The feature length film Lines, written and directed by Greek native Vassilis Mazomenos, weaves together seven different stories of people struggling to stay afloat in Greece’s economic crisis (Mazomenos, 2016). Not knowing who to talk to or what to do, they call the suicide hotline and try to ask for advice. Because none of these characters are describing psychological problems that could be alleviated through talking, there is nothing the man on the other end of the line can do to help them. This doesn’t mean that they are without psychological issues, though. It just means they are not able to vocalize how the crisis is making them feel on a deeper, non-materialistic level. As mentioned on the homepage of this blog, masculinity typically entails men who mask their emotions. However, with the current crisis that has been burdening the country since 2008, it is hard for Greek men to uphold this standard of masculinity due to the losses that are happening in their lives. Emotions emerge and egos start to dwindle as Greek men begin to realize just how bad things are. Since the new social trend of honor does not condone egotistical men, this showing of emotion may be considered honorable in some discourses.
A major theme in this film is the stripping-off of one’s everyday attire. I believe that by doing this, the characters are shedding their societal roles and displaying a sense of humility and vulnerability. They are showing their human-ness and how they are no different from anyone else. These acts could be seen as a way to express the characters’ underlying psychological emotions that they were not able to bring to the forefront when they called the lifeline. The act of removing clothing could also be seen as a way of circulating power. Foucault believes that power flows in a cycle and that everyone has a chance of being both the oppressor and the oppressed (Hall, p. 34). He says that power relations exist in every sphere of life, and so one person could simultaneously be the oppressor in one sphere and the oppressed in another. This is showcased in Lines, because the oppressors were also being oppressed by the financial crisis (which will be touched upon under “Characters”). The act of taking off their clothes shows that they are over being a part of “the system”, and over being considered oppressors. They join the same ranks as the rest of the oppressed Greek citizens and are no longer the ones doing the subjugating.
Hall says that subjects only can exist meaningfully when they’re in specific discourses about them (p. 30). Therefore, the stripping of one’s clothing has no meaning unless it is within certain discourses, such as masculinity, philotimo, and honor. When viewing from these lenses, we can see a variety of meanings for this single act. Sean Nixon talks about how the “new man” appears shirtless to be sexy and to inflate their egos (p. 291). The shirtless men of Lines were not trying to do any of this, which means they risk of seeming unmasculine, and therefore dishonorable. They are showing their vulnerability and giving up on their current situations, which could be seen as losing honor. In a way, though, this could also be interpreted as an honorable act because they are showing strength in weakness by making a statement. They are standing up for what they believe is right, and displaying their bodies to tell onlookers that their role in society does not matter to them anymore. This can be perceived as philotimo, since they are publicizing the fact that they do not want anything to do with oppressing others and they want to do what they think is morally correct.
Aris is a police officer burdened by his occupation. He and his police unit were preparing to be unleashed upon Greek protesters, where they’d utilize violence to disperse the dangerous protests happening. Aris was feeling uneasy about the prospect of having to beat up civilians, but then if he quit his job or got fired he would have no means to survive in these tough times. There became two options for him: stick with his police “family” and do his job to the best of his ability, thus being an honorable man by staying and trying his best, or leave and not do his job, thus showcasing philotimo by not harming others. In the end, he left his troop and walked out into the middle of the protests, where protesters were hurling heavy stones at the police. He stood in between the protesters and the police, and stripped off every single article of clothing. The stone throwing ceased, and a police officer went over to console Aris’ obvious internal struggle.
By taking off his clothes, Aris was showing his disdain at his line of work. He no longer wanted to be associated with the acts of his fellow policemen, and he wanted to convey this disaffiliation to the protesters. Aris giving up his job and source of income for what he believed in was right a clear gesture of philotimo. He sacrificed his reputation and livelihood just to do what he deemed morally correct. Aris was at the end of his rope and did not know how else to deal with his feelings. In this scene of the film, the camera follows Aris into the protest where we can see the protesters throwing things at him and hitting his shield. The camera then starts to do circles around Aris, and we see the protester’s point of view of all of the policemen. From this angle we see Aris stripping off his uniform, and the camera continues to do circles around him so the audience can see the reactions of both groups of people. The protesters and the police were all watching in awe, showing that the act of Aris removing his uniform was a way to de-escalate the conflicts going on, even if temporarily. The circling of the cameras could symbolize the circulation of power taking place, as Aris is turning away from the oppressors to join the oppressed.
