Friday, November 05, 2004


The Greek people have always loved a competition, especially a musical one. Unfortunately and if historical precedent is anything to go by, they have also been characterised by a streak of sore losing. Take Apollo the god of music for instance. So incensed was he that King Midas the Phrygian was a better singer than he that he changed the hapless Phrygian’s auditory appendages into assess’ ears. Queen Hera was so incensed at losing a beauty contest, judged by the Trojan prince Paris, that she caused the entire Trojan War while Athena, so enraged that a humble mortal, Arachne could best her in a weaving competition, turned her into a spider. Yes we are very competitive and we don’t like to lose.
Fame Story, the Greek equivalent of Australian Idol is compulsive viewing. Not for the singing mind you, but in true keeping with historical precedent, it provides a unique insight into the world of schmoozing, zhouzhing, a manual for how to scratch, claw and lick one’s way up to the top while being as big a bitch as possible.
Fame Story 3, hosted by the queen of cattiness herself, Tatiana Stefanidou, who in a previous reincarnation could have been Eris, the ancient goddess of discord, albeit a long-legged one, marks the apogee of Greek bitchiness, in which audience and participants alike, along with judging panel, seem to forget that the reason why they are there is to judge which is the better singer and instead take great delight in turning the contestants upon each other, tracking their machiavellian schemes to weasel their way to the final cash prize and throwing a few obstacles in their way. In short, it is a microcosm of modern Greek society.
In order to pay lip service to the idea of worldwide Hellenism, three Greek-Australians from Sydney have also been included among the contestants. And it is here where ‘Fame Story’ becomes ‘Shame Story’ before it inanely resigns itself to the appellation of ‘Lame Story.’ Fame Story 2 saw the rise of two talented Greeks from the American continent, the sultry Maro and the effervescent Kalomoira, who eventually became the winner not only of the competition but of the hearts of the entire male population of Greece. In contrast, and possibly as a reaction, none of the Sydney contestants come even close to threatening their Grecian cousins’ capabilities or position in the Game. The fiction that Fame Story is about providing amateur singers with a ‘big break’ has been exploded for good. While the Sydney contestants are evidently ‘amateurs,’ most of the Greek contestants are not only professional singers but are also well known to and have enjoyed prior relationships with the judging panel. So much then for a level playing field. Apollo cannot afford to lose this time around and rumour has it that professional and more able singers than our hapless Australian contestants were deliberately knocked back by the Fame Story selection panel during auditions down under.
It is no wonder then that the first contestant to be thrown off Fame Story was an Australian, nor that for the past two weeks the candidates for removal are all Australians. What is fascinating however, is how our contestants are treated by our ‘compatriots.’ They are treated with a mixture of condescension, disdain and contempt, by judges, host and contestants, for three reasons. The first, applicable more directly to the two female contestants has to do with their demeanour. In contrast with their Grecian cousins, they are quieter, less assertive and pushy, thus leading them to be characterised as “without personality, afraid, looking like a typist, of no future..etc.” They also lack the guile, manipulative and histrionic capacities of their counterparts. In effect, this is a manifestation of an unexpected cultural clash between two ways of life. In Greece, the pie is relatively small and people have to elbow, kick or employ any other means of removing others from their way in order to secure a piece for themselves, whereas in America, while the pie is large, there are so many beneficiaries that to be assertive and develop a killer instinct as Maro and Kalomoira did, is the only way to obtain a piece. Thankfully, in Australia up until now at least, the pie is large enough to distribute to all. It is for this cultural reason, rather than any “lack of personality” that our contestants don’t ruffle their feathers and strut as proudly as peacocks in the terribly conceited fashion that their cousins do. They are polite and believe in fair play. As such, they have absolutely no place in a modern Greek society that equates etiquette with backwardness and derides its practitioners as second-class citizens.
Cultural differences are also manifest in the treatment of Zoe, the ‘punk rebel.’ While teenage behaviour such as whooping and sliding on floors is seen as typical youthful exuberance here, in Greece, it is out of context and thus strange. Couple this with Zoe’s unself-conscious declaration that she has never worn high-heels before, and this to a society which still sexually objectifies women to an immense degree and you can imagine what a strange fruit she appears to be within Greek society, emerging from the jungle.
Language difficulties also make our contestants an object of derision. While the contestants are possessed of greater skills in the Greek language than Kalomoira before them, there is an unseen pressure upon them to conform and their every slip up makes them seem awkward. Again cultural differences also play a role. As a general rule, Greeks and Americans are more articulate than Australians and the inability of our contestants to express themselves at ease and on topics that Australians do not generally talk about at length ie. themselves, lowers the status of the Australian contestants in the eyes of the Greek audience who see them as sub-normal and as figures of fun.
Lastly, and as a result of the differences between the modern Greek and Australian ways of life, an undercurrent of vicious racism and xenophobia underlies the whole program, making it acceptable to denigrate the Australians and undermine them to their faces. They are in effect weak targets, their lack of understanding of the subtle nuances of the Greek art of the ‘put-down’ not permitting them to identify when this is occurring, while their Anglo-Saxon politeness stops them from reacting, their language skills not permitting them to express what they would have liked to express, could they wanted to do so, at any rate.
The deliberate inclusion of Greek-Australian contestants who have considerably lower chances of success than their Grecian counterparts in Fame Story, and their subsequent treatment, is a gross and blatant insult to the entire Greek-Australian community. However, it is also a lesson in the way culture and living conditions can sunder people of the same ethnicity and transform them into ‘others.’ It also is a lesson as to how many in mainstream Greek society see us, as poor, uncultivated yokels. That Ant1 TV and Tatiana Stefanidou, whose journalistic skills are so pedestrian as to make “The Truth” newspaper or the “National Enquirer” serious publications, would have the insensitivity to give a voice to this ill-will in pursuit of ratings is hubris, punished by the decline in ratings of this rather Lame Story. It is a sad, sordid program that deserves to be boycotted by all Greek-Australians who pay through the nose to witness its children being derided.
And what of the Greek-Australian contestants? They may not be flashy, trashy, or full of bling bling but they do have that ultimate JLo element that their Grecian cousins lack, whatever their skill level that assures them stardom in our hearts: They keep it real, and we have earthy, laconic, fair go, true blue Australia to thank for that.

First published in NKEE on 5/11/04