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Dissecting the Best Party’s appeal*

So here we are, the day after the day after the elections, absorbing the fact that a comedian is about to become the mayor of Reykjavík and trying to figure out what this all means.

I’m totally weary of the “people want change” slogan, because, well, duh! Obviously they want change — otherwise the Best Party wouldn’t have swept the elections so spectacularly. And I don’t think it’s just about Jón Gnarr as a personality, although he is undeniably popular.

The success of the Best Party is simply hard to pin down. Part of their appeal is the postmodern irony they suddenly bring to the political arena, which is just perfect for highlighting the vacuousness of the traditional political slogans. By promising the people things they will never be able to follow through on, like a toll booth on Seltjarnarnes [affluent Reykjavík suburb] and a white-collar prison [see here], they really bring into sharp focus the absurdity of many of the traditional political promises. They’ve shaken things up, made people think. And that is good.

Jón Gnarr is a chapter unto himself. He has a natural gift for comedy, one that requires him to do very little more than just stand there and be himself. [I have caught myself automatically starting to laugh on more than one occasion when encountering him in, say, the supermarket — even though he’d just be browsing the vegetable section.] He also pushes the limits of decency and political correctness — someone mentioned in comments to a previous post his remarks about Jews, and one of his election promises was allskonar fyrir aumingja, which basically translates as “all kinds of things for idiots/wastrels” [i.e. people who require welfare]. Think an Icelandic Howard Stern.

As I mentioned in the last post he has seemed completely bemused by the Best Party’s success, although with him it’s always hard to know if he’s acting or not. What has been particularly refreshing, however, is his lack of political showmanship, and this, too, has suddenly brought the absurdity of the other politicians into focus. Yesterday, for instance, while I was watching an interview with all the heads of the political parties on [political talk show] Silfur Egils I found myself cringing bigtime when ex-mayor Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir started rattling off her artful commentary immediately after Jón Gnarr’s evident confusion: everything she said seemed completely insincere, like a well-rehearsed act that was suddenly tremendously suspect.

In other words, through its alleged “political farce” the Best Party manages to turn things on their heads: Things we previously considered serious now seem ridiculous, phrases or slogans that we previously took at face value are suddenly called into question, and the whole political arena suddenly seems like a joke. All those things we previously attributed to the Best Party [farce, performance, joke, etc.] has somehow become transposed onto its surroundings, and the things it stands for suddenly seem [reasonably] sane.

* Or at least making a brave attempt.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • torsten May 31, 2010, 5:19 pm

    Well, congratulations to such a brave election result! Or maybe I should say: Great performance!

  • Kris May 31, 2010, 7:38 pm

    All this reminds me of the The Balcony by Genet. It’s a quick read and very amusing.
    The Best Party is a sign of desperation and despair. That is how I read it. I would not want a pretend politician any more than I would want a pretend doctor, well, almost 😉

  • Alexander E. May 31, 2010, 7:43 pm

    I think that what is missing in your very detailed posts is Jon Gnarr interviview he gave to Grapevine – free Icelandic newspaper in English.
    Since the forum doesn’t allow to attach pdf nor any other text file and your blog trashing any comment with links to spam bin I made a link to plain text interview at my blog

    Juts few quotes from interviview.

    I’ve listened to all the empty political discourse, but it’s never touched me at all or moved me, until the economic collapse. Then I just felt I’d had enough of those people. After the collapse and its aftermath, I started reading the local news websites and watching the news and political talk shows— and it filled me with so much frustration. Eww! So I wanted to do something, to fuck the system. To change it around and impact it in some way.

    If we get the majority we would just take the reins and control everything. And put running the city in the hands of skilled professionals. I think the city as an entity and structure is perfectly capable of running itself without the help of politicians. They spend half their day working for their party interests anyway.

    I think the political parties in Iceland are at such a dead end. They are done.

  • Rik Hardy May 31, 2010, 7:51 pm

    Not that everyone used to take the Independence Party seriously… I certainly didn’t, and I think they’re absolutely hilarious now.
    I suppose there were also plenty of people who thought Caligula, Nero Hitler and Mussolini were a joke too, but, when such people are in power, they assault the freedom of their own countrymen by trying to prescribe exactly how they should serve their country. Everything different, everything imaginative, every new initiative is stifled, and the country suffocates until it finally breaks down the walls that keep the fresh air out – which is what I think has happened here.
    For me that was all symbolized in Oddson’s pompous announcement that Iceland supported the Idiot President of the USA’s scandalous invasion of Iraq, and doubtless the lynching of Iraq’s leader too.
    It shows us exactly what Oddson thought Iceland was: His personal possession.
    I’m not sorry Hussein is gone, but politicians can’t just swan around doing whatever the hell they like in other people’s countries.
    I assume the Best Party would agree with me.