A police officer comes over and hugs Ari, showing his recognition of Aris’ thoughts and feelings about the situation. The way Aris leans on him is reminiscent of an ancient Greek sculpture. All his weight seems to be on one foot, or “contrapposto” in classical art terms. As mentioned before, most ancient Greek sculptures are viewed as heroic, honorable figures. Their nudity showcases this, as they are bravely displaying their bodies. Aris in this scene can be viewed in this same light, because his act of philotimo was heroic, honorable, and brave. His nakedness does not exemplify failure, but rather an honorable form of vulnerability. It is possible to have both vulnerability and honor at the same time, and Aris is a prime example of this. His stance also could represent a contrast in time, just like the photo that is at the top of this page. Classical Greece was highly prosperous, and so the men were portrayed as being stoic and dignified. Current Greece is not at all prosperous because of the current crisis and all that it entails, and so the men are very beat up and broken. Aris, even though his nudity may resemble an ancient Greek sculpture, is worn out and not stoic in appearance. If there were to be sculptures made of a contemporary Greek man, Aris would be a perfect illustration.
Journalist Scott Rubarth writes about how when ancient Athenians threw away their shields in battle, they lost all their honor and were considered shameful (Rubarth, 2014, p. 25). Ancient Greek societies were meant to fight for their city until either the battles were won or until they died. Aris threw away his police shield during a contemporary type of “battle”, and therefore should be considered shameful and without honor in the ancient context. Instead, however, Aris’ act of throwing away his shield could be seen as fighting for his city instead of being a coward. By stripping off his clothes, he showed that he was standing up for a cause. This cause happened to be what I saw as bringing back humanity to Greek citizens, and in order to do this and contain the riot he needed to show that he was no longer working against the people. By stripping off his police shield, he wasn’t dishonoring his city but rather respecting it enough to communicate his disappointment at where they’ve all ended up. He was siding with the people of his city who were victimized by Greece’s crisis, instead of the forces trying to silence them.
Another character in this film is a farmer who had just lost everything he owned. He was a masculine figure that people depended on to help make ends meet, however he could no longer satisfy these needs due to the crisis. He had to tell his sister who has cancer that he had no food to feed her, and he had to fire his last remaining workers because he had no money to repay their labor with. The only thing he had to his name was a barren farm that had been in his family for generations. After firing his last workers, he received the news that his land was being confiscated due to legal reasons. Soon enough, a bulldozer comes around the corner and flattens out his farm. In a last ditch attempt to stop the impending destruction of the last thing he owned, he steps in front of the moving bulldozer, strips off his shirt, and waves it at the driver. This does nothing to stop the bulldozer’s frontward motion. After this effort failed, the farmer went to where his old workers were residing and sacrificed his body for them to do what they pleased.
When the bulldozer was mowing down the farmer’s land, he stripped to show his lost honor as the last thing he had was taken away from him. Caring for the farm was his entire life, and the only thing he knew to do. It could provide him the nourishment he and his sister needed, and keep his mind busy to block out the failing world. After this last possession was seized, he only had himself left. He decided to sacrifice his body for others to supposedly do whatever they wanted with it, thus giving away the last thing he could for those he could no longer provide for. This could be seen as an act of philotimo. Because there were no other ways he could give people money or food, he decided to forfeit his own body for the greater good of others, whatever that entailed. Perhaps he was acting as a scapegoat so the people could take their angers about their unemployment out on him, or perhaps it was some totally different reason. This also represents a circulation of power, because he went from being a boss to letting his former employees take control of his body.
Last but not least we are shown the Greek Prime Minister’s story. He had just got news that things weren’t looking too great for the Greeks, and that they would have to change their democratic ways in order to survive and get help from other countries. During a live speech to the entire Greek nation, he decided to go off-script and recite passages from the Greek Constitution regarding the people and their rights. While saying these lines, he started to strip off his suit. His entire broadcast represented his dislike towards the bad news he heard about the nation’s future, as well as the events happening in his country. He wanted to show the People that the Constitution does matter, and that their rights are just as valid as anyone else’s. By stripping off his clothes in front of millions on live television, he was illustrating his humility, humanity, and indignation at the corruption that was happening. Here, a person of the utmost power could not even handle the pressures that he was facing. He wanted to remind the People of their rights so they would not give up faith in these trying times. I view this act as being another example of one being honorable in weakness. He showed that even as Prime Minister, there was only so much he could do or handle, and so he wasn’t as strong as he may have led people to believe. It also showed a switch of power, because he was insinuating that the responsibilities he has as a prime minister were oppressing him, and so he empathizes with his citizens and knows that they are hurting and are more oppressed than he.
