Monday, August 07, 2006

EPT (Each Pensioner's Television)

One of my most enduring childhood memories is of waking up early in the morning to the dulcet tones of Kostas Nikolopoulos, Evgenia Moraiti or Alexis Doudoulakis reading the morning news on the SBS Greek program. That program, digested along with my morning cereal and the odd grainy late night or Sunday afternoon movie on SBS, was my only exposure to an ancestral world that, if it were not for the testimony of my family, which testimony had more of the character of folklore and legend, may as well have existed on another planet. I listened hungrily to each syllable, noting the differences in intonation between the newsreaders and my relatives' vocabulary as well as memorizing words I had never heard before. Every news item, whether relating to politics, history or just public interest was carefully filed away into the recesses of my brain for future reference, to be placed in the blind mosaic I was constructing of a place I had never seen but was as vivid as the gaze of the icon hanging on my bedroom wall.
Sometimes, on Saturday nights, my uncle would hire videos from the innumerable Greek video shops that seemed to have sprung up from nowhere and were all the rage as many years ago as one could safely count without revealing their age. I would peruse them with the same intensity, making notes of how genteel Greece was invariably black and white and populated by balding persons such as Stavridis and Fotopoulos, who were impeccably polite and had a propensity for wearing high pants. I learned that in genteel Greece, Greeks did not say 'Allo,' when greeting each other, but instead, said "Χαιρέτε," after which the right hand was briskly extended towards the other party. This world was constantly invaded by Germans or Turks, though they were always beaten back by patriotic villagers or actors all wearing exactly the same form of foustanella. In this world, fat balding men with a few strands of curly hair would run continuously through streets abuzz with all the tell tale signs of a construction boom exclaiming: "Καλοί μου άνθρωποι." The poor were unfairly treated but they always receive their comeuppance and in this genteel world, lovers would be parted and then reunited, a lavish visit to the bouzoukia setting the happily ever after seal on a charmed life.
The Greece of colour in contrast, seemed to be poorly scripted and haphazard. It was comprised of anorexically thin waifs with long hair and big noses riding motorcycles to the sound of rock music, rebelling against traditional norms by such revolutionary activities as kissing in public and wearing blue jeans. Often, the plots of such movies would be expounded conspiratorially by classmates during recess at Greek schools. This invariably involved repeating expressions such as "ο Παπασούζας" and careering around the classroom, attempting to re-enact his many feats. We learned that "γύφτοι" were funny looking people who drove Datsuns with loudspeakers attached to them and who were always striving to save their homes from being demolished by the government. Ταμτάκος, was not a Japanese samurai, but rather, their chief representative.
When anyone received the slightest hint of a Greek movie being screened on SBS, the word would be passed around and all other arrangements would be cancelled so that this unprecedented event could be enjoyed to the full. One such movie, directed by Angelopoulos, had us glued to our screens watching a vessel vanish over the horizon for a half an hour. We were bored out of our pants but it was a Greek horizon and conclusions could be drawn from the way the light reflected against the water until the screen became enveloped in darkness and silence.
I was fifteen when I first visited Greece. I returned to Australia convinced that modern Greece was a kaleidoscope of black and white Greece as a distant background, much superficial careering around in blue jeans and motorcycles in the foreground to the tune of the advertising jingle for "Νέο Αλεύρι 100" (Δίνει πάντα λύσεις στο λεπτό) and a disconcertingly strong dose of Angelopoulos' void thrown in. Further trips would add new tiles to the broadening mosaic. A trip to Thessaloniki permitted me to add compound words that would confound even the most expert Scrabble player into the mix, hence: "Σοκολατομπισκότα Αλλατίνη Excess: Σεξ, με σοκολάτα." A restless night in Kypseli compelled me to add into the picture, the entire Roman alphabet along with the effeminate pronunciation of the word: "οκέυ."
When I returned to Australia, I was jaded. Not only were the programs that had inspired me and caused me to rave on and on, so old that they were forgotten and no longer formed a point of reference for my compatriots, they were quite frankly old hat. Local community radio was no longer gospel, just a quixotic pseudepigraphical attempt to recreate or preserve memories that were ever-diminishing with the same fervour that one would shout down the line in an STD call, in the vain hope that the louder one shouted, the further their voice would travel down the telephone lines and across the oceans.
