Iceland Culture: Creativity And Politics

We’re heading to Iceland Airwaves! Here’s a teaser of a cultural story Jesse’s pursuing. Follow Columbia students’ journey, which begins October 30, on the Iceland Airwaves 2013 blog.

In America we tend to have a clear distinction between creativity and politics. Sure there are the obvious exceptions, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwartzenegger for example,  but overall we like our politicians in suits and ties; presentable and predictable. As an article in the Huffington Post by Dr. R. Keith Sawyer pointed out, we expect our politicians to be spokespersons for our political ideals, and while creativity is not directly interpreted as untrustworthy, it is seen as unpredictable, a death-wish in American politics.

In America our political system functions quite a bit like a professional sport, if you want to play in the big game you’ve got to be on one of the two political teams. Nothing could illustrate this more than the recent government shutdown where a stalemate between political ideologies had politicians on both sides locked into their party line despite secretly squabbling within their ranks. The same attitude towards the mingling of creativity and politics however isn’t necessarily shared by the rest of the world.

In 2009 after Iceland went through one of the worst recessions in economic history, comedian Jón Gnarr began an initially satirical campaign to run for mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capitol city. His party, called simply The Best Party, did not distance itself from its leader’s creative past. Instead, they filled their ranks with musicians, actors, and comedians, the only constant between its representatives being a lack of previous political experience. In fact, The Best Party used humor as the base of its platform, championing total government transparency by being openly corrupt instead of hiding it, promising not to follow through on campaign promises from the start, which included free towels in swimming pools and making school children build a Disney Land in Reykjavík.

Gnarr was so famous as a comedic persona that once when a madman tried to attack him in a supermarket with a sledgehammer, shoppers simply thought he was doing a skit. Gnarr’s campaign proved to be anything but a joke, however, and by 2010 he was the city’s new Mayor. He still is in 2013, despite two of the three previous politicians to hold the position not making it a whole year. All this while appearing in public in Jedi robes and cross-dressing at gay pride parades.

So what is so different about Iceland that the people trusted an inexperienced and creative individual to lead them out of a serious political mess? Find out more in the upcoming Iceland Airwaves 2013 documentary segment about Iceland’s most creative politicians and the differences between how Icelandic and American citizens approach the mixture of creativity and politics.

In the meantime, check out the Best Party’s theme song, “Simply The Best“, yes the Tina Turner song (used with her permission of course) set to Icelandic Lyrics:

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