Friday, 4 July 2008

Kojak: Birthday Party

I've been watching series four of the classic US TV show Kojak, with the inimitable Telly Savalas as the lonely, crusading, eunuch cop, Lt. Theo Kojak.

Kojak is impressively dark and downbeat, depicting 1970s New York as a cesspit full of the most depraved and deranged people it is possible to imagine, serial killers, child rapists, homicidal depressives – or, as one of Kojak's cop colleagues puts it, 'streets [that] are filled with dirt that walks'.

Anyway, one of the (weaker) episodes, Birthday Party (video above) is a piece of Greek Americana, in which cop-killer Tony Pappas, to get himself released from custody arranges for his brother and girlfriend to kidnap Kojak's little niece, Elena.

Two lines spoken by Kojak in Birthday Party struck me. One is when he refers to Pappas as 'Mediterranean fungus', even though Pappas is more Manhattan than Mediterranean; and, second, when Kojak reassures his sister about her kidnapped daughter, by telling her that: 'This isn't the old country. We're gonna find her in time. We've got ways,' i.e. there is law and justice in the new country, not like in the old country where there is injustice and incompetence.

These two lines encapsulate the ideology America feeds its immigrants and the predicament it poses to them. The slimeball murderer, Tony Pappas, represents the old country; the upstanding upholder of the law and decency, Theo Kojak, the new. Whose side are you on?