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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 April 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 APRIL 2018 25 OPINION sity." Whenever I looked up from my books, the Pantocrator would glare at me severely. Fearing retribution, I too, would return to my desk. I am convinced that it is only through his consent having first been obtained, that the Three Hierarchs were able to prove so efficacious. As I write, he looks down at me sternly, and I look away in guilt. He knows too much. My youngest daughter, at the age of two, has adopted the Synaxis of the Apostles as her Lares. She carries them about her everywhere, kissing them periodically, and talking to them as if she is one of them. My eldest daughter on the other hand, acknowledges an old icon of Saint George as her titular deity, as she is heavily entranced by dragons and identifies with the princess, standing patiently in the margins, awaiting her rescue with fortitude. I try to tell her that burly men who know how to kill dragons and are infused with conviction make boring dinner party companions, but she will have none of it. We all have Lares Familiares, the equivalent of the Roman domestic guardian spirits, who in times ancient, cared for the welfare and prosperity of a household. And right around Melbourne, many of us still have, lovingly tended, an equivalent of the Roman household's lararium, a shrine to the Lar Familiaris, in times ancient, usually placed near the hearth or in a corner of the atrium and in the case of the Greeks of Melbourne, most commonly, in the kitchen. The Roman lararium often had the appearance of a cupboard or a niche containing a small statue, a niche painted on a wall, or a small freestanding shrine. Our lararium is called an iconostasis and comes in various forms. From time to time, small wooden cupboards, often intricately carved, make their appearances in sundry secondhand shops in my local suburb, their custodians having departed and their progeny, worshipping other, more material deities now. Sometimes, these lararia are still inhabited by their lares, and the countenances of forgotten and discarded saints, stained black by the soot of years of votive lamps being lit before them, gaze disconsolately at me. I purchase them all, because it is not fitting that any lares should be without a home, and adopt the gods of the households of departed compatriots as my own. On one occasion, I immediately recognised the discarded lar in the dusty oppshop as belonging to an old lady I once knew. The face that stared at me unobtrusively from behind a copy of a Little Richard LP, was unmistakably that of Saint Eugenios, the patron saint of Pontus. Its custodian's father, an hagiographer, had begun writing the icon at the time of the Pontian Genocide and had perished before he had time to complete it. Disembodied, save for some drapery and an arm, Saint Eugenios accompanied the rest of the family to Greece and then to Australia, despite his impairment, a constant guardian not only during their many travels but also, a companion to their trauma, a family, as incomplete as the god that protected them. I redeemed the Lar interrupted from his captivity but did not keep him. Instead, I delivered him to his erstwhile custodian's grandchildren, explaining why the Lar that brought them forth safely from annihilation, should never have been expelled from the hearth in the first place. There is one icon missing from my lararium. An impossibly small, paper icon of the Resurrection given to me by my grandfather thirty years ago, when he explained to me that quite soon, he was going somewhere very far away but at some time, Christouli would come to raise him from his slumber and we would be reunited again. "I will sleep with one eye open, waiting for him, and for you, pappou," I had replied. When my grandfather died, my father took the Resurrection icon from our home and placed it in the lararium on his father's tombstone. It has since faded and diminished to dust, and yet every night since, I have lain, my one open eye fixed upon a space in a lararium now inhabited by other lares, and which no longer exists, waiting and waiting, and waiting, while the rest of the lares, mutely and mournfully, look on in the lamplight. Greek boys will be Greek boys Hellenic aspects of toxic masculinity NIKOS FOTAKIS I bullied a person once. I was about 14 years old at the place where my family would usually spend summer vacations; I was swimming with a bunch of friends and witnessed two of the boys in the group competing for the role of alpha male. For some reason, I decided to take sides, choosing the one who was actually among my best mates, instead of the other, whom I didn't really know nor like. I started calling him names, ridiculing him, making fun of him and suggesting things about his penis size (of which I had no idea). He was furious. He chased me in the water, and when we swam to the shore, he gave me a well-deserved beating. It was the first – and last – time I got into a fight. To this day, I have no idea why I did it, other than gain my friend's approval – and prove that I was as tough as the other boys in the group. I remembered all this reading Tim Winton's now viral piece about toxic masculinity as a burden to men. The writer - who is hailed as a Living Treasure by the National Trust – entered a looming debate that has emerged as an aftereffect of the #MeToo movement, which aims to shake patriarchy to its core, calling for culture to stop being misogynistic. "Patriarchy is bondage for boys, too. It disfigures them," writes Winton. "Men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them." His remarks come from observation of the boys and young men he encounters at his surfing expeditions, boys who are "trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy," who are "so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there's only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There's a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it's