Let me begin by saying that I am a fan of Rembetiko. This art form, once relegated to the outcasts of society and akin to American Blues, had its origins in the coastal cities of Asia Minor. Like everything since the establishment of the modern Greek state, it is the subject of endless infighting by proponents of one form or another of Greek identity. One Greek journalist recently described the conflict thus: "The demotika (Greek regional folk music) are Greece’s only genuine musical identity. Musicologically and morally, they are far superior to the adulterated, drug-deadened Turco-Arabic fare which, beginning with the infamous rembetika , passes for Greek music today. Who in his senses would prefer the product of Piraeus hashish dens to the pure, bracing air of Epirus or the sapphire blue of the Aegean Sea, both reflected in their respective musical traditions? But when you’re drugged, you cannot exercise your senses correctly."
Now as far as I am concerned, Rebembetika is very much a integral part of the Greek musical legacy and I embrace it as I embrace other more purified expressions of the Greek soul. John Akritas over at Hellenic Antidote has provided a number of glimpses into the Rembetiko style and Radio Akritas offers an opportunity to partake of some great songs that give one a real feel for Rembetika.
While delving into the subject I came across a paper that was presented at the recent "Researching Rebetika Conference" held in October on the Greek island of Hydra. Written by Gail Horst-Warhaft of Cornell University, it does a superb job of dissecting the evolution of Rembetika in the context of its love-hate relationship with the Greek-speaking world:
"In her insightful study of modern Greek literature “Topographies of Hellenism” Artemis Leontis speaks of the Greeks’ tendency to exoticise themselves. “Greeks have regularly sought to recover the primitive element in themselves,” she notes. “To compensate for what others perceived as backward behavior or bad blood, they have defined their homeland, Hellas, as their native entopia, their coffeehouse, if you will, in which they are aboriginal customers.” The tendency to exoticise oneself is not exclusively Greek, of course, but Greeks experienced a unique combination of the high expectations of western Europeans obsessed with their illustrious ancestry, and low estimation, based on these same unrealistic expectations and the observations of western Europeans. The preoccupation of the modern Greek has been to claim his or her ancient pagan past but to combine it with a Byzantine and Ottoman past and reconcile the diverse strands of his inheritance. The dilemma has never been satisfactorily resolved, and the rhetoric of Greek nationalism or has been obsessed with determining the character of modern Greece.
During the Metaxas dictatorship, from 1936-1940, rebetika musicians were harassed. Many were exiled to the islands or thrown into prison, and the hashish dens of Piraeus were closed down. This was not merely because the rebetes and their hangouts were seen as disreputable, but because they offended Metaxas’ belief in a “Third Hellenic Civilisation” that would draw its character from the folk culture of Greece. Amanedhes were also banned, during the dictatorship, probably as a response to a similar ban placed on them by Turkey’s ruler Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk’s ban was part of a general attempt to westernise Turkey, and de-emphasise its “oriental” character.
Despite the fact that it was, in many ways, a home-grown hybrid, rebetiko was not associated with the ideal "topos (place)" of nationalism, i.e. with the Greek countryside (especially the mainland areas first liberated from the Turks). The regional folk music of Greece, much of which was itself of hybrid origin, was generally defined by association with a particular landscape. The deracinated, urban rebetika, with their foreign derived slang, their shady milieu and anti-authoritarian lyrics were a thorn in the side of nationalists, but for the same reason they were attractive to modernist writers and intellectuals who opposed narrow nationalism, and to working class urban Greeks, many of whom were sympathetic to the Greek Communist Party’s campaign for a more equal distribution of resources.
Among the writers who championed the rebetika was Kostas Tachtsis. His 1964 essay on the zeibekiko offers us a possible explanation for the transformation of the rebetika from a narrow local phenomenon to a broadly popular style . The extreme privations of the German Occupation leveled class differences: There were no more hungry and satisfied, there were no masters and slaves, everyone was a slave, everyone was hungry, all felt the need to bewail their fate... All the houses suddenly became hashish dens, not literally of course, but in character. Everywhere the spirit of lawlessness prevailed, of constant fear, misery and death. ... The zeibekiko found room to develop, develop rapidly. Suddenly, it was no longer a dance of the underworld, but of a large number of Greeks, mostly those living in urban centers. Many of the songs which were first heard immediately following the war, had been written during the Occupation and differed markedly from the pre-war, heavier "hashish" rebetika....In contrast to such meaningless songs, the rebetika offered the suffering population songs that dealt with reality, and not only with a literal but a symbolic reality. They were identified, according to the author, with “the spirit of resistance.” Tachtsis goes on to explain that while the Communist-led resistance fighters in the mountains of Greece sang Russian and other imported songs, the Greeks who drank their wine in underground tavernas, listened to rebetika songs that spoke not of the actual situation of the war, but of the “eternal poison of life.”
