The power of a raised arm

Bars and nightclubs full of revelers in the trendy winter destination of Arachova made good fodder for some television channels that chose to screen scenes of the oblivious few over and over and over again. Maybe these TV stations chose to adorn their news bulletins with such images in order to spit in the eye of Greece?s international financial overseers or to help viewers feel a little better. One can only imagine the kind of bonanza they would have had if they had secured video of Prime Minister George Papandreou dancing the slow Greek zeibekiko at an eatery in the affluent northern suburb of Kifissia on New Year?s Day: His fans would call it pride and his opponents would feign shock at his gall in dancing at such a time as this.

The fact, however, that at least two channels showed the same shots of people belly-dancing on tables may be indicative that many chose to see in 2011 just as they did the previous year and others before that, with the same sense of enjoyment and nonchalance, the same sense of putting all their troubles behind them for a day. A few seconds of airtime, though, are not enough to convince even the most jovial that these people are ready to weather any storm or that the country is experiencing a long period of luxury and joy.

I?m afraid that the real picture of the holidays is very different, despite the forced optimism of the customary wishes for a happy New Year: Patiently, the growing ranks of people in need (among whom there is an increasing number of Greeks, according to recent reports) wait in line for their portions at soup kitchens set up by the Church of Greece and the City of Athens. Cameras train their omnivorous lenses on them. Automatically, in a gesture of self-preservation, a man raises his arm to shield his face, his eyes and, mainly, his grief. He does not want to be seen, because after all, not everyone likes to put their suffering on public display and not everyone cares to know how we perceive them. The man did not want to be exposed, at the apex of his destitution, in the eyes of his familiars. He did not want our pity or our contempt.

That raised arm, which possibly symbolizes a lifetime of dreams, efforts and dashed hopes, is the ultimate defense for people?s sense of dignity and self-respect at a time when these are under fire. We can also raise an arm, separately or alone, so that we shield our eyes from what is going on around us. But this is neither honorable nor productive, to use a term of the markets, where life itself is a tradable commodity.