Monday, February 27, 2006


If television had existed in the time of ancient Greek athletes Milo of Kroton, Diagoras of Rhodes, or Theagenes of Thasos, no doubt their triumphs in the ancient Olympics would have been the subject of numerous live broadcast interviews. Pheidippides’ drug-enhanced sprint from Marathon to Athens would have been the subject of heated debate in the current affairs shows of the day, with sages like Thales of Miletus locking horns with Solon the Athenian, popular models such as Aspasia (look out for her latest Compact Discus: “Eros on the Acropolis” brought to you by Heaven, er, I mean Olympus) and politicians such as Themistocles, all shouting over each other and interrupting each other, causing the host, presumably Aristeides, (he was not called “the Just” for nothing you know,) to interject, only to throw to a cross-promotional commercial break.
Euripides’ and Sophocles’ tragedies would be serialized and blended with inane music and even more inane expressionless interpretations by players with faces as stiff and lifeless as the clay masks all ancient actors wore, and would be adapted to the times, hence: Persian dress, a good admixture of Illyrian, Persian and Thracian expressions as an indicator of ‘modernity’ and plenty of fornication during the lacunae in the text. Sitcoms would invariably be re-hashed plots of Aristophanes and more likely, Menander, shredded, pulped, spun around in a centrifuge and re-constituted to form a myriad of separate episodes, involving bodily functions, obtrusive mother-in-laws and angry teenagers who want to have sex - not with their mothers-in-law of course, for that can only take place in a tragedy that has been inordinately serialized to ensure that each actor has slept with each actress at least once, in the manner of an AFL Footy fixture.
Scientists speculate that the strange device found off Antikythera decades ago and previously thought to be a planetarium was actually a clockwork television, whose episodes screened would gradually decrease in value and interest as the gears wound down. Take for example the ancient epic «Έρωτας» (Love), which was found lodged within the gears of the machine, re-constituted and revived for modern audiences. All the great elements of drama are there: Wealthy family that owns what was known in ancient Greek as a «ρεζόρτ». All is well within this American fantasy-palace except for the traditional fatal flaw that must be present in all true tragedies, that afflicts all of them: they can’t stop slipping in Americanisms, or sleeping with one another. Thus, the central character, Myrto, sleeps with a young man personally planted for that reason by her jealous ex-husband who is currently sleeping with her best friend, while her current husband who fled his home because he slept with his brother’s wife, is pursued by his previous wife, who wants to sleep with him and ends up sleeping with his wife’s sister. All the while, his wife’s son dumps his girlfriend, who then goes on to sleep with a hired thug hired by his father to cause harm to his mother, all the while being pursued by her ex-lover’s sister, an evil closet lesbian, and sleeps with an ex-lover, who dumps the previous person she was sleeping with and who alone in the entire series has no one else to sleep with, because he is a loser. In the case of this masterpiece, the clock wound down centuries ago.
In another masterpiece, known as «Κρυφά Μονοπάτια» or “Secret Pathways” with all the connotations of a gay porn-film attached, it takes the usual formulaic 2(x-3)² episodes for the heroine to sleep with her fiancé’s cousin, amidst the usual quaint and bucolic country setting, bleating of sheep and fornication of rams. The old master Manoussos Manousakis has been granted by Hermes, the god of Television with a grand gift: to be able to tell the same story for ever and ever and ever, without his viewers ever cottoning on.
Greek television is insidious because unlike normal television, as soon as a Greek native is exposed to it, he loses all critical faculties. Remove said native Greek from Greece, and permit him to access Greek television abroad and this affliction becomes even worse. Whereas it can take such a Greek two seconds to compel with Olympian majesty, the dismissal of inanity from Channel 9 for example, at the touch of a button, turn on the satellite top box or suitable Foxtel accoutrement and you have him hypnotized there for life.
