Friday, May 27, 2011

Greek William Penn

The highlight of every Greek American community's fund-raising and civic presence is a Greek Festival. It has become a standard fixture of modern American life. Every town with a Greek community has a Greek Festival. In addition to offering Greek foods, dances, and activities, Greek festivals produce advertising posters that form a permanent record of graphic design. Imagine what a fabulous record of immigrant history such a collection would make. Festival flyers combine the aspirations of a community, as well as, stereotypical images to attract the non-Greek audience.

Saint George's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia is getting ready for its annual Festival, scheduled for the weekend of June 4. The flyer shows a digital representation of the Acropolis out of which rise the cupola of Philadelphia City Hall with a dancing Greek in the place of William Penn. Silly as it may be, I love this collapse of insignia.


Charles Ellwood Jones said...

Is any person or institution archiving this stuff?

Yiorgos Anagnostou said...

This fusion of signs resonates with an identity-narrative I collected in the 1990s, where an architectural image is also evoked to articulate the interweaving of Greek and American identities. In the words of Eleni, a Greek American I interviewed in Columbus:

“When you get into Saint Louis in your way towards Kansas City [....] you had to go through downtown. [...]. So, downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, is this tall skyscraper; and, lo and behold, on top of this skyscraper is a building that looks like the Parthenon. It looks like if somebody pasted it on there. Okay! Here we are talking about American architecture, cement straight up and down, and perched on the top is this Ionian colonnaded building. Now if you don’t call that intertwined! You know! If you really want to analyze that building and say was the architect Greek American, or say was he a Grecophile or a Hellenophile, a friend of the Hellenes? It is intertwined, how can you distinguish it? I don’t think it was a pretty building [laugh] because I thought both parts were displaced, but here, you know, [you see] the influence! So how can you distinguish? I look at the good things in both areas, and I sort of smile at the bad things.”

In my analysis I wrote, "To Eléni, the image of a Parthenon replica perched on top of a St. Louis skyscraper conveys a sense of a symbolic superimposition, a fusion so to speak, between ancient Greece and American culture. An American symbol of technological sophistication coexists with a symbol of classical achievement. The juxtaposition functions iconically as a sign that conveys affinities between Hellenism and Americanism" ("'That Imagination Called Hellenism': Connecting Greek Worlds, Past and Present, in Greek America." The Classical Bulletin, Vol. 80.2 [2004]:258.

In the "Greek William Pen" iconic arrangement yet another layer of Greek culture is superimposed, that of the folk dancer. The two symbolic poles of modern Greek identity, the classical and folk pasts, sit atop the center of city government. The Greek American dream of cultural empowerment in full display.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States