Saturday, December 05, 2020


«Οι μάγκες δεν υπάρχουν πια, τους πάτησε το τραίνο»……
Manolis Rasoulis. 

“C’mon Latrobe, I’m doing the best to educate the masses but we have to work in tandem. You give them Kazantzakis, I’ll give them Kazantzidis..” Thus spake Manny Cockaflopoulos, the self-proclaimed «Αρχιεπίσκοπο of μαγκιά» and Youtube viral sensation, who is mesmerizing the Greek Australian community with his short video clips, musing and pronouncing upon the essence of Greek masculinity and more besides, on the weighty subject of LaTrobe University’s proposed cancellation of the Modern Greek language studies programme. 

I was directed to Manny by my koumbaro and was immediately transfixed by his compelling presence. I felt like I have always known him and indeed I have: He is the guy that grabbed me by the shoulder at Rebelos Bar on Russell Street in the nineties to reveal, uninvited, the deeper meaning behind Lavrentis Mahairitsas’ ode «Ένας Τούρκος στο Παρίσι,» the fellow who, seated opposite me at a friend’s wedding, interposed himself between my girlfriend and I and spent the rest of the night explaining to her why, based on his observations of my body language, I was the antithesis of the paragon of chivalry while in him, these quantities abounded, and especially, given the fact that Manny transcends the generations, a multitude of older uncles, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all Kazantzidis lyrics, in which they maintained is encoded, Kabbalah style, hidden knowledge. 

Manny knows everything, sees everything and has the solution for everything. As such he is a force of nature, a Titan, as elemental as Kazantzakis’ Alexis Zorbas. There is in him, no self-doubt, no inner monologue. As such, he comes at you with the force of the West Wind, warm, but penetrating nonetheless. He fixes you with his hypnotic glare (true “manges” never smile) and expounds his truths, ranging from an analysis of how the true Greek-Australian “manga” uses expletives and how their context  changes with modulations in pronunciation, to an overview of laconic communication by means of subtle Greek facial expressions, which he terms “economy of movement,” in strident cadences that brook no contradiction.  

Significantly, Manny does so in a broad and distinct, Brunswick inflected Greek-Australian accent, spoken out of the sides of one’s mouth, quite different to the high pitched and thick “woggy” accent perfected by the Acropolis Now team, where consonants were elided and vowels slurred. Manny’s resonant diction is crisp, precise, and as psychologically devastating as his own conception of his masculinity. 

His choice of surname is an interesting one. Cockaflopoulos has connotations of an alpha-male rooster preening himself before the hen-house. Given that he is approaching middle age, it also may belie a deeper-seated anxiety over the prospect of a loss of virility, cunningly subverting the very premise upon which the character is constructed. 

Manny Cockaflopoulos’ appearance in social media is a timely one. Between the Acropolis Now generation of comedians whose material dealt with growing up as an urban “wog” in Australia up until the eighties, and the present, there has not been any significant or serious attempt to portray the evolution of the Greek identity in Australia since. Yet as Manny will attest in his ruminations, a lot has changed, both in social structure and self -awareness. Firstly, like many of us who achieved “manhood” in the nineties, Manny doesn’t identify as a “wog.”  

Whereas up until the eighties, the Acropolis Now generation were linguistically and culturally estranged from that of their parents, mystified and burdened by the social mores imposed upon them from another time and place, Manny, who is a fluent Greek speaker, displays tremendous insight into his parent’s generation and an extremely close relationship with Greece. If the raison d’etre of the “wog” is that estranged from his parent’s generation and excluded from the mainstream, he finds solace in and identifies with other assortments of excluded “ethnics,” the dialectic of Manny’s sphere of existence and its inherent tragedy, is that he is fully conversant and integrated both in his parents’ worlds, and that of the mainstream, even though these inhabit different planes, are informed by different values and are, in effect, irreconcilable. 