Researchers are at this moment conducting DNA tests on Greeks of Melbourne to see whether or not we are descended from Theseus, who was compelled by Hades to remain forever glued to his seat and watch the underworld go by and whether in fact, our current affliction is merely a mutation of a primordial punishment. For it cannot be doubted that Greek television certainly is a great parent-sitter. On the other hand, take away the remote control and change the channel, and the placid, transfixed parental units the subject of this diatribe let loose a storm so powerful and intense as to rival the sacks of Aeolus or at least, the hot air emanating from the omnipresent undead Andreas Mikroutsikos’ mouth.
I suspect the Olympian gods hands in all of this. King Midas’ song competition against Apollo surely was televised in times ancient. Tatiana Stephanidou would have prefaced round one, streaming out into the middle of the studio in suitably suited to show off her long legs attire, only to be replaced by the next mindless and bitchy starlet enjoying the network god's favour, Sophia Aliberti for example, whose latest catchphrase: “I LIVE YOU” has exploded entire linguistic theories on velar fricatives and voiceless uvular plosives, given that it is recited to rhyme with the word “love”. Both contestants’ performance will have been endlessly debated by has-been and nobody music personalities offering streams of self-righteous and catty advice while in the end, after ogling the side-show dummy contestants and commenting on the way they are brilliant from the neck down, will announce Apollo as the winner (after all who is in favour with the Olympian Compact Discus Company? Who’s your daddy huh?) and send Midas off the set with asses’ ears and a consolation record contract that practically means that everything he touches will turn to gold.
Further evidence of Olympian interference in Greek television comes from the morning shows, which are invariably populated by ancient, scantily clad nymphs. I once blamed the Roman occupation and their own corruption of television for the presence of these, to my mind decidedly ungreek creatures. I do so no longer. These ethereal creatures noiselessly and with an expression of benign and Olympian nirvana, flit and float, pirouette and twirl in hot-pants, lingerie and mini-skirts across the studio in a paean to the gods, while gorgeous priestess giggle and flirt with other members of the Olympian priesthood who must be placated, causing the entire population for unemployed or otherwise idle Greek men to have a reason for waking up in the mornings. Though mostly of Russian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian extraction, these girls personify how ecumenical the benefits of Greek civilization really are. Praise the Gods indeed.
For those of you, who in accordance with the teachings of philosopher Jean-Bernard Klus, reject public displays of lingerie as superfluous to a well-tempered aesthetic, but like Tantalus, maddeningly hunger for an escape from all this inanity, the Jerry Springer-like show «Κους Κους» where Greek housewives ring in and confess to a panel of sexperts with how many men they are cheating on their husbands, is a veritable wheel of Ixion. Further insult to injury is provided by the manifestation of a matronly Hestia, in the guise of a Κυρία Βέφα, a priggish, obnoxious old hag who attempts to prove the superiority of her cooking by tilting her perfectly coiffured beehive, pronouncing all of the ingredients in English and creating the most mind-numbing and tasteless of offerings. Yet woes betide the Greek who would have the temerity to look away. For it is she who is the domestic goddess and not upstart Nigella.
One cannot help but have Orwellian false memories of sun-filled Sunday mornings, before the victory of the Olympian gods, when the Titans would produce such tremendous shows on Channel Ten as “The Greek Variety show” and “Let’s go Greek Entaxi.” Cronus’ world was invariably populated by naive, hairy Greeks with sideburns and embarrassingly tight pants, priests riding motorbikes and music tremendously quaint but so wholesome that it caused us to grow up big and strong. The sands of Cronus have sadly passed on, though stray grains appear as the flickering and grainy documentaries of ERT SAT. As we close our televisions in silence, we can only hope that one day, the Olympians will have left no one left to shag and given that Greek television allows us to retain our Greek identity, and expand our vocabulary, hence our parents' insistence that we watch it with them, note down our new word for the day: Sex, by Elli Kokkinou.
First published in NKEE on 27 February 2006