The Cultural Aesthetic of Greece
COMM 380 – Visual Media in a Cultural Context
Key words: rational, low density, economy, Ancient Greece
The Greek culture will forever be associated with its historical importance in Ancient History and involvement with many evolutionary ways of thinking that have come to shape the modern world. However important the contributions of the Classical world of ancient Greece were, they are not an accurate representation of the culture that is found there today. The Roman, Byzantine, British, and Ottoman Empire’s have shaped the Greek culture since then, among other influences. Greece also has a complex history the Turkish people because of an enormous population exchange as a result of World War I. The people of Greece temporarily established a republic in 1924 only to be bombarded with fascist and communist monarchies during and after the World War II era, and has only been a stable democratic nation since 1975. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Greece’s economy skyrocketed because of investments in industry and heavy infrastructure, improvements that had a significant enough impact to raise its standard of living enough to be the host of the host of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.
All of this rich information as reference to what Greece is represented as today is overshadowed by its debt crisis following the recent recession, and the impact on European and global economic stability. A lot of the scholarship on Greece that I found supported the idea that it has become known for its economic problems and the effects that they are having on the rest of Europe. It seems like with the economy in crisis the sense of national identity is also in crisis. The standard of living and identity as modern comparable to the rest of western Europe that Greece was used to after their economy took off is now in conflict with the reality of the country as a poor problematic place with no financial stability. This was also demonstrated in my analysis of Greek Websites and print advertisements, while the movies didn’t seem to reflect inner conflict of the Greek people in relation to modernity.
The primary aspects of the Greek cultural aesthetic apparent from the web analysis and print ad hunt included the use of warm, natural colors, a low density, and a rational attitude. Greek film showed both a historical side, and a modern sexualized side of the culture. The books and articles on Greek culture have supporting evidence of this visual aesthetic and reasons for why the culture prefers certain ways of organizing and seeing images. The way the people of Greece experience their own culture and the current debt crisis is by not blaming themselves, and continuing to enjoy living how they want including a lot of social gatherings, casual drinking, and refusing to be in a rush. Instead Greeks relax and enjoy their daily lives.
Review of the Literature:
Beaton and Ricks discuss the events that led to modern Greece, and the characteristics of the culture that have lasted into modern day. Their explanation of Hellenism and the Greek intellectuals of the eighteen hundreds impacting national identity today is also related to Detienne and Vernant when they talk about Greek myths and stories playing an important role in modern culture. Beaton and Rick’s conclude that the Greeks had an intense desire to, “re-establish a direct connection with both ancient Greek culture and the culture of modern Europe.” (Beaton and Ricks 2009) The, “readings of myth and political philosophy,” (Ditienne and Vernant 1991) are ways that the Greeks have always used to make their identity and look at themselves in relation to the rest of the world. These authors also talk about the rational attitude that drives their interpretations of the past, and help to shape the modern culture. Vernant also has a book published called The Greeks that gives detailed explanations of Greek social lives, and citizen concerns like how to be a citizen, how to grow up, and the importance of economic ability.
In Greece in the Twentieth Century, Coulumbis, Kariotis, and Bellou examine Greek culture through the lenses of politics, economics, technology, media, language, and gender. One of the things they found was that, “two conflicting trends, a ‘modern’ and a ‘traditional’, clashed over the suitable criteria for defining the new nation and the identity of its members.” (Coulumbis, Kariotis, Bellou 2003) They go on to explain how Greeks fail to operate in a modern global economic system either because they do not feel the need to compare themselves with what other countries are doing or when they do they consider the other place less important because of the impacts of ancient Greece that helped human kind to advance. The information about Greek culture Curtis’s research also supports Coulumbis, Kariotis, and Bellou’s points about beliefs and values being shaped by cultural factors. He writes that the Greeks are most interested in common interests, origins of their society, and their, “attitudes toward each other and toward their social system and political order.” (Curtis 1995) This shows that the society is at least talking about the different influences on culture, but also how entrenched they are in their country’s contributions in the past. The cultural aesthetic that was mentioned the most the rational attitude and the need for things to be logical and in a sense low density even when it comes to classical architecture, patterns that are also shown by the analysis of Greek websites.
Psomiades and Thomadakis claim problems with Greece as a culture and a country are influenced by their interpretation of ancient times. In Greek Civilization and Character by Toynbee, his intent to explore the historical context of, “a Greece that, in his opinion, reflects the socioeconomic problems of the present day.” (1953) The authors of both of these books agree on the fact that Greek culture has a history of instability from ancient problems of class warfare to the current debt issue and the failure to impose and enforce taxes because of “structural weakness (Psomiades, Thimadakis (1993)” in the government. Both examples also show how the views of how ancient Greeks used to be are preventing them from a culture that fits in with the modern world. Psomiades and Thomadakis also claim that Greece’s failure to adjust to the changes in the country and around the world is detrimental to the economies of other European countries.
