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Monday, December 02, 2002

Arts & Letters

Ethnic American Graffiti - Part 2: Multiculturalism without Culture

Films discussed in this essay: American Chai directed by Anurag Mehta; Astoria directed by Nick Efteriades; Monsoon Wedding directed by Mira Nair; My Big Fat Greek Wedding directed by Joel Zwick; and Real Women Have Curves directed by Patricia Cardoso.

One of the problems with multiculturalism nowadays is that it is increasingly difficult to figure out where the multi ends and the culture begins. Given postmodernist modes of appropriation, hybridity, and conspicuous cultural consumption, civilizational sampling is not only all the rage but the civic consensus for a certain kind of globalized cultural correctness. We might – or might not – all be multiculturalists now (which, in an authentic form, would be a consummation devoutly to be wished), but we’ve certainly all struck the pose. In the event, we’ve not only thrown the baby out with the bathwater in tossing the allegedly self-interested self-histories of dead white males, but have also made an intellectual (and moral) muddle of things by gleefully accepting as equal to our own the most tortured, pseudo-anthropological, and fundamentally reactionary “paradigms” of other cultural “practices.” We have, in effect, divorced – in truth, violently ripped out – multiculturalism from any genuine cultural context.

Nowhere has this cultural cannibalism been more egregious than in the original home of the melting pot. “Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of life,” Tocqueville wrote over 165 years ago, “than this irritable patriotism of the Americans” (Democracy in America, I, XIV, p. 244). It is our legacy (and continuing habit) as a nation to assume a supreme social virtue, since doing otherwise would implicitly question our arrangements, realities, and, of course, failures. It is a short step from there to melding all cultures into our own; it is even a shorter step, albeit a contemporary “progressive” variant, to define other cultures by our misperceptions of them.

  A tree grows in Astoria
Growing up ethnic was not easy in Fifties America. It wasn’t as bad as growing up black, of course, nothing was. Still, if you just wanted to fit in, to be just another “normal” kid – and what kid wants to stand out for anything other than athletic prowess – it took an effort. Admittedly, it was even harder in earlier times. The Fifties were, despite McCarthyism and the Cold War in general, the height of the postwar liberal consensus in the US, when even Republican presidents were suspicious of (overt) jingoism and gutter politics. (Eisenhower was famously contemptuous of Richard Nixon.) When the decade’s two presidential contests both pitted Dwight Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson (and the former, Columbia’s erstwhile head, was considered the “dumb” one), one easily sees why, in retrospect, those years can now be reckoned a halcyon era of moral probity and intellectual honesty in our public life.

But it was still hard growing up Greek in America because, put simply, we were different. We were Orthodox – read: dark, mysterious, and seemingly in constant confessional agony – in our religion, Eastern in our cooking (at a time when spaghetti was exotic and nobody had ever heard of, let alone used, the term “pasta”), and, strangest of all, bilingual in our communication. Looking back on it now, trying to reconstruct the reasons for what seemed to me to be an infinity of cultural embarrassments, invariably provoked by my parents as I was growing up in Chicago and New York, I realize that language – the one cultural acquisition of which I am now proudest as a Greek American – was what most sorely afflicted me then. Because, obviously, it ripped the cover off my continual cultural disguise, revealing me, brazenly and nakedly, to be someone different in fact – and certainly different from the person I tried to present to the world, and make the world believe I was.

  Growing up is hard enough. Doing it under conditions of a continual war of cultural attrition – or, to use more modern terminology, in a state of constant identity formation, and deformation and reformation – was bloody hell. The one advantage to it, however, was that you understood at a very early age that there was such a thing as identity, and it was real. I’m not one for imposing current wisdom on prior (passages of) life, individual or collective, but it does seem pretty apparent to me now that this feeling of personal difference drove me in directions I might not otherwise have taken. If nothing else, existential embarrassment – which is a hair-trigger away from social humiliation – gave me a direct sense of a world in which, while I was going to a public school in New York, black kids had to face violent mobs to go to one in Little Rock.

It definitely makes you think and, when you start thinking seriously, begins putting a lot of space between you and the guy (or gal) next door. This external space multiplied by the internal debate is what the calculus of identity is all about, of course. Recently, however, it has led to some bizarre permutations in the work of young Greek American filmmakers.

