MON, 05 FEB 2001 19:09:29 GMT
AIM Athens, February 5, 2001
Imagine my dismay and embarrassment when I discovered a couple of days ago that I was totally clueless about the "wedding of the year" (of a Greek showcase lawyer with an unheralded model, live on the evening news of all private Greek TV channels). How could I call myself informed, enlightened? Me - who has an opinion on everything! I had nothing to contribute to the dialogue. It was then that I realized that I had to change my wanton ways.
You see I'm a TV addict. Being hooked on BBC with occasional hits of CNN had caused me to lose practically all touch with my environment. I had a warped view of the world - that is, I was under the delusion that the earth is not only round but also spherical. I actually believed that the place where I live, Athens, is temporally and spatially connected to a larger and complex whole.
Still, despite all this, I hadn't yet lapsed into total stupor. In my efforts to maintain some hold on my senses, I would habitually, albeit numbly, surf the entire spectrum rather than simply zapping directly from one channel to another. I was therefore dimly conscious of the fact that the actor Sean Connery was visiting the city and that this was somehow an event of critical national importance. But something was clearly wrong with me - I so totally didn't care! It was obvious: I urgently needed rehabilitation.
Desperate, I made up my mind to go cold turkey. Verifying that nestled amid telethons of dubbed Latin-American soap operas the major channels broadcast "the most important news of the day" from 7:30 to 9, I put the remote out of reach, lest I be tempted to backslide, and forced myself to watch one channel's program from beginning to end.
It was torture, but I did it! Sadly, however, my weakness got the better of me. Going through The Program only made me crave a BBC and CNN fix even more. The following is an intimate account of my rise and fall - in brief.
It begins with "The Athens Stock Market Plunge" (subtitle: "The dream that became a nightmare!") accompanied by a thriller-movie soundtrack. Political blame-saying, bank-manager suicides, tragic testimonies of unwitting citizens losing everything they own. I'm thinking: doesn't this sound familiar? Like the Albanian pyramids? Like the much more recent NASDAQ plummet? Like the current downward trend of stock markets throughout the world? How come nobody is mentioning this? How come nobody is pointing out the inherent fallacy of get-rich-quick schemes?
Where am I? I knew I was in Greece, but I - insanely, apparently - also thought Greece was part of the European Union and in the Euro-Zone. Was I hallucinating the currently underway World Economic Forum in Davos with its discussions on stability of the Euro and the global economic slowdown? I guess so - because no one on TV was mentioning a word about it. No connections were being drawn between the situation in Greece and the rest of Europe. And, anyway, why is it somebody else's fault if a greedy jerk voluntarily sells his house to buy stocks?
The second item was videotaped on the set of Parliament. It seems some "typographical error" was made in the explanatory report on the new tax reform bill. Something about the wrong year applying to tax deductions. I missed the previous episodes in the miniseries, so all I got now was the Prime Minister and a prominent opposition-party figure hurling (more) accusations and invectives at each other.
Again I questioned my mental state. I really needed help, badly. Please, someone tell me what the big deal is! I'm watching (another) vulgar, hysterical reality show. Isn't Parliament currently debating major Constitutional amendments? Where was the coverage of these sessions?
Ah - finally - the international news. The President of the Hellenic Republic is in Italy. Well, who cares about his audience with the Pope and the landmark invitation he extended to the latter to visit Greece? The real reason for the President's trip, I discover, is his pilgrimage to Magna Graecia (in Southern Italy). I'm witnessing the "extremely moving display of Greek consciousness": school children lined up waving Greek flags and simple peasants declaring that "they feel very Greek."
So, that's what they mean by globalism and multiculturalism! My drug-induced haze seems to be lifting.
Now for a reality check with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It's (Sir) Sean Connery - not the Pope? - following the footsteps of the Apostles. After 3 or 4 days of "breaking news," he's been relegated to third slot. Now I know why the Parliamentary sessions couldn't be videotaped. The camera crew had to "arrive one hour earlier," to provide us with "exclusive pictures" of the restaurant where the "great actor" and his distinguished entourage was having their Last Supper. Traveling shots of the Table, interviews with the Chef, an in-depth analysis of the Menu, what He ate, His noble character being praised by our national stars - all to the tune of (more) thriller music and "Diamonds are Forever." Once again I'm forced to witness a sincere display of philhellenism: Sean Connery, too, declares that "he feels a little bit Greek." And - how magnanimous - he supports the Return of The Marbles (of Parthenon displayed in the British Museum)!
