My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a movie about Vigilance overpowering Terrorism.  While fun and funny, its deep layers of ethnic differences showed what happens when the walls of a culture rise up and threaten the evolution of society.   In the end, there was sunshine, but during the film there was a constant question of whether Terrorism would suffocate Vigilance.


Sunday--January 26, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 501
My Big Fat Greek Wedding:
A Celluloid Battle of Terrorism vs. Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Jan. 26--Last evening my wife and I took a break from the madding crowds of New York City weekend bustle and elected to see the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I was ready for something light and entertaining, and knew that the movie had become a great hit with audiences so I felt secure in spending my money.

      I walk out of more than half the movies I go to.   Nothing is more wasteful in my mind than to sit through a film you don't like, watching a story you can't stand, and listening to people laugh or moan over scenes that make you want to vomit.
       I didn't want to walk out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
       I found it an onion movie, with lots of layers that peeled back slowly, engaging my ability to laugh and cry at the same time--the ultimate, I believe, in good movie making.
       The message was all about war and the Terrorism one culture imposes on another.
       The plot was a non-Greek boy (John Corbett playing Ian Miller) falls in love with Greek girl (Nia Vardalos playing a frumpy loveless 30-year-old daughter named Toula Portokalos).  Nia wrote the script for the movie which was based on her own Greek heritage.
       Ian and Toula are outcasts.  Toula doesn't want to conform to Greek Orthodox behavior--get married to a Greek, have Greek babies, send Greek babies to Greek school, make sure babies marry Greek spouses so that Greek culture will survive.  Oh, and in the process, cook lots of Greek food between babies.
       Ian comes from the upper crust.  His father is a lawyer and his family has all been lawyers.   Ian has long hair and is a school teacher.   His family is the opposite of the Greeks, cold, emotionally indifferent, culturally vacuous.

Toula and Ian are from diverse backgrounds

      Toula's family all seem to live in the house--cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews--owned by Toula's "Mad Greek" father, Gus Portokalos (played by Michael Constantine).   Gus rages on about the virtues of being "pure Greek," constantly reminding everyone all words find their way back to ancient Greece, and has his house decorated like the Acropolis to remind himself, his family and all the neighbors of the value of Greek heritage.
       So the greatest possible insult to him is when his daughter falls in love with a non-Greek, and one with long hair and no religious affiliation.  The cultural walls shoot up.   The movie, rife with wonderful acting and a furious tempo of food, eating and dancing of family members--I got hungry for Greek food during the movie--is truly about the difference between Palestine and Israel, or America versus Iraq, or Black versus White America.
       Two cultural forces meet and clash.   On one side is a long history reaching back to the dawn of civilization where philosophy and democracy were born and extends to modern times where a young man has long hair, no cultural reference, and no religion.  
       It is a story about breaking the bonds of cultural restraint flavored with the zeal to evolve from the past into the present, to assimilate two wildly different cultures into one and find some zany way to coexist despite thousands of years of prejudice and bigotry between the two.
        The heart of the story is a hidden motif represented by Gus Portokalos' mother whom he brought over from Greece who still thinks she is at war with the Turks.  She lashes out at her son, hitting him with gnarled, ancient fists and constantly wanders off trying to escape into neighbor's basements and on their roofs.   She is told:  "Grandma, the war is over."   But she doesn't believe it.
        While engaging, entertaining and thoroughly worth every penny spent to see it, I found the movie a strong example of Terrorism confronting Vigilance.

Father, Gus ultimately accepted the outsider, Ian,  who vigilantly strove to be "greek"

      Gus was Terrorized by the thought the cultural bloodline of his family would be watered down if his daughter married an outsider.  Along with this Terror was a constant reinforcement by dialogue that love and marriage had nothing to do with one another--that marriage was a vehicle for sustaining the purity of the race, the culture, and that love was some transient vagabond who happened by and then went about his peripatetic search for the elusive and unattainable.
        In one scene, when the words "happily married" were used, a schoolteacher friend of Ian's commented, "that's an oxymoron, it's not possible those two could exist in the same space."
        This puts Toula in a quandary.   Which is more important, her family or her love.  She decides that her family is more important--symbolizing the Terror she felt of abandoning her culture and her family for love.
        Ian comes to her rescue.   He tells her he loves her so much he'll become Greek, thus resolving the conflict.  He agrees to be assimilated into the society, the culture.
        Slowly, he is accepted.   The Greeks have won.   The bloodline remains pure, even if it is tainted.
        I found the movie a compelling example of current world events.   America is trying to have a Big Fat Greek Wedding with the world.

