I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Goetsman, Hanks, Wilson, & Zwick, 2002). As Allport (1985) explained, social psychology scientifically studies how people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are affected by other people. For example, family, friends, teachers, and strangers may influence a person. The person influencing the behavior may be physically present, but it is not necessary. In short, social situations play a big role in shaping people and how they develop. Social influence provides a way for people to influence the behavior of other people; social influence occurs because of the manner in which the changed person perceives his relationship with the person exerting the influence. People behave in a manner that they hope will result in the approval of friends and family (Aronson, Wilson, Akert & Sommers, 2016). My Big Fat Greek Wedding demonstrated the power of social influence.
Unlike all of her cousins who got married to Greeks and started their own families, Toula is an unmarried 30-year-old; she is a nice Greek girl, but she is considered a failure in her culture. Everybody is concerned about Toula and her future. Suddenly, one day it happens; Toula’s luck changes, and she meets a nice guy, but he is not Greek. Toula realizes the power of her family’s social influence, and she realizes that she needs to escape from her family. As she starts her journey, she finally leaves her family’s restaurant and embarks on a journey by deciding that she will go to college. Toula certainly breaks tradition by doing this; she dares to venture where none of the other Portokalos women have gone. In her family, women do not go to college. Because of her fear, Toula did not want to let her father know about her educational goals and dreams. Toula saw her college degree as the first step in her personal journey. With a degree, she would be able to find a good job; this would ultimately lead to her independence. Upon learning that she was enrolled in college, Toula’s dad was heartbroken. His vision for Toula was different; he wanted her to be the perfect wife for her future husband. This idea of social influence also illustrates the gender inequality that Greek women experience. Greek women do not enjoy the opportunity to climb the social ladder; instead, they are expected to be housewives. In the Portokalos’ house, it was expected that Toula would have permission from her father for whatever she did. Mr. Portokalos personified the idea that control was left to the man of the house. In exerting his influence, he attempted to impose norms on Toula.
Eventually, Toula succeeds in convincing her aunt to give her a job. While working for her aunt, Toula meets Ian Miller; while she finds Ian very attractive, he is not Greek. As they begin to date, it quickly becomes apparent that they have a major culture clash. Toula worries about Ian’s ability to handle her large, extended family. Ian is the all-American boy from next door, and he is not at all familiar with the Greek culture and the social influences that the entire family has over Toula. While Toula knows what is in store for Ian, he has no idea about the doubt and outrage that he will have to endure before he can ever be accepted by her family. In fact, Toula worries about her family’s reaction and knows that their social influence is so strong that she is not able to decide if her dad will be more upset that Ian does not eat meat or that he is not Greek.
Since she was a young girl, Toula felt the social influences imposed by her extended family. The members of the Portokalos have always been close, and everybody is always involved in everyone else’s life. From the time she was a young girl at school, Toula demonstrates that she is not happy about all of the Greek traditions and influences. At school, we see Toula’s discomfort with her Greek culture; we start to recognize that she does not feel a sense of belonging with the other kids at school. Meanwhile, Toula is torn because of her family’s social influence; they majorly embrace their Greek roots and their Greek culture. Her Greek family members are not influenced by the American way of life; they totally reject it in favor of their Greek culture. However, Toula is torn; we watch her struggle because she does not want to be different the other kids with whom she has grown up. Instead, Toula prefers to be a part of the dominant American culture.
As a young girl, Toula understood social influences and their impact on gender roles in the Greek culture. As a woman, she would be expected to say home; it would be her duty to cook and clean while taking care of the children. Furthermore, she would be expected to marry a Greek man. As her husband, he would be in charge of his household; he would have the control within the family. He would be expected to be the breadwinner; he would be expected to protect his family. Because she had grown up in America, Toula had other ideas. She had experienced social influences from people other than her Greek family; she had a lot of social influence from the American children with whom she went to school. As a result of the combined social influences she had experienced, Toula knew she wanted something different for her future.
As Toula begins to date Ian, we see the differences in how social influences have impacted the two of them and their lives. With Toula, we witness the closeness and bonds in her extended family; the family becomes a community of its own. Toula never forgets about her father’s expectations; they are constantly on her mind. Through the power of social influence, Toula recognizes the traditional Greek values. She knows that her dad expects her to be like her cousins; she needs to marry a nice Greek boy and start having children. Through the power of social influence, the younger family members have learned what it means to be Greek, and they have learned the family’s expectations. For the older generations, the social influence was so strong that they just did it without ever thinking about it. Toula faces an internal struggles; she knows that it will be viewed as a taboo in her large Greek family if she breaks theirs traditions; she feels the social influences at work in her life, and she wants to make her own choices, but she cannot stop thinking about her family’s reaction.
As Toula and Ian continue to date, we see many other examples of social influence. For example, Toula had not told her parents about Ian; she had been afraid to tell them. Her parents only learned about her boyfriend when one of their friends told them that they had seen Toula kissing a man in a public place. Toula’s fears came true; her dad was not happy when he learned about Ian because he was not Greek. In fact, Toula’s parents tell her that she has to end the relationship. While Toula maintains her love for Ian, Mr. and Mrs. Portokalos devise a plan; they continue to introduce Toula to eligible Greek men, but the plan does not work. Again, the power of social influence is at work when her parents are trying to set her up on dates with the idea that one of them will ultimately be Toula’s husband.
