MTV reality show suggests Greek-Americans are in-bred, violent

MTV, apparently not satisfied with turning Italian-Americans into a national joke, is now launching a stereotype-laden “reality show” about Greek-Americans called “Growing Up Greek.”

The show is so far only a single episode, but it’s likely the secret nascence of an entire series IMHO.

“Growing Up Greek” is set in the very-Greek Florida city of Tarpon Springs. Here’s MTV’s description of the place, and show:

“[A]n idyllic and picturesque all-Greek town, where everyone is either dating, related, or brawling each other. Family means everything here; even the overbearing parents and grandparents can get outrageous and festive.”

Those funny Greeks! They’re in-bred, violent, and their parents and grandparents are overbearing bullies (presumably because they’re in-bred and violent too.)

And, according to the promo video for the series. when those loud, obnoxious Greeks aren’t setting cheese on fire, they’re breaking plates and throwing money around while dancing (something I have never seen an actual Greek ever do, other than the money thing that might happen at a weddding as a donation for the bride and groom).

Oh the hilarity!

All that’s missing is some jokes about anal sex, and our last names sounding like a disease. (Aravosis? I thought you said halitosis!)

From the promo, below, we see that the show even has a Snooki-like charachter who, just like Snooki, is overweight and dresses in really-tight, Jersey-Shore style “I can’t believe she’s wearing that” clothes. (Snooki is a character from MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore,” that regularly presented Italian-Americans as under-educated, oversexed, inebriated buffoons.)

growing-up-greek

(You can see the video at the top of this page — the embed keeps crashing, so I removed it.)

It’s a funny thing reading about “Growing Up Greek” this morning in particular. I just last night finished a family photo book for Christmas that collects in one place all the early black and white photos of my family that we were able to dig up from my grandparents’ archives on both sides of the family.

The possibly earliest photo is from 1917, and shows my paternal yiayia (grandma) Vasiliki Aravosis (née Polychronopoulos) and her mother Angeliki Polychronopoulos in their southern Greek village of Diavolitsi.

yiayia-a

Though it’s possible the earliest photo is that of my paternal theio (uncle) Sotirios, who yiayia A says died in 1904. He was my paternal grandfather’s brother, and died at the age of 21. I didn’t think the photo of Sotirios below was that old, but when I found an old family tree my yiayia had written out decades ago, it said Sotirios died in ’04, so this photo may be from then:

sotirios

According to the Ellis Island records I found, my papou Aravosis came to the states in 1914. He eventually moved his wife, Vasiliki, over to Chicago in the late 1920s, and they then had two boys, my uncle Pete and my dad. That’s when the depression hit, and papou lost his job as a chef at the Chicago Beach Hotel, and the family had to move-in with relatives (or possibly friends) downstairs. My dad and uncle slept on the neighbor’s floor for two years. A few years into the depression, papou finally got another job at the hotel; this time washing, rather than throwing, dishes. Life was hard back then, but people were forced to find ways to get by.

Yiayia and Papou Dalianis, on the wedding day, in July of 1927.

Yiayia and Papou Dalianis, on the wedding day, in July of 1927.

On my mom’s side, my papou Aristides Dalianis (mom’s dad) came over to the states for the first time in 1900. I believe he worked on the railroads for a while, and then I know he set up a very successful candy business and ice cream shop in Chicago. Papou was doing so well that he was able to buy several buildings on his block in Chicago, and even sent a car back to Ayio Vasili (Tripoli), his village in Greece, as a gift for the town. (It was the first automobile the villagers had ever seen — as mom noted to me yesterday, it was a nice gesture, but it’s unclear where they were going to get the gas. It eventually became the town’s first taxi.).

Yiayia Dalianis, his wife (mom’s mom), comes from a long political family of Greeks who didn’t quite know when to keep quiet in the face of injustice.

It all goes back to our common ancestor Dimitris Papatsoris, a priest and general (I know, both, right?) from the town of Soulima (now Ano Dorio) who led his men (called the Dredes, or Ntredes) in a local rebellion in southern Greece against the Turks during the Greek War of Independence on March 24, 1821. Through further research I was able to frind that our clan, the Souliotes (we’re Arvanites as well), were in a sense a band of Greek mercenaries, warrior-like, who didn’t take guff from anyone.

Mom in front of the plaque dedicated to Dimitris Papatsoris, and his fellow Dredes  fighters, who rose up against the Turkish occupiers on March 24, 1821. The plaque is outside Papatsoris' church, which still exists, in the town of Soulima (Ano Dorio), near Kalamata.

Mom in front of the plaque dedicated to Dimitris Papatsoris, and his fellow Dredes fighters, who rose up against the Turkish occupiers on March 24, 1821. The plaque is outside Papatsoris’ church, which still exists, in the town of Soulima (Ano Dorio), near Kalamata.

That proud tradition was carried through to my Theio Yiannis Haralambopoulos (his dad introduced yiayia and papou to each other). Theio Yianni was politically to the left (a Greek socialist), and when Greece was taken over by a military junta in the late 1960s, Theio Yianni refused to keep quiet. So they arrested him, exiled him to a prison on a desolate Aegean island, and then beat him harshly and regularly. (Theio Yianni told me a few years ago that he still had headaches every day from the beatings.)

Yianni was finally released from prison on July 26, 1974, two days after the junta fell. The exultant crowds lifted him on their shoulders to carry him to freedom. Theio Yianni went on to become Greece’s ambassador to NATO, United Nations ambassador, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister. That’s one hell of a ride for a boy born into a family of little means in a small Greek village named Dorio.

A crowd welcomes my Uncle John Haralambopoulos' release from prison on July 26, 1974; two days after the Greek junta fell.

A crowd welcome my Uncle John Haralambopoulos’ release from prison on July 26, 1974; two days after the Greek junta fell.

So when I think of MTV’s attempt to turn my family into what southerners call “white trash,” I think of my yiayias and papous, of Theio Yianni and his brother Xristo (who was Greece’s Minister of Tourism), of his son Georgios who is a member of the Greek parliament, of a second uncle Xristo who is now the Greek ambassador to the United States, and of my great-many-times-over grandfather Dimitris Papatsoris who, like so many in our family, when it really mattered, was there to stand up for his country, and for what he knew was right.

My mom told me once how when our papous first came to America, Greeks (along with Italians and many other of the “darker” immigrants) were considered dirty, lesser, and thus discriminated against. Born in the early 1960s, I certainly never felt any of that discrimination in Chicago where I grew up, and assumed it was all a vestigate of the past until I moved to Washington, DC in the mid-1980s and east coasters kept asking me my last name (I found out later they were trying to covertly determine if I was Jewish). After expressing relief that I wasn’t a Jew, they’d then tell me how “interesting” it was that I was “ethnic.” With a cock of the head, stifling the urge to throw a plate and sleep with my brother, I tended to quietly look at them, somewhat befuddled, as I was no more ethnic than they.

America has a long bipolar history of both welcoming and mistreating “the other.” MTV, sadly, plans to continue that sullied legacy with yet another TV series trashing yet another group of imigrants who, along with so many others, helped to make this country great.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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