ottoman foreign policy.
Focusing on the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire and his fight against the Crusaders, the movie "Dirilis: Ertugrul" (Resurrection: Ertugrul) mixes the dominating themes of most pro-AKP dramas: neo-Ottomanism and borderline-xenophobic conspiracy theories. The pro-government media has reported on the historians' slamming of the factual inaccuracies of the show, despite TRT having financed it.
The clear failure of these movies and TV shows seems hard to explain: The AKP received more than 19 million votes in last year's local elections, but only roughly 313,000 people went to a movie theater to watch "Kod Adi: K.O.Z."
The bad performance of pro-AKP TV dramas is significant as Turkey is the world's largest TV series exporter after the United States.
Viewer ratings, which are determined by the number of TV sets tuned to a particular program of some of the series discussed here, are: "Reaksiyon": 8-18%; "Filinta": 7-10%; and after its first two episodes, "Kizilelma" rates dipped as low as 3%.
"Dirilis: Ertugrul" performs better at a viewer rate of 14-23%, but even this number lags far behind the 43.3% of the votes the AKP received in last year's local elections.
How can the discrepancy between the number of votes for the AKP and the demand for pro-AKP fiction in a country of intense political polarization and public craze for TV dramas and cinema be explained?
One explanation might be that the AKP has been gaining popular support by positively impacting the people's lives with its policies, such as the improved health care system. This "real" touch, combined with its former ideological discourse that seemed "sincere" to the average voter, could be easily turned into votes and public confidence.
However, pro-AKP dramas and their new grand narratives about foreign conspiracies, as well as historical revisionism, might be perceived by the average Turkish viewer as out of touch with the realities of daily life.
In fact, it could still be possible to attract millions of viewers to propaganda dramas, but the AKP's "swarming" mentality to dominate Turkey's culture industry in the past decade has purged, discouraged or alienated talents who could create more believable, in-touch works. Almost all of them are in the opposition camp now.
So, when one has neither skilled propagandists such as Mikheil Chiaureli and Leni Riefenstahl nor one's own Hollywood that can do the job in more subtle ways, one actually should not be surprised to end up with big flops such as "Kod Adi: K.O.Z."