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The CBC and elves: Was it something I said?

So my post from the other day about the CBC’s preoccupation with the Icelanders’ alleged elf fixation garnered a fair bit of attention. There were a lot of referrals, some social media sites picked it up, and predictably most of the attention came from Canada.

Seeing as how the tone of the post was, um, slightly critical, I was somewhat surprised to receive a friendly email from one of the producers of The Current, Kristin somebodyorother, last Sunday. She had read my post, and wanted to ask if I would be interested in being on their show next Thursday [yesterday] to, and-I-quote, “critique or [sic] elf segment and to talk more generally about Iceland’s economy.”

You know, I was delighted, and very pleased that the CBC was willing to exercise in a bit of self-critique. However, before going further I thought I had better listen to the original programme, which I just hadn’t made time to do before then. So at the first available opportunity I settled down in front of my computer with my tea and knitting [no, really] for a listen.

And … *oh, groan*

First they had that guy on from the elf school who I’d never even heard of before Howard somebodyorother called me and told me about him. Then they had some older man talking about his experiences with hidden people as a boy, and finally Terry Gunnell from the U of I who — with all due respect for the elderly man’s beliefs — tried to impart a modicum of dignity into the discussion.

What really irked me, however, was that they kept re-hashing that stupid bit from the Vanity Fair article that claimed Alcoa had hired someone to inspect their land to make sure there was no elf habitation there before they started construction.

OK. How many times does this have to be said: that did NOT happen. Even without confirmation I knew it hadn’t happened, but just to double-check I asked Jonas – who wrote that retort to the VF piece in New York Magazine, if he had checked with Alcoa’s rep. And he had. And she had said precisely what Jonas writes in his article, to wit:

As for Alcoa, their rep believes Lewis is likely referring to a law regarding environmental-impact assessments. The assessment includes an archaeological survey to ensure no important artifacts or ruins are destroyed, and the site’s history is also surveyed to see if it was ever named in any Icelandic folklore. And yes, some of that folklore involves elves.

And the CBC’s producers knew this. In fact, Howard SBOO and YT had had this conversation when he originally called me up. And yet during the programme they persisted in going over it again and again – how Alcoa had hired someone to make sure there were no elves living on their site.

So I wrote an email back to Kristin SBOO and said I’d be happy to be on their show. I also gave her kudos for inviting me despite my public criticism of their earlier programme. And I expressed my surprise that their host had repeatedly gone over the same old chestnut about the Alcoa thing when their producer was fully aware of the fact that it was false.

And guess what? – I never heard from her again.

I must say, I’m not surprised. But I am a little disappointed because I would have liked to have told their listeners a little bit about why I think the Icelanders developed these beliefs, what it is in the landscape and the climate of this country that facilitated this folklore. Ah well. Happily for me, I have this little blog — meaning, dear readers, that this is not the end of our elf discussion. Stay tuned.

A gentle, springtime rain – just delightful. I haven’t been out yet but something tells me it is amazing out there – that moment before the flowers poke their heads up out of the earth. Temps are 9C [48F], the sun rose at 6.38 and sets at 8.35.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Vikingisson April 3, 2009, 12:50 pm

    I need to listen to this but the description sounds familiar. The “And yes, some of that folklore involves elves.” sounds like what they are focusing on. They don’t seem to want to let go of that even though it is about folklore and the desire to preserve or at least document ancient legends and stories. It doesn’t mean that anyone takes this seriously in a modern context. The sagas were semi fiction but we don’t burn those manuscripts just because there are some mystical references and violence that isn’t tolerated in modern times. It is history no matter what we now subscribe to.
    Does not the Canadian government do environmental studies as well? Do we not have the same debates when local native cultures claim as sacred a barren landscape that holds the spirits of their gods? Yes we do but more often than not the preservation value is relative to the current value of the diamonds or whatnot beneath. We aren’t yet at the point (or rather no longer at the point) where we destroy entire cultures that are different from our own like is done by Taliban culture that destroy 1,500 year old statues that represent a different religion. We will however destroy what stands in the way of money or ego and then pretend we’re not superstitious.