Eventually, Ian proposes to Toula, and they get engaged. Toula’s dad was very unhappy when Ian failed to ask for permission to date Toula so he was obviously even more upset with the impending wedding. Ian recognizes the power of social influences and how important certain customs are to Toula’s family; therefore, he makes a concerted effort to adopt some of the Greek customs. At one point, Toula proposed that they elope; however, Ian refused to entertain the idea. In trying to honor the Greek customs, Ian recognized that it was important to Toula’s family for her to be married in their religion. Toula knew that she was not allowed to marry Ian in the Greek Orthodox Church; in order for them to be married there, Ian would have to convert to Greek Orthodox. Later, viewers witness Ian being baptized; through the ceremony, he was spiritually cleansed. Thus, he was able to be recognized as a part of the Greek culture. When Ian converted and became a part of the Greek culture, Mr. and Mrs. Portokalos appreciate his efforts, and they finally welcomed him into their family. As Ian makes this transformation, viewers see how important the social influences of Toula’s family were for Ian; he clearly grasped the importance of converting and was willing to do that to have Toula and her love. Ian had learned that Toula’s family was loud and outspoken. While Toula worried what Ian might think about her family, she clearly loved them, and Ian loved her. With the conversion ceremony behind them, they moved forward with their wedding plans.
As they prepared for the big day, Toula worried about all of her female family members. Knowing how her family members like to get into each other’s business, she knew that the other women would immerse themselves into her wedding plans regardless of what she and Ian thought about it. Toula was not totally surprised when she learned that Nikki, her cousin, took it upon herself to choose the dresses of the bridesmaids without consulting Toula; again, this is another demonstration of social influences at work in her Greek culture. Nick, Toula’s brother, gives Ian a warning; if Ian ever does anything to hurt Toula, Nick will kill him. Because they know that Ian is trying to fit into the family and adopt Greek customs, her cousins play games and get Ian to say tasteless things in Greek. Ian is not Greek, but he has come to the realization of the importance of the role of the extended family; therefore, he willingly participates and repeats whatever the cousins tell him without giving it any thought. He has come recognized the importance of social influences within the large family, and he makes his best effort to become one of them.
Before the big day, Toula decides that it would be a good idea for her parents to meet the Millers, Ian’s parents. Knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Miller are very quiet and reserved, Toula invites them to dinner. Recognizing the power of social influences and knowing the differences between the two families, Toula is adamant that the dinner will only include Ian, his parents, her parents and her. The social influences that impact the Millers are totally different; thus, she knows that six people at the dinner table will be more than enough for Mr. and Mrs. Miller; she worries that her extended family will be too much for them to handle. She also wants a small and simple dinner. Toula thinks the plans are all in place, and she believes that they have agreed to the dinner as she planned it. Imagine Toula’s surprise when she and Ian show up at her parents’ house, and they are greeted by her extended family; Toula worries about the Millers and how they will react. With no understanding of Greek culture, Mr. and Mrs. Miller are quite surprised with the events of the evening.
When the Mr. and Mrs. Miller spend the evening with the Portokalos family, we see more social influences at work in the movie. Clearly, the Portokalos family is a collective unit; meanwhile, the Miller family would be viewed as individualistic. In the Portokalos family, individuals do not just make decisions or take actions on their own; they cherish their roles as members of the family. As the Portokalos family demonstrated, the family’s needs are more important than the individual’s needs. When there is a decision to be made, the entire family participates; everybody has a chance to offer their opinions, even when nobody asks for them. They were a very close family, and they all genuinely care about one another; their actions are based in care and love. As illustrated in the movie, Toula and Ian had hoped to make their wedding plans as a couple; however, that did not come to fruition. Instead, we saw that the entire Portokalos family participated in the wedding plans. They were eventually forced to sit back and allow the participation while hoping for the best. On the other hand, the Millers are portrayed in a different light. As the movie showed, the Miller family only included Ian and his parents; there was not an extended family participating and making decisions for one another. When Toula first met her future in-laws, you could see her reaction; she is clearly surprised by the stark contrast between her family and Ian’s family. When you meet the Greek family, you are meeting a very large group; you would not ever expect to meet just two people when the word family is used.
Social influences are in play again toward the movie’s end. Specifically, Ian serves as a great example to show the power of social influences. During the time that he has dated Toula, he has grown more familiar and has become more acclimated to the Greek way of life. For instance, we see him trying to speak Greek words. We see him learning to dance in the same fashion that they do. We see him trying to use Greek expressions. He has started engaging in Greek traditions. We also saw how he changed religions for Toula because it was so important to her family. He also made sure that they had a big wedding out of respect to her family even when she wanted to elope. Even as staunch as they were, we see how social influences have impacted Ian’s parents; they even participated in some of the Greek activities as a result of social influences.
Social influences were constantly at work. Toula and Ian came from two different worlds. This movie was a great example to illustrate differences in expectations and perspectives. Clearly, Toula and Ian were constantly impacted by the social influences??”family, friends, fellow students??”surrounding them. As Toula demonstrated repeatedly, those social influences can play a great role without even being physically present. With his ever-present authoritarian personality, Mr. Portokalos often influenced Toula without being with her. However, there are times when people will act on their own accord and ignore social influences; we saw Toula do this when she started dating Ian. Despite the social influences of generations, we saw how much love that Mr. and Mrs. Portokalos had for Toula, and they wanted to see her happy. Eventually, we saw other social influences at work as Toula’s big Greek family eventually accepted Ian as one of their own. Despite all of their differences and all of the social influences, we saw Toula and Ian together as husband and wife. During the reception, Mr. Portokalos gave a moving speech in which he welcomed Ian and the Millers into their big Greek family. As he concluded his remarks, he presented the newlyweds with the deed to their new house; ironically, it is right beside her parents’ house; that clearly demonstrates how strong social influence is in Greek families. As the movie illustrated, Toula’s and Ian’s families were joined together through social influences and marriage.
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