In a series of monologues on a dedicated youtube channel, Manny Cockaflopoulos’  inveighs upon the topics of the day. Celebrating multiculturalism and the diversity of foods to be enjoyed in Melbourne, he pronounces prospective partners who neglect to strain yoghurt before making tzatziki as a relationship deal-breaker. Citing his time as a wedding videographer, a declining fixture of our cultural presence in this city, he contemplates the discontinuity of the often morbid, or desperately despondent lyrics of songs played at what purports to be one of the most joyous occasions of one’s life, ones’ wedding. He refashions this as a moving and profoundly complex symbol of the dualistic and polyvalent nature of Hellenism, joyous and mournful, light and dark at the same time. 

Brilliantly, while Manny may be considered to ape the outward forms of the “manga” as observed from his parent’s generation, his version of the genre is anything but that. Admittedly, the manga is cool, unflappable, detached, in control and decidedly monolithic, but this is where the similarities, superficial as they are, end. In a subtle and subversive manner, Manny employs his recollections of the first generation to juxtapose the subtext of violence, aggression, dysfunction and Darwinian survival of the fittest inherent within the toxic masculinity of that era, against his own moral code which is decidedly different. Throughout the pandemic and its lockdown, the seemingly nonchalant Manny has been asking us if we are OK, enjoining us to wear a mask and encouraging us to seek the assistance and to talk over our problems in case of depression.  

In a recent clip where he purports to respond to viewers, he castigates a critic for applying labels, urging him instead to consider the underlying reasons of the display of certain phenomena, and calling upon him to show compassion. For all the “magka” rigmarole, this is a wise-cracking, off-beat larger than life individual ,who actually cares and is ingeniously using his persona as a vehicle through which to explore and express aspects of historical trauma that underlie the Greek psyche and which, evidently, are inherited, manifesting themselves in unexpected ways in the present. As such, the personage of Manny is ultimately redemptive  and given its deep level of scrutiny of the ontopathological rifts running through the Greek-Australian identity, unique and historically significant as a comedic form. 

To assume the guise of Manny is an act of resistance. Perpetually at odds with his manager, the ever-demanding “Arabatzis,” of Garlic Breath Productions, (again an inspired metaphor of his persona, given that garlic has traditionally been considered undesirable and offensive to the mainstream, but although pungent, is inherently beneficial) he campaigns to maintain the purity of his message, in a realm created for him, by him, independent, uninfluenced and not dictated to by the ideological requirements of the dominant culture or beholden to the commercial whims and dictates of an “ethnic comedy market”. The comedy, which must be seen to be fully appreciated in all its genius, is possessed both of integrity, as well as authenticity, considering that unlike the current generation of “ethnic” comedians who parody mother cultures they do not understand, producing an almost racist discourse, it unfolds on a multitude of levels, from the visual, to the linguistic, the cultural, the social and beyond. 

In a side-splittingly amusing podcast sketch, Manny condescends to be interviewed by a completely inane and platitude spouting ABC reporter, keen on exploring him as a cultural phenomenon. In a few short minutes, Manny manages to invert the English language, turns prevailing ideologies of inclusivity and diversity on their heads, exposing their hollowness and inability to truly comprehend, let alone enter into dialogue with the complex identities held by the community whence Manny comes. The nature of the man is irrepressible and his knowledge of the discontinuities comprising our ontology, awe inspiring. 

What is ever so more poignant about Manny Cockaflopoulos is that even as he has recently emerged, his comedy is about identity in transition. Inhabiting the generation I belong to, I appreciate him as encapsulating elements of my own experience. To latter, emerging generations however, his accent, his preoccupations and his perspective assume the guise of social history, navigating a world that still exists but is fast becoming peripheral and silent. We should all be grateful to him for giving it a voice in such a skillful, outspoken but in the end immensely affectionate homage. No higher accolade can be afforded it than that used by the man itself. It is “niiiiiiiice,” and absolutely compelling viewing. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 December 2020