    Anyone with a desire to prove a point can find someone that believes in the absurd. It makes them feel better to think that someone else is sillier than they are. I really need to listen to this to make sure they aren’t as bad as what so many other shows are. If it is as tedious and unfair as an Oprah or Limbaugh show then I will be very disappointed and shamed. But be proud of the elf legends. Don’t let western insecurities exaggerate your own. Not sure what to say about the elf school…

  • Steve UK April 3, 2009, 12:58 pm

    The rep that Jonas spoke to didn’t categorically state that it didn’t happen. Given that the HM of the Elf School ( 🙂 ) said that we’re talking about $500 or so, she might not have been aware of it.

    Have a look at this which says that it’s not a government body that does the mediuming, nor a statutory requirement that it’s done:

    Have you emailed Magnus about it?

    Funny article by someone who has enrolled:

  • Ann April 3, 2009, 2:39 pm

    “I would have liked to have told their listeners a little bit about why I think the Icelanders developed these beliefs, what it is in the landscape and the climate of this country that facilitated this folklore. ”

    I look very much forward to maybe reading this here at least Alda!


  • Bev Budiwski April 3, 2009, 4:33 pm

    My apologies on behalf of my country’s dear CBC (which I love more for the music than the commentary). Mainly, I want to comment on the beautiful photographs on your blog. Do you take them yourself? I check in almost every day, for your interesting writing, the clean and lovely design of your site, the photos, and, of course, the weather report.

  • Roy April 3, 2009, 5:21 pm

    Ask the folks in Hafnarfjörður or better yet the NY Times (they know everything!).

  • Marc April 3, 2009, 7:41 pm

    Well it sure would be interesting to hear more about Iceland’s nature and folklore.

  • Vikingisson April 3, 2009, 8:09 pm

    Ann, you’ve reminded me of something I should have mentioned. After a few days in the countryside you can easily see how the old beliefs came to be. Photos are one thing but up close and personal it is magical. And the sights that you won’t see many photos of, the jagged and rough lava formations that don’t appear to be photo worthy do however invoke a strange feeling by their uniqueness.
    I would liken it to looking at the night sky from a very dark and clear location, you can imagine how the ancients saw mystical beings and patterns in the sky. It works like that with the rocks in Iceland. As soon as you think elf you can see why.
    I don’t believe in many things that I can’t prove and that includes religion but if one is even the slightest bit spiritual then Iceland’s beauty will stir your emotions.

  • dubyadubya April 3, 2009, 9:44 pm

    The CBC may not be embarrassed but we are for them. It is hard to know where to look for truth, or even an attempt at truth, in our media these days.

  • alda April 4, 2009, 12:23 am

    Takk for the input, everyone!

    Bev – why thank you, and thank you! Yes, I take the photos meself.

  • NWO April 4, 2009, 2:15 am

    Alda, I love this blog and learn something every time I read. But I cannot wait to learn about Icelandic Elves. I wonder if they are related to Mt. Shasta Lemorians?

  • bour3 April 4, 2009, 4:42 am

    This is a very interesting story of frustration and resolute agenda-driven determination to get the story wrong. It has stimulated much commentary in my mind that I would like to express but I’m afraid I’m quite busy right now chasing down gremlins that, frankly, are running me ragged. They keep throwing the breakers causing me to bathe and shave in the dark and when I reset them they throw them again, causing me to bump into the door jamb. On top of that they took my glasses. Have you ever tried looking for eye glasses when you need the glasses to do an effective search? I swear, I had them one minute and the very next minute they’re gone. Vanished. They also stole my friends keys. And it’s a big fat honk’n wad of keys too. I tell you, if I catch one of those little guys I’m going to break his neck.

  • Joey April 4, 2009, 11:11 am

    I’m not surprised you didn’t hear from the CBC again. News programs really only want to hear from people who already agree with their preconceived notions. That woman who called you was probably reprimanded for even getting touch with you and putting CBC’s “integrity” in doubt.

