Monday, July 26, 2004


“Olive, olive olive! Oil oil oil!” Recent comments in the Herald Sun, focusing on the aforementioned oily chant, seemed to forecast a particularly odious 'Greece is the Word,' on Channel 7. And indeed, reading those comments, what immediately sprung to my mind was endless and tasteless 80's 'wog' cliches by Nick Giannopoulos, attempting to ply a tried, tested and thoroughly threadbare art. I was predisposed to dismiss the program, before I had even seen it.
I was most pleasantly surprised. For Nick Giannopoulos' 'Greece is the Word' was a masterstroke of the subtle positive reinforcement andgood publicity that Greece so desperately needs in the countdown to the Olympics and he should be commended for it. Produced in a 'Getaway' type of format, Giannopoulos went back to the basics and dredged up an old truth that was lying in the sea of oblivion, covered by the sands of bigotry: That Greece is a beautiful country, that is fun to visit. The rest was then as easy as sipping a frappe and dreaming up stereotypes.
The Greece Giannopoulos portrayed was a sunny, youthful place. The beaches and the girls were beautiful, quite a difference from the 'moustached' stereotypes that still exist of Greek women in the Australian community. Giannopoulos met with glamorous, rich and funky people and hobnobbed with the beautiful. This was not the Greece of uncle Mitso with his fish and chip shop that the wider Australian audience would have been led to expect, but rather a Euro-Greece, groovy and smooth. Though many of the scenes and gags were stage-managed, Giannopoulos was able to successfully infuse his own passion and love for the places he visited into the program and transpose to the viewer an irrepressible longing to visit the unparalleled platinum beaches and funky nightclubs of his Greece.
Curiously enough, he inspired in those that have left Greece and settled in Australia, mixed feelings: pride at seeing the country that they left in traumatic conditions come of age but also regret. Somehow, though they have been chanting the mantra that they are better off here, the old doubt that if they had held off a little longer, if they had stayed in the home country they would be enjoying a better lifestyle resurfaced. Deep sighs in the living rooms throughout Greek Australia...
Sure Giannopoulos could not help lapsing into a few instances of his old act on 'Acropolis Now.' Yet these lapses were successful and subtle because they were juxtaposed against a totally alien background that belied the authenticity of the old wog-role. The message was apparent for all to see: The act is just an act. The real Greece is what you see before you in the camera. This was heart-warming and exceptionally well done.
Of course the Greece that Giannopoulos plies to his audience is a sanitised, 'sexed-up' interpretation of an extremely complex land. Giannopoulos does not portray the harsh and often poverty stricken existence of resource-barren villages, nor the daily mundane and frustrating routine of some of the metropolises. The Greek people are more than just the party-going, welcoming and happy people of the program. Nor is it perpetually summer, especially in Macedonia and Epirus.
Nevertheless, should Giannopoulos have to portray these realities? The sad fact is that an older myth, that of seductive Mediterraneaness is needed to override a newly forged one, that of a slothful and incompetent security risk. As an aside, did you all notice the camera pan to the handsome, self assured soldier clutching his weapon on the island of Santorini , ensuring that all is safe and secure on Fantasy Island and that no one will drop a bomb on the twin churches? Brilliantly done Nick.Unfortunately, the Anglo-Saxon world is not interested in realities. In its black and white blinkered world of symbols, everything must serve a purpose and that of Greece is to be either a scapegoat, or a glamorous summer playground consisting of Santorini, Mykonos and an unpleasant transit in Athens. This notwithstanding, Giannopoulos' modern Greece, with a bucolic admixture of folk dancing and of course, donkeys because they make us feel warm and fuzzy is to be preferred as it comes as a welcome respite to negativity and because at least for a sizeable margin of the island population, this myth has become the reality that ensures they earn a living..The question that one would have to inevitably ask, is why it is left up to individuals, (albeit capable ones like Giannopoulos) to promote Greece? A perusal of such publications as the Time magazine often yields tantalising photographs of Turkey strategically placed to exhort the reader to put their yearning for the Mediterranean into action. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Greece advertisements for which are notably inconspicuous in the mainstream media. Greek consulates here, which also remained remarkably silent as to the recent biased ABC report on Greece, need to focus less on a forbidding barrier and place of exile mentality and more openly promote Greek (as opposed to Greek-Australian) interests here.If anything, Giannopoulos has proven that Greek-Australians are great ambassadors for Greece and are key to the promotion of Graeco-Australian co-operation. If Giannopoulos' thoroughly entertaining program as well as the recent Zorba (tacky, but kind of fun) romp in Federation Square which saw people of all races enjoying themselves by being Greek for a few minutes, are anything to go by, imagine the effect of a co-ordinated governmental and Greek-Australian effort. Achievable outcome or whimsical Mediterranean fantasy? You, or rather the Greek Tourism Board be the judge.
For the moment, let us all bask in the warmth of the praise lavished upon our country of origin in recent articles in The Age and the Weekend Financial Review. It was time we took our laurels out of the closet and aired them a tad.

First published in NKEE on 26 July 2004