Oh, the pain is getting to me! I'm doubled over in agony - and there's still an hour to go!
Miraculously, I pass through the first torments of withdrawal to a plateau of lucid calm - in time for the police blotter and two tales of fatal violence against women. First, a serial wife-killer is convicted with a life sentence. My euphoria is setting in - even as his father is telling the camera that his son is "innocent" and a "good kid." Then there's the trial of a police sergeant who, after a lifetime of beating up his wife, has finally done her in with his service revolver. His kids testify against him in court. Everyone's calling this is a "family tragedy" but no one's calling to task the fact that this dreadful incident is just one more illustration of the enormous problem of domestic violence and spousal abuse in this society.
Now my skin is starting to crawl…I'm going under again!
I reenter consciousness just in time to hear something about hormones in pork. When my mind clears, the picture has changed, and I see the Greek spokesperson from Doctors of the World announcing that the Americans and NATO have known since WW II that exposure to Depleted Uranium causes cell damage, and that Yugoslavia is an environmental disaster and pollution in Greece was elevated during the Kosovo bombardment. What? Slow down! This is (only) the fifteenth step in The Program and I'm thinking - okay - this sobriety thing just might work! But…wait! The revelation is over before I know it!
Just before I crash again I hear the much more urgent news: "boy-finds-wallet-with-money-boy-returns-wallet-with-money (and his morals never wavered!). Too bad he wasn't Albanian - that always adds a heartwarming, "strange-but-true" angle.
But, time's running out. They've got so much more to tell and so little time to tell it. The pace gets more frenetic. The stories get briefer and the narration is a whole lot faster. Actors in and out of hospital (whew, nothing serious but they sure had the nation worried!). The hot new singing-Monks rock group (don't they mean "The Monkeys"?). Priests giving pre-marital classes…(huh?).
Now for the "comic relief": There's U.S. President George W. Bush caressing his wife's… lower back, and then Boris Yeltsin and his wife similarly engaged. Gee, they're both human beings after all! But no - this story is about "sexual harassment in the workplace" and - if I'm hearing right - the "propriety of such gestures." Yet, I'm watching a stock montage of scenes from classic Greek movies where women of all ages are being whacked across the face (or, in the more sentimental cases, groped) by their husbands, teachers, fathers, pimps, boyfriends, bosses - and all this is hysterically funny.
Excuse me? I was under the impression that sexual harassment - not to mention physical assault - is a criminal offence, prosecutable by law. Boy, was I out of it! Now I know it's slapstick comedy and clean, innocent fun and always justified, if not deserved. This helps clarify the in-depth exploration of the cop-kills-wife story from a half-hour before.
I realize I'm making progress; I'm on the road to detox.
My joy of discovery momentarily distracts me but I dimly see Prime Minister Simitis boozing it up in Crete. Then - just minutes before Sports and my own personal goal - I feel myself slipping…
I receive a flash from Europe and the outside world! Nea Demokratia Party Leader Kostas Karamanlis, flanked by two female colleagues, is delivering a speech on "the role of women in Europe, the European Parliament and the new economy" at the European Union of Women. I'm thinking: This redeems everything that went before.
But that was just a come-on. Now I know that the role of women according to ANT1 TV is a couple of simplistic partisan quips between our delegates and a passing remark about "Greece's wish to help women from the Ex-Soviet Union." I'm desolate. I want to see the X-rated strip-show footage that usually documents such references. What a letdown. This is only trivialization. Where's the total debasement I've come to expect?
Oh…I can't take it any longer! I'm praying for a commercial break! God help me, I'm giving in! I need a fix! I need it bad! Where's the remote? Here…press the buttons, come on, hurry, now, now…! (Greek state TV) NET (sigh), (Greek private TV) Seven (good), CNN (better) BBC (aahhh…NIRVANA)!