The movie teaches a lesson in  vigilant acceptance

       In the Mid East, the thrust of America's policy is to inject into the ancient, hard-line cultural walls of Islam a new way of thinking.   It is trying to break the bonds of servitude that despots have maintained for centuries over their people, as Gus had examples the despotic rule over his Greek family.
        In the movie, Gus, the father, was irate that Ian had not come to him and asked permission to date his daughter, and then further infuriated when they were engaged, again without his blessing.   Every inch of the movie illustrated the Terror of a family torn by its leadership being questioned by Thula's refusal to adhere to ancient disciplines of the daughter and the threat she posed to upset the purity of the family by setting an example of going "outside" the Greek community to find love and happiness.
         Duty and obligation overpowered love, and appeasing father and the Greek patria chary had more power than living one's own life according to one's own values and desires.
         The Mid East and North Korea are not dissimilar in their angst over assimilation into the modern world. The difference between these "rogue nations" and the movie is that Iraq and North Korea are willing to go to war and kill or be killed to maintain their stance in the anachronism of cultural deep freeze.

During the movie Terrorists' faces morphed in and out

        Throughout the movie, I kept seeing Kim Jong Il's face pasted on that of Gus', and when the scene shifted, I saw Saddam Hussein's and Osama bin Laden's countenance morph in and out.
         Ian, in a softer gentler way that is currently portrayed by President Bush, represented the driving force of American policy to infiltrate these Terrorist nations with a new wave of thinking that would bring them up to speed with modern times so that interdependence rather than alienation could replace the hatred and bigotry that drives despots to teach their people that Western culture is a vile and corrupt system designed to destroy them, and their children, and all the values that history has created in their lives.
          At the same time, Ian represented Complacency, the ultimate element of Terrorism.   His parents were inert, cultural zombies.  They were stodgy straw automatons who had no dimension, no blood in their veins, no opinions, no zeal, no zest for life or living.  
          They symbolized all the people who turn their backs on issues, or, worse, don't bother to speak out their opinions pro or con.   They were the doormats, the nations who stand by and watch Iraq and North Korea grow into Terrorists and refuse to stand up against them, and, when other nations such as America and Britain do, turn their backs and refuse to participate as Germany and France have done in recent days.

We must stir the pot of Vigilance to upset and upend Terrorists

        They would wish the problem away, for stirring the pot of Vigilance in the face of Terrorism upsets their current lifestyle, interferes with their "country-club" mentality, and forces them to "take sides."  They would rather ride the fence and pick up the spoils from either side than commit resources to fight against what is wrong for what is right.
          I thought of all the Americans who view Terrorism today as nations at war, instead of a cultural symbol of Complacency.    I thought of how sad it is when Americans and other nations refuse to teach their children the importance of Vigilance--that Courage, Conviction and Right Actions to the benefit of the children's children's children is so much more powerful than Terrorism's Fear to change, or its Intimidation that the old ways are the only ways, or its Complacency that "don't rock the boat" will keep the Beast of Terror from recognizing who you are and come after your house or your children.
         Terrorism is indiscriminate in its appetite.  It will eat any and all who stand in its way, either with it insidious gnawing at Courage, Conviction and Right Action, or with weapons of mass of destruction. 
         My Big Fat Greek Wedding had all these tensions present in its making, including the beautiful scene near the end of the movie where the "mad grandmother" brought Thula a treasure chest full of her old memories and a wedding crown she had worn decades ago and presented it to her.
        In a subtle but profound way, the grandmother was the "old ways," surrendering to the beauty of love in the "new world."   She offered the wreath of peace to her granddaughter, and her eyes shone as new hope for the future rose up.

Vigilance in developing awareness, understanding and appreciation of cultural differences unites us

        In the end, the assimilation worked.   Ian's confrontation with the Terrorism of cultural differences was successful.  He had the Courage, Conviction and took the Right Actions to become Greek because his love for Thula overpowered the Terror of not being with her.
         In her subsequent  role of mother, Thula used her Vigilance in a similar way.  By retaining her ties with her family, she promoted to her six-year-old daughter the values of being Greek, but with a caveat.   She told her daughter at the end of the movie she could marry anyone she wanted, not limited to just Greeks.   Her Right Action was to unshackle her child from cultural oppression, and promote she be free to live a life driven from her heart and not from her ancestors.
         Ultimately, I hope the viewers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding look upon it as a film of Vigilance.  There are great triumphs in the movie, small in scope, huge in import.    They remind us that in the smallest ways Terrorism holds fast to old ideals, and the Vigilance is required to change those old ways, and assimilate new ways within the old so that the evolution of society can proceed with the least bloodshed.

....through Vigilant change

         Perhaps rather than bombing Iraq or North Korea we can just drop copies of the movie to all their citizens, and let them see that assimilation isn't so bad.
          As the movie suggests in the end, the two cultures can live next door to one another in peace and harmony if both sides agree to change just a little.
         The first step in that change is to take the Pledge of Vigilance and think more about the rights of the Children's Children's Children than the rights of the despots who try and rule them.




Jan. 25--500 Days From Ground Zero Terrorism

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