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Thinking pop culture

Not quite Turkish delight(ful)

Taken 2 - now showing.

As far as flavours of the month go, this is one I can delight in. One I can Turkish delight in. Boom boom.

Waiting for Taken 2 to start and there was a preview for the new Bond film, Skyfall. Filmed in Istanbul.

Shortly thereafter was one for Argo. Also filmed in Istanbul.

Taken 2 began and moments in and Bryan (Liam Neeson) was off on an unexplained work trip. To Istanbul, of course, because Hollywood isn’t going anywhere else in 2012.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit on three occasions. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities and without a return scheduled, I can happily settle for ogling.

Had Taken 2 been filmed anywhere else and I’d quickly have dismissed it as phallic shlock. But the splendid backdrop motivated me to not only cut it a little slack but allow myself to take it too seriously.

Nope, I’m not Turkish, but on every visit some random person has claimed I have “eyes of the Turk”. I’m construing the remark as a) a compliment and b) testimony to my affinity with the Turks and my duty to defend them against stupid insults.

On one hand this shakily-shot, laughably idiotic romp does a pretty good job at showcasing the city’s aesthetic wares. Like the equally dodgy The International (2009), Istanbul is shown as noisy and delicious and architecturally spectacular.

The film is frenetically-paced and borrows/steals not one but two fantastic songs from the much better flick Drive (2011): sure, there’s some small mercies at hand.

And yet, as gorgeous and crazy as Istanbul is portrayed, some demonisation occurs that no amount of terrific music or seductive cityscapes can disguise.

While copious supplies of flags and headscarves work - eye-rollingly - to convince audiences that Turkey is so very ethnic and foreign and suspicious, Taken 2 has even bigger problems than inaccuracy.

Apparently turfing grenades all over Istanbul is the only way to track down someone who’s been kidnapped. Property destroyed? People killed? Pfft, merely collateral damage: good God, man, American lives are at stake!

As though this isn’t all disrespectful enough, cue any number of brilliant/ethical Anglo and dumb/shady Wog stereotypes.

He might be 60, but Bryan is an American. Which equally explains why he can single-handedly outwit and outsmart even the most diabolical of cheap leather jacket-wearing overlords.

And being an American, of course, he’ll fight cleanly, honourably. Unlike those swarthy and lascivious Turks who rape and terrorise and compulsively watch soccer on broken TVs while eating borek.

Mmm… simit.

And of course, there’s going to be a car crash and a simit cart will get rammed sending the sesame treats flying.

And of course there’ll be a duel in a hamam. Because, really, what other possibilities are there for men in a bathhouse?

No, no whirling dervishes. Fortunately. And I only spotted one stray cat. But there’s hookahs and knock-off-handbag merchants and carpet peddlers a'plenty. As Morrissey would croon, dial-a-cliché.

Taken 2 is nowhere near the worst film I’ve seen this year - in fact, ironically, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is far less enjoyable - but it’s certainly the most racist.

So just how much city porn can compensate for mean stereotypes and gross disrespect?

“Istanbul not Constantinople” - Bart & Baker (1940)

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