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Articulating Identities around Lev Yilmaz’s “Tales of Mere Existence”

Defne Karaosmanoğlu

Pages 203 - 218


Lev Yilmaz is an independent artist and publisher best known for his series of animated comics, “Tales of Mere Existence.” 1 The series began in 2002, and since then it has had more than fourty-one-million viewers on YouTube. Based on personal observations, the stories are told from a very pessimistic and sarcastic point of view, challenging conventional inter-personal and family relations. Even though the Boston-born and San Francisco-based storyteller and animator, who has a Turkish father and a Swedish mother, never claims a national identity of any sort (nor a bi-national identity such as Turkish-American or Swedish-American), his Turkish readers tend to refer to his Turkishness very often. In this paper, I analyze Yilmaz’s “Tales of Mere Existence” through online audience research. First, I look at the critical discourses within the text itself and the moments of resistance therein. Then, I analyze how the English- and Turkish-speaking audiences receive texts that I call resistive, that is, texts that challenge self and society. I especially look at whether and in what ways nationality (or the absence of nationality) becomes a central issue in those interpretations. I analyze the comments shared in Turkish and English on YouTube, entries shared in Turkish urban dictionaries such as Incisözlük and Ekşisözlük and other related websites from 2002 to 2014, and try to understand how Turkishness or Turkish-Americanness is expressed and re-written in and around the text by the audience. In this paper, I employ an interdisciplinary approach that combines American studies with communication studies. In the end, I argue that there is no necessary link between the text and its interpretation. National and patriotic sentiments, inter-national solidarity, and hate towards others and the self play a crucial role in the audience’s interpretations, whereas the content of the text has no intention to provoke such feelings. Therefore, in the case of this study, not the text itself, but the descent of the author is determinant in meaning production.


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