not just men pressing those kids into service." Enter the toxic mother – the woman who raises these boys, perpetuating the 'boys will be boys mentality'. Greeks know a lot about that, of course. One of the first things we learnt at school was the story, sourced from Plutarch, of how Spartan mothers would see their sons to war handing them their shield with the words: "E tan e epi tas (With it or on it)!" We are nurtured about stories of women raising their sons to be heroes or demigods, brave levendes who'd better return home victorious or dead. Talk about a collective burden. This Spartan mother archetype is an integral part of Greek education, which has been historically obsessed with the Spartan regime, to the point that it is often confused with Athenian democracy. We talk less about philosophy and science and theatre, byproducts of peace and commerce and enterprise at school than about war and heroism. The Greek curriculum is flooded with stories of impossible bravery and heroism, of shining examples that we should follow, of a handful of men defeating the Persian fleet, of frostbite-stricken soldiers repelling fascist forces (their mothers knitting socks for them at home), Akrites fighting Death itself and fictional characters defeating giants, Cyclopses – not to mention an army of their wife's suitors. Greek boys are raised to be heroes, no matter what. It is no wonder that three of these boys decided to substitute the Greek government – and army – and go raise a flag on the islet claimed by Turkey, to send a message to Greece's bellicose neighbours, but to also honour the memory of fallen pilot Giorgos Baltadoros. Their action was hailed as bravery by some in Greeks, when it is just an act of vigilance, that could lead to greater damage – as happened 22 years ago, when similar demonstrations of Greek 'levendia' resulted in a narrowly avoided war – and to the tragic loss of Greek lives. But Greek boys will be Greek boys, they're hot-headed and proud, they defy laws, because they come from a long line of heroes. The thing is that, when you respect the flag, you respect the protocol around it, where and when it should be raised. And you also respect democracy, the elected government and the institutions, you don't go around sidelining the army which is responsible for defending Greek territory. None of this matters to proud Greeks, raised to always honour their pants i.e. their symbols of masculinity. The irony is that the symbol Giorgos Fountas, the Greek version of the ‘strong, silent type’ in mov- of this kind of institutional heroism, the iconic defenders of Greek territory, do not wear pants. Long ignored as part of the Athens centre scenery, the Hellenic Presidential Guard is currently experiencing a new kind of relevance – and not only in Australia, where people (and mostly women) seem to be obsessed with Evzones, inviting the unit to attend official functions and national holidays (there is a debate to be had here, about the guard's sartorial presence, particularly about the sadistic designer who thought to dress them in pleated miniskirts, whereas traditional foustanellas were long, in order to protect the legs from the cold, but this is not the time). During recent years, as the Greek crisis has led to Syntagma Square hosting all kinds of demonstrations, from anti-austerity protests to rallies against negotiations with FYROM, there's been some attention to the living statues guarding the parliament and the unknown soldier memorial. They've been photographed crying, supposedly out of frustration about the plight of Greece, but more likely due to the tear gas used by the state to repel protesters, yet remaining immoveable, standing examples of what hot-headed, emotional, loud Greeks should aspire to be: the strong, silent type. This archetype is not Greek at all of course. Recall the opening episode of The Sopranos, the masterpiece TV series that pretty much predicted the debate about toxic masculinity, starting it almost 20 years ago. There's a scene in that episode where the protagonist, gangster Tony Soprano, a symbol of toxic masculinity, nurtured by a toxic, passiveagressive mother asks his therapist: "What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do. See, what they didn't know was once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings that they wouldn't be able to shut him up! And then it's dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction vaffancul!" There is a Greek version of Gary Cooper, of course; his name was Giorgos Fountas, arguably the most iconic male filmstar to come out of Greece in the 50s and 60s. Fountas was typecast in ‘good guy’ roles (he played some ‘bad guys’ too, but almost never anything in-between), being an incarnation of the workingclass hero, a personification of Greek-philotimo-with-legs. In his best role, in Michael Cacoyiannis' Stella (probably the best Greek movie of all time), he's the absolute embodiment of Greek masculinity – he's playing an Olympiakos footballer who commits a crime of passion; in the final scene, the woman he loves falls dead by his hand, in his arms. Which tells us a couple of things about what has been passing as an ideal of masculinity in Greece for quite a while. And it's not only in tragedy. For generations, Greek pop culture has been dominated by the image of Aliki Vougiouklaki, whose most iconic films have her playing a schoolgirl either falling in love with a man two decades her senior and carrying his child, or with her, also older, teacher who slaps her in the face. It is telling that one of the most popular Greek films of the past seven decades is a celebration of violence against women. Because in the end, this is what toxic masculinity translates to – not to acts of reckless patriotism, nor hooliganism – but to domestic violence, the western world's epidemic. If we need this to stop, we have to rethink how we are raising our boys and girls and what kind of cultural diet we provide them with.
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