    I thought of you today because I’ve been wondering if we ever buy anything in the grocery that comes from Iceland. And at breakfast this morning, I found that the lumpfish-and-capelin-roe caviar substitute we were eating came from Iceland! I also think a lot of the salt cod we eat (it’s an esteemed food here) comes from there.

    What else does Iceland produce?

  • tom joseph aka tj3 April 4, 2009, 11:35 am

    …here in currently sunny Florida…there is folklore about forest spirits and we also have finance issues. Are they related? I do in fact believe they are.

    There is a degree of care that is involved with dealing with the hidden people or forest spirits (real or not) that would have been better than believing in every banker in a suit and tie.

    Sometimes Florida (and Iceland) are made to seem old fashioned and rustic because of their Southern and Northern folk beliefs.

    Secularized financial instruments have played a great deal of mischief and were the stuff of fantasy trickster pranks?

    I think the people of old who were superstitious were right to be concerned with what they did not understand.

  • Gunnar Davidsson April 4, 2009, 12:48 pm

    According to CBC site this is “your guy”. Happily producing what ever suits the profile of the program.

    Kristin Nelson – Producer
    Kristin Nelson: born in Toronto; raised in Calgary; came of age in Halifax. She has degrees in international development, political science and journalism and has worked and travelled on at least two other continents. Kristin arrived at The Current in July 2007 and has been happily producing away ever since.

  • James April 4, 2009, 1:10 pm

    This is nothing to do with elves, but is the just-published UK Treasury Committee’s report on “The Impact of the Failure of the Icelandic Banks”:

    Check out paragraphs 50 and 51…

  • Ljósmynd DE April 4, 2009, 1:15 pm

    This hoax about Alcoa and the hidden people seems to have spread on the internet and is being rehashed on many blogs, referring to this Vanity Fair piece as source. I don’t like this particularly, because it is trivializing the role of this company and distracting from the real problems. So, it’s time you told us something about the development of the elves folklore from your point of view.
    And I like the fotos on your blog too, especially the sunset at the Grótta lighthouse, one of my favourite places in Reykjavik. Is this Snæfellsjökull in the background of the picture?

  • mark peters April 4, 2009, 1:26 pm

    This is typical for CBC, a.k.a. Pravda, and The Current in particular.

    A story that grabbed national headlines a couple weeks back regarded the comments of a talking head on Fox News, whom had derided the efforts of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. The ironic thing was that CBC News ran headlines on its website questioning the ‘balance’ of Fox News, which, to me, provides the most balanced reporting and op-ed of any network. CBC’s idea of balance is a laminar flow of neo-Liberal, leftist ideals and any departure is considered unbalanced.

    Yet the CBC received 1.1 billion in funding from the public purse last year……

  • alda April 4, 2009, 2:32 pm

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. I’m especially pleased to hear from the Canadians in the crowd.

    James – thanks for the link. The story is all over the morning papers here in Iceland, so I was aware of the report, as well as those two paragraphs. Good to see them spelled out like that, though. Apparently the committee finds that the whole anti-terrorist debacle was based on a misunderstanding.

    LDE – This hoax about Alcoa and the hidden people seems to have spread on the internet and is being rehashed on many blogs — oh, wonderful!
    And incidentally, that’s sunrise at Grótta, not sunset. 🙂

  • Vikingisson April 4, 2009, 3:55 pm

    I simply accept that all news outlets have a limp in one or more directions. Waving the flag of any particular one is foolhardy. But the ‘balance’ statement is also ironic because FoX uses that to describe themselves. CnN says they are the ‘most trusted’. Perhaps more popular and thus trusted by more users or having a balanced slogan does not make it more trusted or more balanced to me. I respectfully say that in my opinion fox, cnn, et al are 99.9% pure, garbage.

    In a world where most choices (media) is tainted I pay only a little attention to them all and subscribe to none as authoritative. In the end it is about the lesser of many evils. CBC happens to simply suck less, on balance.

    an old quote of mine that is truer than ever:
    “You have to read 4 newspapers in Toronto to get 2 sides of the story”

  • James April 4, 2009, 4:24 pm

    The Icelandic Finance Minister enquired, “On your hotdogs, do you prefer remolaði or eina með öllu?”
    The British Chancellor considered the question carefully and concluded that the Icelandic government, believe it or not, had no intention of stopping the elves from launching weapons of mass destruction.

