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Anthropological Analysis Of The Film My Big Fat Greek Wedding

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Introduction

The name of the film that I will be anthropologically analyzing is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The film is a romantic comedy which revolves around a woman named Toula Portokalos and as you can tell from the last name she comes from a Greek Orthodox family. At the time of the film, she is in her thirties and yet to find a husband which her family and culture expects of her. She then meets an American man named Ian Miller and they quickly fall in love. The movie follows them through the struggle of introducing Ian to her Greek family and the process of integration that ensues as different cultures intertwine.

The Main Anthropological Concepts of the Film

Due to the nature of the film, many different anthropological themes and concepts make an appearance consistently throughout the film. I believe one of the most persistent and obvious concepts displayed is endogamy due to Toulas family and the expectations set on her. Furthermore, the expectations set on Toula brings me to the next concept which is gender roles, throughout the movie her expectations as a Greek Orthodox female are stated clearly to her by her family over and over. Another theme that is quite prevalent is the display of how different cultures set different levels of importance on family size, the film does a good job comparing both the nuclear and extended families within two separate cultures. Finally one of the most important anthropological themes within the movie is acculturation, due to the fact that Ian is not an orthodox Greek there is a lot of pushback on the idea of him marrying Toula so to counter that he immerses himself within their culture and learns a lot as knowledge and customs are exchanged.

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Endogamy

One of the concepts I picked up on in the film was the display of endogamy. In Anthropology endogamy is defined as the custom of marrying only within the limits of a local community, clan, or tribe. Furthermore, outsiders from the group or culture are rejected and cannot marry into the group in order to keep the ethnic identity from one generation to the next. This is seen throughout the film as the father of Toula tells her “Nice Greek girls should marry Greek boys, have Greek babies, and feed everyone until the day they die”. His stance of endogamy is further cemented when he puts his daughter through multiple dates with Greek men who she clearly has no interest in. This is a principal theme in the first half of the film as he is hesitant to accept Ian who is not Greek. According to Conrad Kottak in appreciating cultural diversity (Kottak, 2018) endogamy has been observed in places such as India which had an extreme version of it called the Caste system, but that is one of the extreme cases for the most part endogamy takes place in conservative settings across the globe such as the one we saw in the movie.

Gender Roles

The next concept that seemed to stick out to me was the idea of gender roles. Gender roles in cultures and societies differ from one culture to another, but in summary, it is the tasks and expectations set upon each sex within a group. In the movie from the very beginning it is quite clear what her expectations as a Greek woman are, she asks her father “don’t you want me to do something with my life” which he replies with “Yes!, get married and have kids” in addition to that, at a later point the father says “didn’t I say it’s a mistake to educate Greek women”. It is quite clear at this point that their culture is quite patriarchal as the father believes women should get married have kids and stay home with those kids while the men are educated and do the rest. This can be seen in real life in certain societies such as Saudi Arabia which is notorious for not giving women equal rights to men, in an article by the Human Rights Watch with the subtitle of “Rampant Discrimination, Abuse” (HRW, 2019) it goes into detail about how women simply don’t have the same rights as men in that specific patriarchal society, this being an example of an extreme case of gender roles.

Nuclear and Extended Families

Another anthropological idea that seemed to display itself throughout the movie is the comparison between the nuclear family and the extended family. A nuclear family is established when one is married or has children, so it typically consists of the parents and the children/child. On the other hand, the extended family can house three or more generations including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In the film we are introduced to Toulas extended family early on within the first ten minutes we are introduced to her aunt and uncles and multiple cousins, while they don’t live together they do see each other every day and refer to each other as family. Furthermore, their grandmother lives with them so they have three generations of their family within their house. Then we are introduced to Ian’s family which is nuclear and consists of just him and his two parents. In a scene over the phone Toula and her mother are talking about the dinner that is meant to take place between her family and Ian’s, Toula is curious as to why her mother is preparing so much food and her mother says the “family” is coming, Toula replies in a worried and shocked manner pauses before saying “the family… you invited the whole family” this later makes for a funny scene where a family of three is introduced to about thirty people and makes for a nice comparison of extended and nuclear families. In reality, extended families are decreasing in number while nuclear households grow, this is especially apparent in western countries.

Acculturation

The final concept that I picked for review is acculturation which for the most part is what the movie revolves around. Acculturation is the process by which two cultures meet and if one of the cultures becomes dominant it causes members of the other culture to assimilate into the other dominant culture. This assimilation will cause the new members to learn about the traditions, dialect; norms, etc. of the other culture and basically adopt them as their own. In the case of this film, it is not a culture being assimilated into a more dominant one rather it is Ian an individual being integrated into the Greek Orthodox culture in order to get passed the endogamy that acts as a barrier to him and Toula being able to marry. As part of his acculturation, he is baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, furthermore, he actively attempts to learn Greek words and phrases to attempt to fit in better. As time goes on in the film you can see Ian has normalized many of the norms of the Greek Orthodox family of Toula whereas in the beginning, he was a bit confused by certain aspects of how they conducted themselves. Acculturation of this sort is observed around the world especially in the United States which is often described as a cultural melting pot which is where the film happens to be set. Furthermore, the setting really helps to visualize this happening in real life and does a great job at conveying to the viewer what acculturation could look like in everyday life.

Conclusion

The film does an excellent job of highlighting many of the theoretical concepts that we have discussed in class. It does this by brewing up the perfect anthropological storm, what I mean by that is that the story follows Toula a female who is part of a very strict culture which her family is very serious about, it then inserts Ian who does not match the criteria of their culture. This then takes the story through many anthropological topics such as the ones I discussed endogamy, acculturation, gender roles, families and more. Furthermore, the film helps visualize how these theoretical concepts could look like in the real world, even better its setup in a modern American setting which I previously stated allows the viewer to imagine this happening in reality. In summary, we can learn many things about culture and how it differs from individual to individual. In addition, it reminds us of how important it is in everyday life as it dictates many of our behaviors and norms which we may forget is due to our culture.

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