From punk rock to politics: new Icelandic career arcs

This story’s all over the place, for obvious reasons: not only has Iceland put same-sex marriages on equal footing with the more old-fashioned kind (and seen its prime minister marry her partner under said law) and signed in a raft of free speech protections to its legislature, but the capital city Reykjavik has elected a former anarcho-punk musician and stand-up comic and his lighthearted Best Party to the mayorship…

While his career may have given him visibility, few here doubt what actually propelled him into office. “It’s a protest vote,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland.


“People know Jon Gnarr is a good comedian, but they don’t know anything about his politics,” he said. “And even as a comedian, you never know if he’s serious or if he’s joking.”

But as Mr. Gnarr settles into the mayor’s office, he does not seem to be kidding at all.


“Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it isn’t serious,” said Mr. Gnarr, whose foreign relations experience includes a radio show in which he regularly crank-called the White House, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and police stations in the Bronx to see if they had found his lost wallet.

A vote based in protest and dissatisfaction it may be, but I find myself wondering if the Best Party will turn out to be any worse than the more traditional alternatives. There seems to be a growing discontent with party politics all over the world at the moment, and certainly here in the UK… personally, I’d be happy to trade comedians for the jokers we’ve got in Westminster right now.

More seriously, and as I suggested before, Iceland will be worth watching in the years to come because it’s a test case for mass rejection of traditional politics. To say that it’s a kneejerk reaction to the recent troubles the country has experienced is to miss seeing the wood for the trees: perhaps it’ll turn out that a polity needs to be screwed really badly by its corrupt political processes before they’ll wake up enough to start changing the system. Catastrophe has always given radicalism a boost, but now we have the tools to mobilise nationally (and globally) outside of the mechanics of electoral processes, radical change might pick up a little more momentum than it ever has before.

That cuts two ways, of course; it’d be just as easy for a fascist or fundamentalist party to take advantage of a power vacuum as it has been for Iceland’s cuddly comedian lefties. Perhaps the real lesson to take away is that it’s time we all started thinking for ourselves while we still can, instead of outsourcing our opinions to men in suits with false smiles and hidden agendas.

For now, though, I wish to restate my interest in purchasing a share in the Icelandic national identity; it sure reads like there’s more chance of change over there than here at home.

3 thoughts on “From punk rock to politics: new Icelandic career arcs”

  1. Iceland is considering a sweeping free speech and whistleblower protection act that was at least partly inspired by Wikileaks. They were also on the way to becoming the first hydrogen economy, based upon geothermal sources, before the banks blew up in their faces. Iceland is working on a future.

  2. Good to see that Iceland is at least on track morally.

    Along with governmental change there has to be a change in the expectations from the general populace of democratic countries. At this point it seems a large portion of these citizens want something for nothing.

    One good example is Greece. The citizens are still demanding champagne services on a beer budget.

    Also, in the U.S. we have similar demands. Everyone wants to cut taxes, but still have great roads and airports, and multiple carrier battle groups.

    We can’t have it both ways.

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