Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Pikermian Preachers

It is always fascinating to study how certain groups are presented by the media. After the brilliant work on the subject by Philemon Pantimaroudes in analysing how Evangelicals have been portrayed in the Greek media, I feel I am merely scratching the surface with these brief comments I spontaneously put into writing.

But one could not simply sit back and not react to the amusing, to say the least, descriptions in the recent article on the Athenian paper called Το Βήμα ( concerning the accreditation of private colleges in Greece.

The article begins by saying that the colleges seeking accreditation can be summed up in the following categories: The “British”, the “Americans”, the “independents” and the “. . . preachers of Pikermi”. This last group sounds to me like “the mantic prophets of that village” or “the mystics of the north”. My purpose is not to find companions to entertainment in journalism, but to look at this portrayal of the Greek Bible Institute (the Pikermian Preachers) from a literary critical perspective.

First, one notices the labels at work here. It is true that these colleges are co-operating with British or American institutions, but this labelling is an effective technique of “dehellenization”. The first two groups seem clearly “alien”, the third one is harder to pin down but still refusing to belong to a familiar category, and the fourth one is a “special case”. While the first three are “dehellenized” their definition remains neutral as to their academic or educational goals. No step is taken towards demarcating their educational aims. In the case of the fourth, the journalist has not only “dehellenized” but has taken a step further in defining exactly who these people are.

Second, while the official name of the Greek Bible Institute is mentioned later in the article, the title creates the mood through which the rest of the article will be read. The technique of “renaming” allows the author to define the object himself, to rob it of its own formal hypostasis that it claims for itself, and give it a new one. Despite the fact that these colleges are made up of mostly Greek students and faculty, the labels provided are extremely effective in alienating these objects. These are not members of our community who are asking for recognition. These are not our fellow Greeks who are simply of a different opinion or way of doing things, these are the invading “Other” who dares to demand to rise to our level.

Third, in studying satire, one will find that some of its main elements is that of “caricaturing”. A caricature (according to the authority, namely Wikipedia) is “a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness.” The narrowing down of the GrBI to “the preachers of Pikermi” has created this easily identifiable picture of a far more complex entity. In literature, “a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others,” and in the case of the GrBI, the spotlights have dropped on the religious aspect; the “alien” religious aspect. “Preachers” is surely an alien religious term in Greece (as opposed to the “priests” of the Orthodox church), and while a reference to “theological students” would have sufficed, the term “preachers” is wittily employed instead. Of course, this is also a major element in satire: being witty enough to “belittle” in a very discreet manner, yet successfully exposing the flaw of your target and showing to your audience how your object falls below the expected and “shared” standards.

So, am I exaggerating too? Am I over-reading into innocent terms? Perhaps. However, some exaggerations aspire to bring a certain equilibrium, whereas other exaggerated writings exist to maintain the “imbalanced” status quo. Let the reader be the judge.

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