For someone who’s spent so much of his life in Greek America, I confess that its image in two recent films is terra incognita. Not only do I not recognize the terrain, I am sorely taxed to understand by what strange method it was surveyed. The classic plaint of American otherness, from Richard Wright to Saul Bellow to Sherman Alexie, is exactly that: the saga of that social point at which the other qualifies the “American” – and vice versa. African, Jewish, Native, or Greek: it’s all a confrontation, one way or another. Leaving aside the singular, more or less genocidal, disasters of African and Native America, respectively, the history of ethnic America is one of conflict sublimated by desire.

While African Americans were brought here in chains, in other words, and Native Americans were here to begin with (hence their systematic liquidation), ethnic Americans chose to come here (for whatever reason). My parents came here voluntarily (whether or not they did the right thing for themselves is another issue, and not directly relevant). Any alienation I felt growing up in an American metropolis as opposed to Salonika, where I was born, could not have been the same, therefore, as that of someone growing up on a reservation or in the segregated South (leaving aside all the obvious issues of color and race).

This continual, unabating, tremendously powerful, and central element of repulsion/attraction is what ethnic American existential anxiety is all about – but you don’t see any of it in either My Big Fat Greek Wedding or in another film that came out earlier this year in New York called Astoria. Actually, what is peculiar about both films is that only one factor in the equation – America in the former and Greece in the latter – is in any sense critical to the lives of the respective Greek American protagonists.

Which is really weird – and, of course, utterly false. I’ve dealt with My Big Fat Greek Wedding in the first part of this essay (Ethnic American Graffiti: Her Big Fat Greek Stereotypes); I have no interest in enumerating its relentless stupidities again (although I only scratched the surface the first time). Astoria is not nearly as obnoxious a movie (what film could be?); it is simply an impoverished and sadly silly one, which seeks to exploit a moment of ethnic political/cultural idiocy (the obtuse opinion that “Macedonia is Greek”) that in retrospect seems even more ludicrous now than it did originally.

Desperately seeking Alexander
Full disclosure: I met Nick Efteriades, who wrote and directed Astoria, a few years back when I worked for the Foundation for Hellenic Culture. He gave me his script to read; subsequently, we met once (maybe twice) again. What surprised me, however, when I finally saw the movie was how closely it hewed to the original script. An initial draft of a screenplay is almost always just that: a first cut that is more an impetus to further substantive work than any kind of definitive indication of what the final film will look like. (While it’s true that European filmmakers have a less mutable sense of a script, I think that, in this case, Efteriades would have benefited from the American model of film development.)

After reading Efteriades’s script, and certainly after seeing his movie, I was immediately struck by one question: What exactly had this film to do with his own experience as a Greek American, since, in obvious (bizarre?) contrast to his movie’s quasi-inarticulate, utterly unworldly hero, Alex, Efteriades himself was a graduate of Dartmouth and Columbia’s film school? Having met Efteriades, I knew him to be a highly intelligent, highly sophisticated, native-born Bostonian who was in fact closer to a Boston Brahman than to any dem-and-dose, wadda-you-wanna-do-tonight-Marty, mean-streets, Astoria olvidado. If Efteriades had wanted to make a movie about Greek American life today, and about a young Greek American man who is a chronological if not social contemporary, why did he do so in the most strained, stereotypical, and, in the end, absurd and debased form possible?

What never ceases to amaze me about the Greek American community is how we whine and moan about all the “distortions” and “defamations” about us and yet, of course, at the end of the day, are our own worst caricaturists. The notion of a twentysomething Greek American growing up in New York (or Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles) being “inspired” by Alexander the Great (!) is inane, almost by definition. (Alex/Alexander: Get it? Cute, huh?) Why not Kolokotronis, Nicephorus Phocas, or Basil the Bulgar-Slayer? I mean, this is utterly, mind-numbingly, unforgivably ridiculous – at least as “serious” drama, which Astoria purports to be. I cannot even begin to imagine of any twentysomething in Greece itself who, when asked to name a role model, would come up with such a patently transparent and phony answer.