Color Palette: The color palette most used in Greek culture is warm and vibrant which matched the natural landscape, especially in print media including the magazine cover and the red and yellow of Gordon’s Gin. Some of the websites like the National Bank of Greece also use nationalistic colors of blue and white, and others use earth tones and greenish blues. The use of colors that they find in everyday life is an example of the rational nature of the Greek culture. The fact that a lot of the natural colors were also preferred in ancient Greece confirms Detienne and Vernant’s suggestion that Greeks desire to, “re-establish a direct connection with ancient Greek culture.” (Detienne, Vernant 1991) The need to associate color with something practical is also clear in The Greeks when Vernant talks about the concern of the culture to be a proper citizen and represent the most idyllic Greek person. The feeling among the people that This their ancestors were superior and they must try to live up to ancient rules of culture is more proof of “two conflicting trends” (Coulumbis, Kariotis, Bellou 2003) of the past and the present. The tension between tradition and modernity is also made worse by the failing economy.
Content: The content of Greek websites usually included images and words, but used more visuals. Even with almost a 75% visual modality a lot of the websites still relied on the small amount of text to communicate the important information. This distinction and the low density are both a representations of the rational attitude in Greek culture. Even with more visuals the images that are use are not complex, and lack of text adds to the low density of the websites. The print ads showed the same thing, and is evidence of the attachment to, “readings of myth and political philosophy,” (Beaton, Ricks 2009) that get reproduced by culture in the form of media. The wide margins and use of a lot of blank or negative space also provides an example of Greek interest in attitudes, “toward their system of culture” (Curtis 1995) within the society itself.
Attitude: Greek films were the most helpful in understanding the rational attitude of the people and it’s connection to traditional Ancient Greece. This logical mindset is best displayed in the documentary film Debtocracy. The organization of the film includes hosts narrating and asking questions, followed by tangible evidence of their position, and finally footage of interviews and testimonials for reassurance. This very methodical process reflects the rational cultural attitude that produces a, “clash over the suitable criteria for defining the new nation and the identity of its members.” (Coulumbis, Kariotis, Bellou 2003) The other Greek film appealed more to emotion but because of the context of the plot focusing on a rock band and the nightlife that comes with it. In light of an absence of rationality in Alter Ego, the lack of responsibility and inward look at culture relates to the problem of focusing too much on, “attitudes toward each other,” (Curtis 1995) and not on what is happening with the rest of the world that needs to be reformed. The ad that reads, “Greek sun. Not in Crisis is an example of the use of a serious issue to advertize for a relaxing vacation.
Chronicity: The cultural orientation toward time according to the website analysis seemed to be monochronic in the sense that they prefer to do one thing as opposed to multiple tasks at once. Evidence of this was in the low density and static nature of the websites. The navigation on national and local websites limited the options to very specific tasks or information, and there was not a lot of use of flash player, except for the national museum website. The Greek print ads portrayed an individualistic culture because of advertisings relationship with commercial interests of capitalism. In the movies I noticed that people seem to do things more slowly than I expected especially when interacting or talk to a stranger. This presentation of a slow pace is one of the aspects of traditional Greek culture that does not meet the modern, “suitable criteria for defining the new nation and the identity of its members.” (Coulumbis, Kariotis, Bellou 2003)
The cultural aesthetic of Greece according to the literature had characteristics of logic, intelligence, and pride in the countries ancient history. It was represented visually through patterns of low density, slow pace, and a rational attitude. Even though the modality of visual media is mostly images, the important information is still conveyed with what few words are used. The major tension in present day Greek culture is between the value of connection to ancient times and the struggle find a place in the modern world by stabilizing the economy. The Greeks refusal to accept blame for their lifestyle is characteristic of how deeply they believe they are not expected to compare to with the rest of the world. The denial of fault with the excuse of classic contributions and a dedication to preserving culture is also supported by research on Greeks interaction with ancient and modern culture.
The wide margins and blank space of the websites can be traced to the Greek visual aesthetic for clarity and logic, but scholarly sources prove that the reliance on their historical relevance exemplifies inward thinking. The denial of blame for the economic crisis is an example of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that restrains their involvement with international market economies. In addition to the low density, the print media utilized a warm natural colors found in Greek landscape and culture. The careful consideration of the right contextual color also represents the Greek tendency of having a rational attitude. The evidence in Greek media supporting claims made by researchers proves that the idiosyncrasies in any culture have a culturally relevant reason. Continued research of web, print, and film media in Greece will continue to be relevant to the history and tradition found in culture, and the patters of visual media will be essential to understanding the cultural context.
Beaton, R., Ricks, D. (2009). The Making of Modern Greece: Nationalism, romanticism, and the uses of the past. Abingdon, Oxon, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Group.
Couloumbis, T., Kariotis, T., Bellou, F. (2003). Greece in the Twentieth Century. Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass Publishers.
Curtis, G. (1995). Greece: a country study. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Detienne, M., Vernant, J.P. (1991). Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society. Chicago: University press.
Psomiades, H., Thomadakis, S. (1993). Greece, the new Europe, and the changing international order. New York: Pella Publishing Company.
Roudometof, V., Makrides, V. (2010). Orthodox Christianity in 21st Century Greece: The role of religion in culture, ethnicity, and politics. Farnham, Surrey, GBR.
Toynbee, A. (1953). Greek Civilization and Character. New York: The New American Library Inc.
Vernant, J. P. (1995). The Greeks. Chicago: University Press