Achilleas Hadjikyriacou says that Greek men and women are always nervous about society watching their every move and judging whether or not they are living up to “the morals of patriarchy” (Hadjikyriacou, 2013, p. 114). In the case of the Prime Minister, he was the patriarchal figure who had the most power. One would think that a masculine man in this place should remain headstrong, and not falter under the pressures of the world, especially with society’s eyes on them. Contrarily, he showed his vulnerability right in front of society and did not care if he was living up to his patriarchal roles or not. This could be viewed as philotimo, because the Prime Minister did what he thought was morally acceptable to him as a person. He showed that he was on the side of the People, and in turn he was on the right side of history by not giving in to corruption and the overturning of what he stood for. Hadjikyriacou also says that honor is something that exists both in someone’s private state and in their public recognition (p. 115). With regards to the Prime Minister, his private and public selves could not be separated. He was a firm believer in the Constitution, and to forgo that in the public sphere was not something he could do. Because of this, he forfeited his public honor so that it could match up with his private honor.
Each character listed above showed honor and strength in their weaknesses. By being vulnerable, and shedding their clothes to symbolize this, they were also donning bravery. This could be because every item that exists in the world comes with various connotations depending on who is viewing the situation. These characters stripping off their clothes might seem like a loss of honor to most, and might even be how they construed their own acts. They were lost and done with everything going on in their lives. They took off their clothes as a last resort to show that they had nothing left but themselves. They might have thought this was a sign of weakness, and others may agree; however, these deeds could also be connotated as acts of bravery.
Journalist James Davidson wrote that in ancient Greece, nudity was in a way a costume (Davidson, 2015). The men in Lines were defeated, but in showing their defeat by taking off their clothes they also put on the costume of courage and valor. First and foremost, they stripped off their societal roles, thus stripping off the wrongs that they made while in this role that were weighing down their conscience. Secondly, they did this in front of the very people who their societal roles impacted the most. Knowing the gravity of the situations and how dangerous it was to expose one’s vulnerability, these actions could be connotated as heroic and honorable. For Aris, his societal role impacted civilians because his job was to beat them up and use excessive force to get rid of protests. Police are also part of the government, and the government tries to silence the people. Aris stripped this role in front of protesters who were throwing heavy stones that could have killed him. The farmer’s societal role impacted his workers because he had to fire them and also the state because he never gave back necessary subsidies. He stripped in front of a moving bulldozer hired by the state, which was dangerous because he could have been run over. He presented himself naked in front of his old workers, who were going to do what they wanted with his body. The Prime Minister’s societal role impacted all of Greece, because he was in the highest spot of power and still could not put an end to the ongoing crisis and help the People. He stripped in front of every angry citizen watching his speech to find answers to their desperation. The act of taking off one’s clothes as a last resort can also be connoted as the act of putting on a valiant costume. There is a saying in Greece, "βγήκα απ'τα ρούχα μου", that translates to “I came out of my clothes,” (Ellis, 2014). It is an idiom for being extremely angry, so angry that they are in disbelief at whatever has happened. Laura Ellis compares the sentiments of this saying to a cartoon, encouraging readers to envision a cartoon shooting out of their clothing because they were so mad about something. The coming out of clothes is similar to how ancient Greeks tore out their hair in lamentation, except instead of hair it is apparel. This idiom fits into Lines perfectly, because each of the characters described previously were so angry that they literally came out of their clothes. While they may not have seemed angry in the film, the stripping off of their clothes as an act of desperation stems from the vexation and lividness of having to deal with the crisis. Their current lives troubled them, making them upset, and thus making them unveil their vulnerable bodies by coming out of their clothes.
Lines was really masterful in showcasing what Greece is going through in this crisis, and the reactions that people of all demographics have. It showed that through it all, each person was suffering in their own ways and did not know quite how to overcome it. There are many ways to perceive the actions committed by the characters in the film, such as whether or not they lost honor or gained honor by removing their clothing. Depending on one’s mindset, they could see these characters as being cowardly and delicate, bringing dishonor to both themselves and to Greece. Others could see them as upholding Greek honor and letting philotimo shine through their every move. As the discourse of Greece changes, these meanings might change as well.