If a young Greek American male needs role models, how about John Cassavetes, or Louis Tikas, or Johnny Otis, or Dimitri Mitropoulos, or William Baziotes, just to mention a few unconventional – but, precisely for that reason, all the more interesting – candidates? Efteriades’s protagonist is supposed to be a college graduate, but the only book he seems to read (endlessly) is a biography of Alexander. For someone so obsessed with his identity, you’d think he’d have gone on the Net at some point in his existential crisis and found some mention of the above-named Greek Americans, or others. But, no, he’s too busy dreaming of finding – of all things – Alexander’s tomb! (Why? To what end? To make what larger cultural, intellectual, social statement?) I would normally say that you can’t make this stuff up, but apparently you can – at least if you’re a Greek American filmmaker (and despite Dartmouth and Columbia).

Efteriades’s hero, by the way, still works in his father’s hole-in-the-wall takeout joint after graduating from college. (What Greek American father would sit still at such a waste of a son’s future? Would Efteriades’s?) Just like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, every time Astoria deviates from reality, it crashes. (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, of course, is just one big fat pile-up.) The sad thing about Astoria is that, unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has moments of narrative lucidity, and even of insightful invention, which, however, are all ultimately drowned by the sheer nonsense of the overarching conceit of Alex’s hero-worship of Alexander the Great. What makes Efteriades’s movie psychologically and socially astute, however, is the attraction that the Greek American protagonist feels for Greece, which – in the movie Astoria as so often in real-life Astoria – is infinitely more progressive, modern, and fluid than the ethnic community into which he was born, in which he has matured, and which now surrounds him in all its undisguised constraint and manifest sameness.

Having a love interest that is an educated woman from Greece – as opposed to a Greek American – is one of the film’s few felicities, and is both clever and true. (Making her an iconographer is, of course, over the top, considering the male-chauvinist nature of that particular profession; on the other hand, it is also the kind of adroit script ploy that is, in the end, if not particularly credible, at least certainly plausible within a generally acceptable fictive suspension of disbelief.) What makes Efteriades’s film superior to My Big Fat Greek Wedding is that it is infinitely more accurate in its depiction of Greek America’s relationship to Greece; what ultimately betrays the movie, however (among other factors), is its depiction of Greek America’s relationship with America, which is essentially nonexistent and, therefore, completely false.

From caricature to character
About the time that My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit the screens, Mira Nair’s most recent film, Monsoon Wedding, was already playing. It is, of course, ludicrous (not to mention insulting) to compare any work by an accomplished filmmaker like Nair with the Zwick-Vardalos idiocy, but a couple of critical differences are instructive. Nair is, of course, an Indian who shuttles back and forth between her country and the United States – which means that she is thoroughly attuned to and comfortable with both societies (more or less, like all of us who feel part of multiple cultures). The operative term here is society, at least to Nair, who not only studied sociology both at the University of New Delhi and Harvard, but is also a documentary filmmaker. She has said that one of her central concerns in her work is “life as it is lived” – a concept that seems to be thoroughly alien to the makers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. If nothing else, “life as it is lived” means, for Nair, that even a “light,” essentially feel-good movie like Monsoon Wedding will have some recognizable connection to the actual, daily lives of actual women and men.

Monsoon Wedding takes place in India (New Delhi, to be exact), and true to Nair’s sense of the world, it is actually existing India – not the nightmare landscape of a Greece of recovered memory that continually haunts My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nair’s New Delhi is very much like Woody Allen’s Manhattan. On one hand, it is a place defined by contemporary middle-class (and therefore often ridiculous) anxiety; on the other hand, it is distinguished by an intelligent, occasionally (and quietly) courageous conviction that education, tolerance, and a relatively open and unselfish engagement with the world as it presents itself is the first step to some kind of peace of mind, if not exactly happiness. For that reason, just as it seems to share a cultural border with Manhattan, Nair’s Indian capital appears close to contemporary Athens – but is absolutely nothing like the Chicago portrayed by Zwick-Vardalos (which, of course, bears no relationship whatsoever to the real Chicago).

One other point: Although I think that there’s a kitchen-sink quality to Nair’s script and cast of characters (the gay young son, the cousin sexually molested at an early age by the seemingly kind and generous uncle, the bride-to-be’s on-again-off-again affair with a married man, the culture clashes among Delhi’s Indians and those of the US and Australian diasporas), these are at least interesting – and thoroughly plausible – human beings that Nair has brought together, immediately recognizable to me as a New Yorker who’s lived, depending on circumstances, in both the States and Greece. That is the irony for me as a Greek American: that Nair’s film speaks much more directly and deeply to me, and is much more congruent to my life, than the cartoonish imbecilities concocted by Zwick, Vardalos, and company.

