Tuesday, September 2, 2014

History as spectacle: Turkey's Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center

‘We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience.’ Larry Law, Images and Everyday Life, 2009.

Since the 1990s, the commemoration of the Great War in Australia has increasingly taken the form of spectacular experiences and events. The 1915 Anzac centenary has already inspired elaborate historical re-enactments, festival style Anzac ‘glamping’ with branded swags,  luxury overseas cruises with celebrity guests, and televised sporting spectacle from AFL to V8 Supercar motor racing.

My PhD thesis, which explores war commemoration and consumer culture, is focused on Australia and the Anzac legend. However, it is important to remember that memory industries operate in a global context. A tweet yesterday from one of Australia's preeminent military historians, Peter Stanley, who is currently touring Gallipoli, served as a timely reminder of the Turkish experience.

The Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center (Çanakkale Destanı Tanıtım Merkezi) was launched by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in June 2012. The A$40M centre offers a series of exhibits over four floors, including several ‘simulation’ rooms where visitors can experience thrilling multimedia representations of the Great War.

The Gallipoli Campaign does not just hold historical and mythological resonance for Australians. Known in Turkey as The Battle of Çanakkale, the successful resistance of invading allied forces is celebrated as a milestone in the creation of a modern Turkish republic. Here too, history is harnessed as a servant of the present.

Historical simulations are created using theatrical staging, historic film footage, contemporary re-enactments, computer generated images (CGI), 3D graphics, immersive wrap-around cinema screens and surround sound. In 2013, New Zealand journalist,  Russell Maclennan-Jones, described the tourist attraction as a ‘multimedia extravaganza’, noting that ‘Facts, figures and statistics are sparing’.

Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center Naval campaign simulation
Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center Artillery simulation

I have not visited the site yet but am greatly looking forward to Peter's insights. If you're interested in the Great War and Anzac commemoration I urge you to follow @Stanleyhistory and subscribe to the Honest History blog which has fast become a hub for breaking news, ideas and debate concerning Australian history.

It strikes me that a comparative study exploring the development, interdependency and divergence of the Anzac/Canakkale tourism industries could provide fascinating insights into personal, national and commercial investments into the past.

Promotional video: çanakkale destanı tanıtım merkezi

Promotional video: çanakkale destanı tanıtım merkezi (simulation rooms start at 4:58)

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