NEW BOOKS: Masculinity and Gender in Greek Cinema by Achilleas Hadjikyriacou
(Editor’s note: The following text is excerpted from the introduction of Masculinity and Gender in Greek Cinema by Achilleas Hadjikyriacou. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing, © 2013).
Between the end of the civil war (1949) and the Colonels’ military coup (1967), Greece went through tremendous political, economic and social transformations which inevitably influenced gender identities and relations. During the same period, Greece also witnessed an unparalleled bloom in cinema productions. Based on the recently established paradigm that cinema and popular culture viewed as social institutions can inform a historical project, this book explores the relationship between Greek cinema and the society within which it was created and viewed with an emphasis on gender issues. This exploration focuses on the ways in which a specific social context informed popular cinema productions and vice versa. The investigation of the interaction between social and filmic worlds aims to provide insights into how masculinity and gender relations as social, cultural and visual products were negotiated and transformed. As far as masculinity is concerned, there is a particular focus on the analysis of the processes through which a state of a crisis may ensue. Such a crisis could be defined as a state in which the definition of masculinity becomes obscured, uncertain and problematic, causing men to feel uncertainty and anxiety about what constitutes their gender identity.
More precisely, this book explores firstly how Greek popular films of the time represented masculinity and gender relations within a context of negotiation between tradition and modernity. It also addresses how class and locality were represented in relation to gender identities. Additionally, throughout this exploration, the ways in which cultural transfers impacted cinematic images are under scrutiny. Importantly, the question of how masculinity is represented in films is paired with an investigation into how these representations relate to their historical context.
Chapter 1 provides the historical context of the study by focusing on the analysis of gender in Greece during the period under investigation through different bodies of literature including social anthropology, sociology, social and cultural history. Examining the reports from various fields of social research provides insights into how many of the traditional values, ideas and beliefs which used to shape the lives of Greeks, were challenged by deep social, economic and cultural transformations. The picture that post-war Greek society presents in terms of gender is neither black nor white, nor can it be easily determined by general categories or stereotypes. As this chapter demonstrates, to a considerable extent this has gone unappreciated in early anthropological research. Anglo-American anthropologists arriving in Greece after the end of the Greek Civil War (1949) tended to reproduce certain categories of analysis based on the code of honour and shame, which seemed to fit well within the broader Mediterranean anthropological paradigm.
Moving beyond the anthropological perspectives on gender, the chapter aims to outline the tremendous social changes in post-war Greece. Based mainly on historical-sociological literature and statistical accounts, it argues that, by the late 1960s, even in rural areas, solid ‘backward’ and static patriarchal societies cannot be regarded as the dominant paradigm. The migration movement – both internal and external – the advanced participation in higher education, women’s labour, the emergence of violent youth cultures, the sexual revolution, the new media and the increased flow of tourists, are only some of the changes which had a tremendous impact on gender relations first in large cities and later in the countryside. In these new social realities, which could be generally described as expressions of a Greek modernity, masculinity as well as femininity was redefined. Thus, an understanding of the social context in which masculinity and gender relations have been constructed and experienced provides the basis for the exploration of the representations of that particular society in popular culture.
Chapter 2 aims to introduce the reader to the period under investigation from a cinematic point of view by analysing the ‘Classic’ Greek cinema. Central issues here are the production and distribution of films, the role of the state, the economic infrastructure of the cinema industry, the way in which commercial films reflected social change, popular themes, storylines and characters, the birth of a local star system and the representation of youth cultures. Here, the analysis draws on the available secondary literature on Greek cinema – which is however, very limited – as well as primary sources such as cinema journals, magazines and newspapers which provide interesting information and statistical data on the aforementioned issues. This information is very helpful in terms of assessing the development of Greek cinema from the early 1950s until the late 1960s and in distinguishing its specificities and connections to a broader European or global context.
Chapter 3 is the first part of the main analysis and is preoccupied with the investigation of the connection between masculinity and locality. The analysis is concentrated upon the interpretation and contextualization of cinematic representations which deal with masculinity as an open-ended category of analysis, redefined and transformed through the encounter of rural with urban ideologies. Given the massive streams of internal and external migration in Greece during the 1950s and 1960s which altered the demographic character of the country, the connection of masculinity with locality becomes a demanding question. Modernity, tradition, morality and hegemony become the main axes of film analysis in this chapter which breaks any initial antithetical and static representations of gender to highlight its fluent, unstable and transformable character. To achieve a more comparative and multidimensional perspective on filmic representations related to masculinity and gender, these axes are often cross-examined with anthropological accounts on rural Greece.
Chapter 4 deals with the connection between masculinity and class, another social identity which was also influenced by the tremendous political, economic, social and cultural transformations in post-civil war Greece. As this chapter points out, popular films represented gender as constructed and experienced differently in various social strata. However, this difference should not be interpreted merely as a result of the economic superiority of higher classes in relation to the lower but also as a result of their differences in perceptions and experiences of modernity. Similarly to Chapter 3, the discussion here touches on issues regarding modernity, tradition, morality and hegemony. A further special focus is on the representations of class transition and its impact on masculine models, as well as on the issue of ‘masculinity crisis’. A cross-examination of filmic representations with literature describing the deep social change is often performed in order to highlight the complex connection of popular cinema with its historical context.
Chapter 5 discusses in depth the issue of modernity and its impact on traditional forms of masculinity and on the patriarchal structure of the Greek family. Central place in this analysis is given to the representations of female emancipation and the birth of new youth cultures. Both phenomena challenged the traditional codes of male and female behaviour and provoked huge discussions in Greek society. Through the parallel discussion of these representations with the changes in male and female spheres in Greece during the 1950s and 1960s, this chapter demonstrates how cinema productions incorporated and expressed the problematic advent of cultural transfers from the modernized ‘West’. However, these changes should not be merely considered as a predominance of foreign modernity over the longstanding Greek traditions. Foreign cultural transfers were only one aspect of modernity in Greece during the period under investigation which was largely an ‘internal’ process including deep changes in economic conditions, consumerism, education, demography, family organization, entertainment, gender spheres, morality and sexuality. One of the key aims of this chapter is to examine various ‘grey areas’ in the relationship between traditional and new gender models and to explore how continuities from the first were incorporated in the second.
Finally, the Epilogue concludes this work and highlights its contribution to the history of Greece, masculinity and popular culture. It offers a cross-thematical overview of the connections between the cinematic representations of masculinity and gender with the Greek society of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, locality, class and modernity are approached as interrelated domains in which masculinity has been experienced and represented. This approach, on the one hand allows certain conclusions to emerge regarding the various profiles of the ‘Greek man’ during the 1950s and 1960s and, on the other, puts forward new demanding questions. Thus, the Epilogue while signifying the end of a long effort to understand Greek masculinity, at the same time prepares the ground for new journeys in this largely uninvestigated area.