  As American as Masala chai…
Another film, written and directed by the young Indian American, Anurag Mehta, American Chai, also came out last spring, about the same time as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Astoria. Its similarities to the latter film are striking, in fact, especially because, once again, they reveal how sophisticated – and authentic – the Indian American perception of American ethnicity is as opposed to the strained and artificial absurdities of young Greek American filmmakers.

Both movies have young, ethnic, first-generation, male protagonists in conflict with immigrant fathers – a conceptual warhorse, admittedly, but no less real today than it was a hundred years ago for all that. The difference, of course, is that Mehta hews closely to the truth of what is a fundamental and common experience for men and women of every ethnic background in this country, whereas Efteriades’s flights of Greek fancy lead him to a narrative, and artistic, dead-end that is as meaningless to a general audience as it is unrepresentative of Greek American life.

In American Chai, the young son wants to be a musician, but his father, who’s paying for his college education, thinks that he’s in pre-med. (Art as a vehicle of “identity dissent” that distinguishes generations speaks to the same issues as my examples above of Cassavetes and others as alternative role models for young Greek Americans.) While the movie’s mechanics of deception are pretty weakly rigged, seemingly held together only by the screenwriter (and, to that extent, unconvincing), we accept the premise because, within the framework of a generally credible script, we are interested in the deeper point: the cultural contention between ethnic fathers and sons. And here, Mehta weaves an incisive and nuanced social tapestry of the often contradictory and even compulsive pressures on emigrants. He focuses specifically, as does Efteriades, on those who are “born into” emigration: native-born members of the host society who are, at the same time, cultural carriers of “otherness” and of an (inevitable) cultural conflict that adds up to a distinct form of double alienation, both from the country from which their families emigrated and from their own country, into which they were born and in which they must function “normally.”

The crux of the problem, of course, is that “America” is genuinely seductive. It is, after all, the republic (lately the empire) of individualism: If you can make it here, you’ve made it everywhere. And while “making it” is easier said than done (see Paul Krugman’s continuing analyses in The New York Times on how American meritocracy is quickly becoming an endangered species) – not to get into the issues of what it means to make it in any case – it is also an irreducible truth that American life is based on a radical, and unimpeachable, democracy of opportunity that exists nowhere else in the world. The question then becomes, Can one combine one’s Americanization with one’s otherness.

Until about a generation ago, the answer was simple and direct: Good luck. That’s what assimilation was all about: You couldn’t go home again. (To even think of doing so was, in effect, “un-American.”) When the Sixties suddenly exploded in everybody’s consciousness, however, African Americans and Hispanic Americans and Native Americans led the way in helping us all rethink ourselves and our (private and social) histories, and therefore our self-definitions – but then, in an audacious coup of imperial appropriation, “we” became “the world.” (In the notorious, grotesque, and ideologically prescient words of Coca-Cola’s mind-bending advertising campaign that fanned out from an Italian hilltop in 1971 to lead the charge in what would only decades later be perceived as the opening shots of total cultural war: “I want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony….”)

Fortunately, there’s more to global consciousness than globalization, which is to say that chai can be as American as apple pie (which is, of course, the point to the title of Mehta’s film) – or, more accurately (and subtly), chai can as easily be used to undermine US cultural hegemony in the US itself as Coke is (was and will be) used to undermine Indian culture in India. One of the truest aspects of Mehta’s young Indian American characters – especially his protagonist, Sureel, and (eventual) girlfriend, Maya – is precisely the fact that they are not either/or in their (self-determined) identities, but, of course, hybrid, that is, neither/nor. (Without going too far afield from our present discussion, that is why diasporic identity can be equally dangerous to host and natal society. Indian American identity should be as hostile to nativist Indian cultural arrogance – as with the current fascist Hindutva revisionism of Indian history – as it is to imperialist American cultural hegemonism.)

Indeed, that is the film’s narrative motivation regarding Sureel. In the beginning, he is part of a thoroughly “American” band, and has – what else? – an American girlfriend. Somehow, however, both his music- and, apparently, lovemaking leave something to be desired. He ends up creating a new fusion band, combining both his American and Indian sensibilities, while at the same time finding love in the arms of an Indian American dancer, who also seeks to combine traditional Indian dance with a modern reality.

