The politics of Greek television fiction: Crisis, comedy and Greekness

The following piece is based on a preliminary engagement with a number of cultural products of Greek television fiction during the years of the Greek debt crisis. My main interest lies in the ways that fictional programmes address the recent multifaceted financial crisis, documenting in a way the cultural experience of a nation in crisis, while at the same time constituting a valuable platform for the evaluation of ideological processes taking place within the media in times of tension. I argue that, just like all other forms of media, fiction too has been experiencing the effects of the economic crisis, both as an industry but also in terms of its content. In the following lines, I present some initial observations arising from a study of television texts which deal with the Greek crisis as their subject matter (in subtle or more explicit manners), focusing on their comedic character and the type of humorous tactics that they are employing. The concept of national identity appears to be a recurring theme in all these comedic texts, partly because of television fiction’s particular association with national thematics, but also because of the recent crisis’ invigorating effects on national discourses. This blog post is particularly concerned with the ways that the crisis has been portrayed in programmes of Greek television fiction with an emphasis on comedy, and could be described as part of larger doctoral project taking place at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication in University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

If we were, therefore, to connect this short piece with the research questions of “The Cultural Politics of the Greek Crisis” project and broaden its scope by including the issue of how Greek popular culture and television fiction are responding to the Greek economic crisis, the following examples could provide an indicative spectrum of the ways that crisis discourses have infiltrated Greek television fiction. Piso sto Spiti (Πίσω στο Σπίτι), a family comedy originally broadcast between 2011 and 2013 by Mega Channel, tells the story of a Greek family who becomes indebted to a German woman named Angela. The programme, which aired between 2011-2013, bases its comedic character on the extensive use of national and cultural stereotypes, depicting the Greek characters as cunning, lazy, prone to doing things “under the table”, while Angela (unsubtly connected by name to the German Chancellor Merkel) embodies the German stereotype of the rigid supporter of order and discipline. The programme’s numerous references to people, events, economic terms and processes that the Greek people became familiar with during the years of the crisis reinforces the comedic tone of a programme where the crisis enters the domestic sphere and becomes a (rather unsolvable) problem for an average Greek family.

A different comedic framing is observed in the surrealist black comedy (according to Greek TV critics) To Kato Partali (Το Κάτω Παρτάλι), which reveals another way that fiction registers the cultural experience of a period of transition and tension. The story in this programme also broadcast by Mega Channel since 2014 is about the adventures of a former “golden boy”, his snooty sister and her (gay) best friend in a strange village of the Greek periphery whose residents make them feel anything but welcome. Through a series of mysterious events and funny behaviors, the main characters become familiar with life outside the city walls. The programme’s comedic character is founded on the uncanny atmosphere of the village and its residents, as well as the difficulty of the three main characters to adjust to rural life after being used to a lifestyle characterized by luxury and over-spending. As a result, the genre of comedy is used to build a metaphor for the crisis-hit Greece negotiating the tension between urban and rural life, but also illustrating the absurdity of the years of the crisis.

As a final stop in this short report of the functions of comedy in fictional representation of the Greek crisis, the more recent Ethniki Ellados (Εθνική Ελλάδος) written by Giorgos Kapoutzidis provides Greek television with a programme full of references to a society in deep existential crisis, touching upon many social issues in a mature and thought-provoking way. Xenophobia, the rise of the extreme right wing party of The Golden Dawn, homophobia, the question of child adoption, and corruption are only some of the issues that Ethniki Ellados introduces. By basically using comedy as a bait, Kapoutzidis, who is the creator of some of the most recent successful comedies of Greek television, manages to incorporate themes that are not easy to talk about. In addition to that, Ethniki Ellados embraces a discourse of empowerment, supporting a fight against social injustice by giving voice to –otherwise invisible- social groups and promoting a discourse of unity, as the title of the programme suggests.

All in all, it appears that comedy could be addressed as a generic frame which initially legitimizes the crisis as an entertaining and laughable matter, while at the same time reflecting on several aspects of contemporary Greek society. In other words, fiction too has been responding to the crisis by producing versions of the social reality resulting in texts with significant yet understudied ideological value. Crisis has indeed inspired popular culture and television fiction in a number of different ways; a closer study of the above examples and other programmes of Greek television could provide us with a more concrete image of how different aspects of the national media culture negotiate times of tension and issues of (national) identity.

Georgia Aitaki
PhD candidate
University of Gothenburg