I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Goetsman, Hanks, Wilson, & Zwick, 2002). It demonstrated the power of social influence in many different ways. We especially see the power of social influence at work in Toula’s life. She is an unmarried, 30-year-old Greek woman.
Toula felt the power of social influence when she chose to leave her family’s restaurant and embark on a personal journey to get a degree. This was totally against the expectations for the women in her family. They were supposed to get married while they were young. Then, they were expected to marry a Greek man, have children and stay at home. They were supposed to be the perfect housewife for their Greek husband. A job certainly was not in the picture. Toula was going against the social influence of her family because she wanted independence. This idea of social influence also illustrates the gender inequality that Greek women experience. Toula had always been expected to follow her father’s rules and expectation. Her dad personified the idea that total control was left to the man of the house. As he exerted his control and social influence over Toula, he attempted to impose norms on Toula.
Viewers see Toula go against her father’s social influences when she lands a job with her aunt. While there, she meets a man, and they start to date. However, he is not Greek, and this also is against all of the social influences in her life. All of the other women in her family have always married Greek men. At her age, she should have already been married so it certainly was not acceptable for her to date a man that was not Greek. She goes against social influences and starts to date Ian Miller. Toula recognizes that this is against her family’s social influences. Even though her dad is not even physically present, she thinks about his reaction, and she knows that it will not be good.
As they date, Toula worries about Ian and how he will handle the social influences of his family. He comes from a small family, and the extended family does not play the same role in his life. Ian has no idea what to expect with Toula’s family, and he does not have an understanding of Greek culture. As the first woman to go against the social influences of the family, Toula does not fully know what to expect. She knows her father will be really upset. Not only is Ian not Greek, but he does not eat meat.
As a young girl at school, we saw how Toula struggled with social influences. She was not happy with all of the influences of her Greek family and her Greek culture. She never felt a sense of belonging at school. She came under the social influences of the kids at school, and she decided that she liked the American way of life. She wanted to be like the other kids.
As Toula thought about adulthood, she did not like the powers of social influence in her life. She did not want to think about her life and what it would be. Her husband would be away at work, and she would be home fulfilling the role of the perfect wife. She would also have to take care of the kids. She knew she would take care of the traditional duties that the women do. She knew that she would provide nurturing, and her husband would provide protection.
During the time that Toula and Ian date, we see many social influences at work. Toula is very close with her family, but she does not love all of the social influences. She wants something different than what they want for her. They love her, and she loves them; they just have different goals in mind. With the social influences in the back of her mind, Toula knows her dad’ expectations, and she is struggling, especially as she gets closer with Ian over time. Toula realizes that her family’s social influences are so strong that it will be viewed as a taboo if she breaks certain family traditions.
We see the strength of social influences at work when Toula does not even let her parents know that she is dating Ian. She only discusses it with them once they find out from someone who saw her and Ian kissing. As she expected, her parents were not happy that her boyfriend was not Greek, and it was even worse because he failed to ask her father’s permission to date Toula. Although her parents tell her to break up with Ian, Toula refuses. Again, we see the power of social influence when her parents develop their own plan and start introducing her to Greek boys, but that does not work either. Eventually, Toula goes against the power of social influences, and she gets engaged to Ian.
With an impending wedding, Ian spends more time around Toula’s family, and he starts to recognize the power of their social influences; in fact, he starts trying to assume some of the Greek customs to make a good impression with her family. Toula knows that all of her relatives will want to play a role in her wedding, and she feels overwhelmed at the idea of trying to keep everyone happy. She does not think she can endure it so she suggests that they elope. However, Ian has recognized the social influences at work so he tells Toula that is not an option. He knows how much that would hurt her family so he refuses to be part of such a scheme. Because Ian was not Greek Orthodox, he could not get married in Toula’s church so he converts. With the conversion behind him, Ian is allowed to be recognized as part of the Greek culture. Toula’s parents begin to recognize his efforts and start to welcome him into the family, and the wedding plans move forward.
As they start preparations for the big day, Toula worries about all of her female family members. She knows that they will want to have a say in her wedding, and she knows that they will be more involved than she would prefer, but she knows that is just how it is in her family. We see the power of social influence at work when Toula’s cousin picks out dresses for the bridesmaids and does not even consult Toula. Again, we see social influences at work when Toula’s brother warns Ian that he will be met with death if he ever hurts Toula.
Eventually, Toula invites the Millers to meet her family. It was only supposed to be a dinner for her, her parents, the Millers, and Ian. However, when they arrive at her house, her entire family is there. During that evening, we see the social influences that had previously been in play in Ian’s life. Toula and Ian come from two very different worlds. For Toula, family refers to the extended family, and they all participate. For Ian, family refers to him and his parents; they love and support him, but they do not try to tell him what to do. For Toula’s family, 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. For the Millers, they each make their own decisions.
Then, we see social influences at play as they moved forward with their wedding. All of the women in Toula’s family want to be part of the plans. Her cousin picks out the dresses for the wedding party without consulting Toula.
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.
- Goetsman, G. (Producer), Hanks, T. (Producer), Wilson, R. (Producer), & Zwick, J. (Director)
(2002). My big fat Greek wedding [Motion picture]. United States: IFC Films.