If it sounds too pat, it is – but then again, it’s only a movie; or rather, it works as a movie, and as a rhetorical model, in a way that Astoria doesn’t, and it is also true to life (which is quite important in this case). If nothing else, ethnic kids do form bands, they do try to meld their families’ culture with that of their peers in ways that are personally relevant, and they do invariably gravitate between “native” and ethnic in their sexual wanderings. What they do not do – at least in any psychologically recognizable or socially identifiable manner – is engage in eccentric and in reality absurd beaux gestes of going off to find the tombs of ancient conquerors.

Eat the flan
Last month, a film advertised as “the next Big Fat Greek Wedding” opened across the country; other than being produced by HBO, any similarity between the two was not only purely coincidental but a slander against the more recent one. I went to see it with almost palpable trepidation; having not seen any trailers, I had no idea what to expect. Now, however, I have some advice for HBO: You’re doing Real Women Have Curves a profound injustice by merging it with your big fat Greek lampoon in your advertising. It really deserves better.

I was amazed by how every aspect of Real Women Have Curves was infinitely superior to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Again, as with Nair’s and Mehta’s films, the issue here is not great cinema (it rarely is with most movies); the issue is intelligence, and a perceptive take on everyday life – qualities that in themselves have become minor virtues, if not tender mercies, in today’s American movies. Films whose subjects are actually credible, familiar, and therefore intellectually and emotionally accessible (not to mention coherent) to most of us, have, in this era of hyperinflated esthetic currency, almost become the gold standard.

As I said, what is truly astounding about Real Women Have Curves is how much better it is in every possible way than My Big Fat Greek Wedding. From its credit sequence to the soundtrack, it emanates intelligence and reflection. After seeing it, I was so curious as to why it was so far removed from the dismal “model” to which it was being compared that I looked into the bios of the filmmakers.

The movie is based on a play by Josefina Lopez, who wrote the screenplay with producer George LaVoo. Lopez, a native-born Mexican, was an undocumented alien for 13 years, working in a small clothing factory owned by her sister. Nonetheless, she started writing in junior high school, completing her first play at 17. The play, Real Women Have Curves, premiered in 1990 at the Teatro de la Esperanza in San Francisco. Lopez will be making her directorial debut next year with a feature based on another of her scripts and, like Mira Nair, is also a documentary filmmaker.

Patricia Cardoso has an equally interesting – if very different – biography. Born in Colombia, she was actually trained as an archeologist and anthropologist; she taught at Javeriana University and was assistant director of the Colombian Institute of Culture before coming to the United States. She did so after being awarded a Fulbright to study filmmaking (a first-time event in the Fulbright program’s history in Colombia). Cardoso subsequently became director of Latin American programs at the Sundance Institute and worked as a research assistant for documentary filmmakers Terry Sanders and Freida Lee Mock.

As for the only male, non-Latino member of the primary filmmaking trio, when producer and co-writer George LaVoo was at First Line Features, he supported Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Jane Campion’s An Angel At My Table, and Robert Altman’s The Player. Whether one agrees with it or not, one can’t argue that the man’s taste is not only highly developed but consistently unsympathetic to risk-aversion. In sum, this is clearly not the normal Hollywood “creative team” – nor, for that matter, the average indie gang – and it shows in their film.

It’s futile to engage in a point-by-point comparison of Real Women Have Curves and My Big Fat Greek Wedding since, as I’ve made clear, there is nothing to compare. The former film is understated, authentic, sophisticated in its characterizations, and thoroughly rooted in reality (without degenerating into an estheticized social realism), while the latter film is just…straight-out stupid in every way possible (which, I suppose, is some kind of accomplishment in itself). There are two elements, however, in Real Women Have Curves that do cry out to be compared to My Big Fat Greek Wedding since they speak directly to the primary issues with which both movies are ostensibly concerned.

