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Blonde Bombshell Stirs Up National Passions
by Amberin Zaman
Media attention, during the recent election campaign, should have focused on the main contenders and how they intended to solve the country's myriad problems. Many newspaper columns were instead devoted to Banu Alkan, a fausse blonde bombshell from the Balkans who, unlike many of the candidates, stirred national passions.
With her heaving bosom, generous hips and pouting lips, Miss Alkan, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, used to churn out B-class films in the late 1970’s about unrequited love, betrayal, and wicked in-laws. Her performance, which usually consisted of posing half naked in various positions earned Miss Alkan, millions of male fans, even more cash and the accolade "Aphrodite."
But Turkey’s transition from a state-run economy to the free market in the early 1980’s relegated Miss Alkan along with the shambolic, locally produced Anadol motor car to the annals of history as Turkish tastes for women and transport became more pronouncedly western. Well, that is until last January. Blonder, bustier, and poutier than ever, Miss Alkan, having re-invented herself as a singer, released her first single "Neremi, Neremi." Within days the title, which means "Which Part of Me ? Which Part of Me ?" performed in a hoarse, tuneless whisper shot to the top ten. It is still selling like hot cakes.
Miss Alkan’s comeback has triggered a prolonged bout of soul searching among Turkey’s pro-Western elite. Many feel horrified and possibly embarrassed at her resurgent popularity. A furious debate over aesthetics and artistic talent and how "this woman" fits into it all has ensued.
Sociologists, journalists, music critics and psychologists have been seeking to provide an answer on talk shows aired on private television and in a slew of newspaper articles on the subject. As if to prove that it is all a horrible mistake, Miss Alkan herself, has been also invited to take part in the debate, with television presenters openly pouring scorn on her before millions of viewers. "So which part of yourself are you referring to ?", they invariably ask. Basking in her new celebrity, an undaunted Miss Alkan, glances down coquettishly at her ample cleavage then confidently proclaims she will soon be carrying her act to Europe.
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20 April 1999

Amberin Zaman, who is based in Ankara, is Turkey correspondent
for The Economist, The Los Angeles Times and Voice of America.
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