Read the whole thing here.
For more background information, go here and here.
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Shark Week Jumps The Shark: An Open Letter To Discovery Communications
By Christie Wilcox | August 5, 2013 5:17 am
Dear Discovery Communications,
I have to say, I had high hopes for this year’s Shark Week. But we’re only one special in and already, shark week has seriously jumped the shark.
I get why you had a special about C. megalodon. What shark inspires more fear and fascination than Megalodon, the Chondrichthyean monster that once dominated our planet’s oceans? The shark’s name, which translates to “giant tooth”, says it all. Their hand-sized dental records are some of the only fossilized evidence we have of these gigantic predators, which lived from ~50 million years ago to around 2 million years ago. Based on their size, scientists have estimated these sharks grew to upwards of 60 feet long with a bite force anywhere between 10 and 18 tons, and from scarred fossils we know they likely dined on the giant whales of their time. This year’s Shark Week kick-off special, Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, claimed to provide evidence that these massive beasts are still out there, using scattered anecdotes and scientific testimony to support the assertion. There’s only one problem: the entire “documentary” wasn’t real.
No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist. The evidence was faked, the stories fabricated, and the scientists portrayed on it were actors. The idea that Megalodon could still be roaming the ocean is a complete and total myth.
Here’s what I don’t get, Discovery: Megalodons were real, incredible, fascinating sharks. There’s a ton of actual science about them that is well worth a two hour special. We’ve discovered their nursery grounds off the coast of Panama, for example. Their bite is thought to be the strongest of all time—strong enough to smash an automobile—beating out even the most monstrous dinosaurs. The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality. You chose, instead, to mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives was not just a disservice to your genuinely curious audience. It was a lie. You used your reputation to deceive your viewers, and you didn’t even apologize for it.
At least the faux Mermaids documentaries on Animal Planet flashed a brief disclaimer explaining that they were false. Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives had no such warning. Instead, you did the exact opposite. All you put up was this:
None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.
Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day.
Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still a debate about what they may be.
While there may be a debate about what “sightings” may be, there is one thing that scientists are sure of: Megalodon is extinct.
Part of me is furious with you, Discovery, for doing this. But mostly, I’m just deeply saddened. It’s inexplicably depressing that you’ve gone from “the world’s #1 nonfiction media company” to peddling lies and faking stories for ratings. You’ve compromised your integrity so completely with this special, and that breaks my heart. I loved you, Discovery, ever since I was a child. I grew up watching you. It was partly because of you that I became transfixed by the natural world and pursued a career in science. I once dreamed of having my own Discovery Channel special, following in the footsteps of people like Jeff Corwin. Not anymore. This is inexcusable. You have an obligation to your viewers to hold to your non-fiction claims. You used to expose the beautiful, magical, wonderful sides of the world around us. Now, you just make shit up for profit. It’s depressing. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong.
I won’t be watching the rest of Shark Week. I simply can’t.
The last time you disappointed me, I wrote you a letter, and I told you that there was little chance that I could forgive you. I said it felt like you were slipping further and further every day. Sadly, my worst fears have become real. You’re just not the channel I grew up with. You’ve changed.
I sincerely hope that you take a little time and reflect on what you’ve become. Is this really what you want? To abuse the trust of your viewers that you have spent decades building? You say that your mission is “to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.” If fraud is the highest quality content you can come up with, then I’m not angry with you—I feel sorry for you.
If that is really your goal, you’ve failed, and you’ve failed miserably.
Update: You don’t have to listen to me, Discovery. Read your Facebook wall. This is just a small snippet of the comments your own viewers are posting. Listen to them:
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