First of all, the matter of (the holy) FAMILY, which seems to be that “touching,” “warm,” and oh-so-“universal” aspect of My Big Fat Greek Wedding that organized philistinism has been raving about since the film opened. In refreshing, candid, and utterly genuine contrast, Ana (played with unusually intelligent conviction by newcomer America Ferrera), the protagonist of Real Women Have Curves, is an 18-year-old who refuses to allow the notion of “family” to undermine either her individual or (what is infinitely more interesting) social integrity (or self-definition), and therefore whatever possibility she might have of creating a future according to her own sense of what her future should be. That is why there is no “happy ending,” at least as far as reconciliation “on second thought” with her mother is concerned (since the latter does not want Ana to go to college mostly out of bitterness over her own life); Ana ends up going to the other end of the country (New York City and Columbia) to get away from her LA home. She does so, however, because she must; otherwise, she’ll never be able to look at herself in the mirror without regret or, worse, self-contempt. There’s not much choice here, actually – which is one of the wonderful things about this film. All of us who’ve been there know that inevitably one is going to walk out on one’s parents if one is ever going to embrace one’s own life.

What is particularly impressive about this film is its rare clarity; you continually nod your head in scene after scene, not only in agreement based on your own experience but in philosophical affirmation that this is in truth the way things are: that this is a real “slice of life.” And lest I be accused of being overly kind to what is after all a pretty formulaic movie, I want to point to one scene that makes my argument much better than I can.

  “Leaving the house,” for most teenagers, of course, is more about leaving one’s life. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of human malice and social condescension. Ana is a beautiful girl, but conspicuously overweight; she is also extremely intelligent and, like every 18-year-old, a hostage to her hormones. Just as she wants to be free of her parents, East LA, and her excess pounds – which weigh her down existentially more than they do in any physical sense – she also wants to be free of a sexual ignorance (and repressive abstinence) that she finds to be as much a trap as her mother’s vision of her daughter’s future.

She therefore decides to “lose” her virginity to a young man who has fallen in love with her but who Ana knows (as the female, she is naturally the more mature of the two teens) will move on once he, too, goes away to school. The relevant scene is done not only quietly, discreetly, and with great understatement, but with rare lucidity. The moment that struck me is when Ana, undressed (the nudity is implied), stares at her body in the mirror and realizes, in an autoerotic self-consciousness characterized both by genuine lack of shame and an equally genuine self-validation, that her fight for independence and self-determination might really be worth it after all.

It is this issue of independence – of female autonomy and human self-definition verging on an almost explicit sexual defiance – that most separates Real Women Have Curves from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the latter film, Toula’s “independence” amounts to…getting married (and then moving in next door to her parents)! In Real Women Have Curves, independence is just that: independence. Ana leaves her family, leaves her hometown, leaves her “culture” (to a very real extent, to the degree that others have defined it for her), and simply starts anew – or, more accurately, continues the project of her life according to her own design. The two titles say it all: A big fat Greek wedding as opposed to real women – not only with curves but, more to the point, with the brains to understand what the curves are, and are not, about.

And one last thought…
The sad fact, of course, is that My Big Fat Greek Wedding is still drawing in the crowds. Why? I have two (actually, three) answers, regarding two discrete parts of the country’s movie audience. These conclusions are tentative, but I think they’ll be borne out by further examination.

Regarding the audience at large – that is, all those people from all those various ethnic and racial backgrounds who say that they love this movie because of its “universal” appeal – the answers are conservatism and ignorance, not necessarily in that order. By that I mean that, in this age of Bush family values, going home again is the only journey that’s morally valid in America. I will not argue the point (or belabor it). People can obviously disagree; to me, it’s a manifest truth.

As is the second point, namely, that film audiences have gotten a lot dumber in the last generation, and infinitely dumber than the generations that went to the movies from the Thirties to the Sixties. I will also not argue this point, but, as a former film academic (in a previous, short-lived existence), I believe I can do so until the cows come home (in Manhattan, Kansas, if not Manhattan, New York).

Finally, regarding that second audience, which is much tinier but apparently no less conservative or ignorant than the larger one of which it is a part – Greek Americans – the answer is so clear and simple that I’m surprised the question is even asked. We hate ourselves. There really is no other answer. Why else would we not only not denounce the caricatures in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but endorse them with our money and our opinions and our pathetic lack of dignity and self-respect as we continually return to the theaters to see the movie over and over again, in a pathological ritual of cultural (and masochistic) self-flagellation and self-contempt? We really hate ourselves. It’s sad, but true. And parades down Fifth Avenue or photo-ops with “Current Resident” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will not hide, or mask, that dismal reality – but if anybody out there’s got another theory, I’d love to hear it.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
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