By the time that twenty four hour Greek radio was introduced to Melbourne, the novelty had worn off. Though I confess I spent a year religiously listening to it, I began to realize that worship requires distance and it is a great tax upon one's soul to worship something that has become familiar. I found myself actually switching off the 'Greek radio' and (heaven forbid) flicking through stations, attempting to listen to something decent. Whereas previously, I was prepared to listen to any rot, as long as it was Greek, I found myself deserting the increasingly poor standard twenty-four hour programs for my quaint, sparingly dosed childhood companion, SBS radio and a new found friend, 3ZZZ.
Similarly, the advent of Greek Television was only useful in so far as it immunized me (admittedly after five or so years) against watching the trash that masquerades itself as Greek televiewing and which oozes parodies of ill-fitting western values. Again, I found myself immersing myself in Channel 31 as an antidote. Interestingly enough, Greek old-age pensioners seem to have an inbuilt immunity to the barrage of such trash as that which is freeze dried in the Ant1 studios of Maroussi and reconstituted on Foxtel already and this has arguably been acquired by virtue of the fact that psychologically at least, they often inhabit the lengthening shadows of the black and white world of ye olde worlde Greek filmography. Younger pensioners and those approaching middle age being former denizens of such sinks of iniquity as Stavros Video and perverse viewers of Stathis Psaltis films, most notable by their gaudy, American tourist style clothing and string of investment properties are perhaps those most at risk.
It is for their sake then that the free to air broadcasting of EPT, the Greek equivalent of the ABC was so valuable. Here was the serious reporting, grave documentaries, homages to traditional customs and dance that no longer exist to restore our faith in national myths that have all but faded, outshone by thoughtless pandering to the Greek inferiority complex that sees viewers actively embrace inferior occidental models in order to boost their own flagging self esteem.
Sadly, this comfort of the aged and torture of the young will soon no longer be freely available. In yet another gesture calculated to prove its sensitivity towards the needs of migrant populations, the Greek government has decided in its infinite wisdom to restrict the viewing of EPT to paying subscribers. This means that pensioners who have already had to scrimp and save to buy a set top box and satellite dish, will also have to fork out subscription money. Consequently, there will now not be enough money available to them to provide their grandchildren with their weekly allowance. As a result, their grandchildren will no longer visit them and our poor pensioners will be left alone to enjoy and appreciate pay per view EPT programming without being interrupted by the monosyllabic grunts of their progeny.
If anything, making EPT pay per view will cause its viewers to appreciate it more and actually view it as religiously and uncritically as they view ANT1, simply because they will want their money's worth. This will teach us in the colonies to view our contact with unadulterated Helladism with due reverence, not the lackadaisical flicking of channels that we currently indulge in. And of course we should have no right to dictate programming to the Greek government despite the fact that we are being made to pay for such programs. The Truth is revealed whole, for those who have money to receive it.
Of late, the prophets of doom and gloom are attempting to point out that as a result of the Greek government's efforts to make us appreciate Greek televisual culture, 'mixed' couples will lose out. For, the argument goes, while the viewing of foreign language channels may be tolerated by non-Greek partners, it definitely will not be so tolerated if they have to pay for it. Underlying this argument is the premise not that non-Greeks are barbarians who cannot appreciate Greek culture per se but rather, that non-Greeks are barbarians who have not the nous to be able to purchase Greek culture for themselves.
As always, we have ourselves to blame. There is no reason, given our numbers and influence in this country, why we could not have over the years formulated more than a token presence on Channel 31 and a non-existent one on SBS. It says much about our failure to transplant our culture to this country that we are still disproportionately dependent upon culture injections from a far off motherland in order to retain our sense of identity. And what is the most insidious and disgusting element of the whole debacle is that the Greek government knows this and is determined, though hindered by public outcry, to extract every last penny out of the dying corpse that is the Greek community, before it draws its last breath and the maggots that feed upon its rotting flesh are scattered to the four assimilative winds.No small wonder then, that EPT's website reads: «EPT τελεία τζι αρ», τελεία being the operative word.


First published in NKEE on 7 August 2006