  • sylvia hikins May 31, 2010, 9:01 pm

    Put running the city in the hands of skilled professionals….but doesn’t that happen already with your doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, road sweepers, etc etc? So who are these ‘skilled professionals’ that Jon Gnarr is talking about? Consultants? Philiosophers? Businessmen? All appointed and not elected? Where is the democratic accountabliity in that? Sick to the democratic system, clean it up, put in sound open and transparent governance to combat cronyism and nepotism and make your local government accountable to the people of Reykjavik.
    Good luck!
    sylvia from viking wiral

  • torsten May 31, 2010, 9:45 pm

    I read that interview in the Grapevine too and what I find interesting is, how Jon Gnarr manages to weasel out when the journalists try to adress him as a politician. Curious to see if he can do this now that “he is elected”.

  • Michael Lewis May 31, 2010, 10:14 pm

    ” I think the city as an entity and structure is perfectly capable of running itself without the help of politicians. ”

    Not wrong is he, could apply that to most cities.

  • Paul H May 31, 2010, 10:18 pm

    Sorry if this is a dumb question, or if it has already been asked…

    What does X-Æ mean or stand for?

    [Now that ‘LOST’ has come to a highly unsatisfactory ending, we are going to give ‘The Wire’ a try. Thanks to Jón Gnarr’s endorsement.]

  • Joerg May 31, 2010, 10:30 pm

    When I was in Reykjavik last summer, one night somebody had made the effort to climb up the scaffolding of Hallgrímskirkja to write the slogan “f*ck the system” widely visible on the tower. Apparently, this attitude has found many followers among the voters. 

    I have to admit that I have quite a lot of sympathy not only for Jón Gnarr and his party but also for the voters, who chose to vote for comedy and satire to give the system the finger.

    If the disillusion in Germany about politicians and parties came to this point (and it’s not that far away from it), I would fear the worst. Here are so many unpleasant populists waiting at the sidelines.           

  • alda May 31, 2010, 10:45 pm

    Paul – each political party gets allocated a letter, and Besti applied for the letter Æ. The double meaning is that ‘æ’ as an expletive means, depending on the context, ‘oh-oh’ or ‘ouch’. The X, obviously, is what you would put before the Æ if you want to vote for them.

  • Marc May 31, 2010, 10:46 pm

    Evidently The Best Party is the new thing in town, and like other hot things it will become like the rest or fade away. Sorry to be so cynical.

    Other crises have spawned new ideas & ideologies, but I haven’t spotted those yet anywhere. Not even among the few people who actually understand what exactly went wrong. And that worries me.

  • cak June 1, 2010, 8:43 pm

    Artists as politicians.. I wonder how long they will keep that job LOL

    – Frankly I think this is one of the better things that has happenede here in Iceland lately.

  • idunn June 1, 2010, 10:20 pm

    Jón Gnarr? I had to look him up, and if one can judge a book by its cover he might be just the guy for Reykjavík. Your bemused and cautious optimism may be well placed. In such times a natural comedian may prove the perfect antidote. Whether he ends up helping the patient may depend on his personal integrity, and enough sense to remain slightly detached. But involved, and if putting his heart into such service good things could result.

  • Paul H June 2, 2010, 3:06 am

    Thanks for the explanation, Alda. That makes a lot of sense.

  • sapphire June 2, 2010, 10:23 am

    It’s like when California voted Arnold the Terminator as the Governor. Besides his wife’s political connection and savvy spirit, Arnie possesses pure grunt and testosterone in the governor’s mansion. As usual, Californians wanted BIG change so we made another actor a governor (Reagan was the first). Surely, *acting* as a governor is easier than being a governor.

    And now look at us. The State Senate has a budget standoff every year, we lose billions more in funding, and we are quickly becoming a state of the yesteryears.

    Let’s hope your comedian does not laugh his way through the office term, but cross political “correctness” for what’s right.

    Though maybe The Daily Show will make another visit to Rejkjavik…