I recently discovered one of the upsides of globalization. For years I’ve complained that I can’t watch television from other countries. When we invaded Iraq, I thought that we would at least get a station called “Iraqi TV” where the US government would broadcast the best of Iraqi television to us free of charge. That’s not much to ask in the “spoils of war” category, is it? We’ve been paying for our army to be in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time now. What do I have to show for it? Don’t you think we should be able to at least steal their TV feeds?
What the government can’t deliver, the market can. Having recently downgraded my Netflix subscription to not include the three DVDs that had been sitting in my house for two years (they were, in case you are interested; The Omega Man, Most Boring BBC Nature Documentaries Vol. 2, and another documentary called, Bad History, Worser Reenactments), I was forced to pick just from the streaming menu. While I had confined myself to streaming for years, the fact that I now was RESTRICTED to it led me to panic. I resolved to really search out the online offerings to see if there was anything I had overlooked.
Guess what I found? I found Resurrection: Ertugrul.
Resurrection: Ertugrul is a show that has been broadcast on Turkey’s TRT 1 since 2014. The version on Netflix is subtitled in English. My suspicion is that the series enjoys considerable government support, but I don’t know that. I can’t read any of the credits because not only are they in Turkish, they also have a fuckton of wacky accent symbols so I can’t even take a shot at pronouncing them.
What I Learned By Watching Ertugrul
I often try to watch historical fiction. In most cases I don’t make it past the first episode because the history is so bad. It just makes me mental. When I first started watching Resurrection: Ertugrul I didn’t run into this problem.The fact that the series was probably some kind of crazy nationalistic propaganda underwritten by the Turkish government didn’t bother me. I can explain why. Here is the “description” of the first episode of the second season:
The Seljuk Sultanate of Rum rules over Anatolia, and its leader Sultan Alaadin Kayqubad ushers in its brightest era.
I’m not bothered by bad Turkish history because I don’t know any Turkish history.
When I look at that description, I’m pretty sure I know what they mean by “Anatolia”, and I can kind of guess what was the “brightest era”, but the rest is Greek to me. Well, I’m not really sure about “brightest era” either. If you asked me what was the “brightest era” of the Ottoman Empire, I’m afraid I would draw a blank. Wasn’t the whole thing kind of a bright spot for Turkey? Maybe not? Forgive my ignorance.
Resurrection: Ertugrul takes place before the Ottoman Empire, during a period ripe with mythologized tribal history. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a lot to say about the maybe historical Ertugrul. Of course, as I watched the show I tried to google parts of Turkish history. It turns out that reading Wikipedia entries about Turkish history is like googling Hindu mythology or North African language groups. You quickly realize that the effort is pointless. The amount of information is so vast you could spend years learning about it and, even then, your knowledge would be, at best, fractional. Unless you grew up knowing who the Seljuks were, you’re probably not going to “get your head around it”.
When Are They Going to Wrap This Up?
I quickly binge watched through episode 10. The series was “fun”. There were lots of horses, beautiful location shots, and wonderful costumes. Many of the customs depicted were fascinatingly quirky. For example, the men in the show carry a wooden spoon on the inside pocket of their kaftan and when the host says “please, eat”, they all take out their own wooden spoon and start eating.
Around episode 14 I started to wonder, “How are they going to wrap this up?” The bad guys are really bad, there are at least three or four plot lines, and things seem to be moving rather slowly. Don’t some of the baddies have to start getting their asses kicked for this series to wrap up by episode… what? 17?
Imagine my horror when I checked the Netflix “information” tab and discovered that Resurrection: Ertugrul has 76 episodes! There was a lot more Cardinal Thomas to endure:
How Easy It Is to Flip to #TeamMuslim
In watching my medieval soap opera I was confronted with a conundrum faced by anybody not part of the dominant culture. When watching Ertugrul, the good guys are all Muslim and the bad guys are the Roman Christians. The problem was deciding who I was going to root for.
Clearly, the Cardinal from Rome and the Knights Templars are “my guys.” When it comes to the control of Constantinople and Jerusalem, I am with the pig eaters.
But watching Ertugrul I quickly said, “fuck that.” I ditched backing those murderous assholes by episode three. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but by the time I got to episode 68 I was saying to myself, “If they don’t behead this European motherfucker, I’m going to stop watching.” Then, guess what? They DID behead the guy. Someone in the crowd shouted, “Divine Justice!” and I was on the verge of shouting, “God is great”, but I didn’t because, you know, it was 11:30 at night and I was laying in bed. The Boss is not amused by my emotional responses to fantasy shows.
It’s Easy to Be a Good Muslim
From watching the first season, I’ve also discovered that I could totally handle the obligations of being a devout Muslim. Based on the show, what it comes down to is saying either “god willing”, “if god permits”, or “thank god” after about 30% of what you say. I almost do that now, and I barely believe in god. I mean, just this morning I was like, “Oh, there is enough coffee to make one more pot, thank god.”
Bad Action Is Kind of Good Action
Below is the best still I could find of Ertugrul kicking some Knight Templar ass. It shouldn’t be hard to find pictures like this because he does it almost every other episode.
During the 13th century, there was some place in Europe producing an inexhaustible supply of Knights Templar for Ertugrul and his alps to cut up. Unlike lots of Netflix shows (Rome, Frontier, Last Kingdom), the fight scenes in Ertugrul are not splatterfests. The violence is violent, but, get this… they smudge the blood. It’s like watching Japanese pornography. The point of impact is blurred. Usually the Christians just raise their sword, get cut across the middle, and then fold in half like wilting flowers. Chainmail, it turns out, fundamentally did not work. If you have a choice between wearing a heavy metal helmet or the felt cap of an alp, which you can buy at the Turkey Store for $43, go with the felt cap.
No Nudity, But That’s OK
The show has no nudity or sex. Which is fine. Once you reach 50 and your testosterone starts to plummet, all of the gratuitous nudity in shows like Games of Thrones and Westworld is more trouble than it is worth. It’s distracting. In part because I immediately start to ask questions like, “Is that really Emilia Clark’s ass, or is she a big enough star to have a body double?”
In Ertugrul you don’t have to worry about that. The only kisses you see are on hands. I’m not saying the women aren’t objectified. I’m just saying that they are objectified with their clothes on.
A New Level of Binge Watching
I watched all 76 episodes of the first season. They average about 4o minutes a piece. That’s 50 hours of watching. You would think I would have picked up a little Turkish during that 50 hours, but most of the time I can’t even understand how they are pronouncing each other’s names.
I do understand the word “Bey” when they say it. “Bey” is a courtesy title for a chieftain or ruler. Almost every man in Ertugrul: Resurrection gets called bey at some point.
I’ve decided that I am a “Bey”. I’m going to start signing things that way. I am the bey of Turkish language binge watching. I’m starting on season 2 tomorrow.