Reality TV leads to Resentment in Greek-American Community
Have you heard all the social media brood haha against the MTV reality show “Growing Up Greek?” In case you missed it here’s a short clip.
The reaction from the demos has been for the most part negative. AHEPA has even delivered an official letter of protest against the show demanding that MTV cancel it. In the words of the official statement:
‘Growing Up Greek’ is a gross misrepresentation of the experience of growing up in a Greek American family and within the Greek American community. The show is problematic because it portrays characters as being representative of the Greek American community based upon negative stereotyping. If anything, the characters are more suited for an episode of The Jerry Springer Show than portraying what it is truly like to grow up Greek. In the spirit of ‘Jersey Shore,’ MTV is aiming to exploit raucous and unruly behavior for a ratings boost and te merchandizing potential that comes with it.
Although coming from someone who has not technically seen the show (I am too busy living my own reality to spend time watching others so called “reality”), here are a few insights into the issues this show brings up: ethnic stereotyping by the media, the fine line between ridicule and insult, the overlap between real life and fiction and vice versa.
Ethnic Stereotyping in the media
This is not the first time a media project that chronicles the life of a Greek family has come under fire. The blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding back in 2002 caused an uproar in many authentic Greeks and was brought up on similar charges of stereotyping. The non- Greek audience, however, loved it as they were laughing all the way home and upgraded it to the most successful independent film to the tune of $350 million. Perhaps the answer is that it is through stereotypes that a work of art can make a statement, especially a funny one. Let’s face it stereotypes do not come out of nowhere; otherwise they wouldn’t be stereotypes.
I find the negative reaction to “Growing up Greek” pleasantly surprising as well as hypocritical. Pleasantly surprised because the Greek voice against something it considers degrading has not been so united and so shrill as for this show. Hypocritical because it is for this particular Hollywood creation that it has gone up in arms whereas there have been others in my opinion even more scathing offensive and frightfully misrepresentation which have not raised even an eyebrow. Did the travesty of our hero and cultural icon that passed for a film by Oliver Stone Alexander the Great not merit a whistle blow? Or what about the latest blockbuster to be followed by the sequel, 300? Is that not a gross caricature of our history and culture? What about Disney’s Hercules or Clash of the Titans? Hollywood has had a long history of butchering Hellenic history and other ethnic groups. Where was the collective protest then?
It’s not as if other ethnic groups haven’t been made a fool of via the MTV reality show formula. The statement clearly makes the case that Snooki and “The Situation” will be immortalized as the Goombah ginneys of New Jersey and beyond. The formula has been so successful that the executives of MTV might have wanted to copy it for the Greek ethnic community. Viola. Another successful reality TV series at the expense of another ethnic group.
To what extent can the media be held responsible for stereotyping? Perhaps that is not the question we should be concerned about. It is up to us as a community to provide living proof that these stereotypes are inaccurate. It is up to us to educate our children and our neighbors as to what the reality is and what is the gross exaggeration. Yes, you might cancel a show if it is deemed racist or discriminatory, but if it is just in poor or even gross taste as this one, there is not much a community can do to the networks. The greatest form of protest would be never to watch the damn thing again and start a boycott campaign against MTV and/or the show’s sponsors. Ultimately, it is a case of “TV watcher beware.”
Ridicule vs resentment
This is the same issue behind making the judgement call of whether a joke is not really a joke because it is meant to insult and ridicule. Is the show just making fun of the foibles of the Greek race or is it deliberately insulting? I think the answer lies more in the sinner than the sin. Let’s be fair, could the reason for the scathing response be that Greek pride has been snubbed? No one likes to have their flaws shown up close to them more so if he/she is so arrogant to believe him or herself perfect. Perhaps Greeks are not willing to stare at the mirror and so would rather break it. The show touting itself as “reality” makes the sting saltier. Why bother to give so much attention to the garbage genre of “reality TV”? Will you save the damned if you pull the plug on the show? They will still go out and believe in the garbage that passes for reality.
Fact vs fiction.
The fact that the collective reaction has been so strong has to do with the “reality” behind the reality TV. But all those who really know anything about reality TV know that it is hardly that. Everything is scripted; the “real” people are coached. The director runs the show. Nothing is real behind reality tv. Is it really a case of reality TV imitating reality or reality used in reality TV? My guess is that whichever way the arrow points it has some hints of reality.
Perhaps if Greeks are offended by the stereotypes that the dominant culture has of them, maybe they should work on mitigating those stereotypes in themselves. If you have any doubts, be honest with yourself and make a list of all those “stereotypical” behaviors at your next Greek gathering.
Here’s a story that aired about the reaction on ABC’s affiliate in the Bay area:
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What do you think? Comments would be greatly valued.