  • Roy April 4, 2009, 6:21 pm
  • Dave Balderstone April 4, 2009, 6:45 pm

    The Current never, ever, ever, admits they’re wrong. Which, from their point of view, is probably wise. Half their air time would be used apologizing and correcting.
    I’m not at all surprised they never got back to you, but check your logs because I’m sure you’ll see a LOT of IP addresses from cbc.ca there.

  • alda April 4, 2009, 8:36 pm

    Roy – your point is?

  • dubyadubya April 4, 2009, 8:57 pm

    Lies live, truth dies.

  • Namme April 4, 2009, 9:33 pm

    I err, have to wonder, why does anyone even care that people think Icelanders believe in elves. Why is there so much talk about it. If you don’t believe in them, well I guess it’s too bad. Don’t worry about what others think of you, besides it’s kind of funny.

    It is like believing that all Canadians live in igloos or something. If there were a huge report in a magazine about it, and then news agencies started reporting all about Canadian igloo life, I wouldn’t be offended at all, I would think it was hilarious. And if they interviewed some Northern Eskimos that ever did live in an igloo, heh well, that would just make it funnier. News stations are always going to report stupid things, and they will always try to not have to backtrack, it’s really entertainment anyways.

    With blogs and the internet and being able to communicate with people from all over the world, who needs the people on the telly to tell you how things are everywhere anyway. I say let people believe whatever the hell they want, and try to focus on things that matter to you, er, that are based in reality perhaps.

    That said, I am sure there are people (small minority) who do believe in hidden folk or spirits or whatever you want to call it, but yeah I would say those numbers are pretty marginal. That survey that I think they get their numbers from is kind of oft misread. Its not that 80 percent or whatever number it is believe in elves, I think it’s just that people were keeping an open mind for things they didn’t really believe in. (Like saying, yeah I guess there COULD be a god, but I don’t go to church). The CBC is going under anyway, pretty soon they’ll be defunct and no longer reporting on the current elf fetish.

  • GB April 4, 2009, 11:13 pm

    I think Roy’s point is that because Iceland has cut itself off from all sources of hard currency revenue except tourism it is the patriotic duty of all Icelanders to believe in elves and to proselytise Iceland’s elves to all who may possibly be induced to bring dollars, pounds, euros, roubles, or even Danske kroner in making quests to come look for some or commune with some or hear ‘real’ stories from ‘real’ Icelander ‘believers’, Alda. Now is the time for all Icelanders to throw over their sophistication for the good of their nation.

  • Voyager April 5, 2009, 2:42 pm

    I am a huge CBC fan, but not of that program. Especially not now. And as for us sophisticated Canadians, many of us firmly belive in Sasquatches and Ogopogo. I wonder how CBC would explain that?

  • colin buchanan April 5, 2009, 3:18 pm

    Professor Michael Hudson has written an article on Iceland and the IMF which is absolutely indispensable reading:


  • Jessica April 5, 2009, 5:27 pm

    Alda, I know how much you love it when foreign reporters perpetuate the “Icelanders believe in elves” myth. Here’s another such doozy I found from Atlanta, Georgia USA: http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/04/05/iceland0405.html

    “Located 500 miles northwest of Scotland in the North Atlantic, this country of 310,000 is one of the friendliest places in Europe, including some wacky souls who still believe in elves and trolls.”

    Be prepared for an influx of Southern elf-hunters hitting Iceland soon!

  • hildigunnur April 5, 2009, 8:32 pm

    Colin, yeah, Michael Hudson’s article’s very good. We’ve also got John Perkins of the Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man on a visit here, right now.

  • alda April 5, 2009, 10:24 pm

    Jessica – at least they included the word “some”!

  • dubyadubya April 5, 2009, 11:04 pm

    The latest – via webconomist http://twitter.com/Webconomist “Icelanders take Elves very seriously http://is.gd/qU9V Ikea paid big $$ for a consultant.”