In reviewing the past year in news, you will see certain patterns emerge: certain public figures, events and topics that seem to ignite social media and office break room conversations for days, weeks or even months. Arguments are had, alliances are formed, and people are unfriended over these very stories. These are news trends that never really go away; they just change form and come back to pay repeated visits, for better or for worse. Let Grapevine take you back over the past year to savour the delectable banquet that is the very best the news has had to offer.
Ever since the Progressives came to power (again) barely over a year ago, they and the media have been locked in a tempestuous symbiosis so strong you can hardly imagine the one surviving without the other anymore. The Progressives will, depending on when you talk to them, either accuse the media of “bullying”—a word they may be deliberately overusing to sap it of all meaning—or personally thank them for getting them seats on Reykjavík city council for all the negative press they got. We the media, in turn, ensure that they never stop getting any attention. Why would we? It’s worked out well for both of us.
Best Animal Story: Hunter The Lost Dog
It’s no secret that we love animal stories here, and this one was pretty epic. Hunter is an American border collie that somehow extricated himself from his travel pen on a conveyor belt at Keflavík International Airport and made a break for it. Hunter’s owners offered a 200,000 ISK finder’s fee and Icelandair have promised two plane tickets to the person who delivered the dog back to the airport. For days you couldn’t scroll through an Icelandic news website without seeing those big, doleful eyes looking up at you. Amazingly, Hunter made it all the way to Þórshöfn, a few hours’ drive from the airport, where he was found completely unharmed. There was even a video of the owner-and-dog reunion. In a news cycle where animal stories include harpooned whales and castrated pigs, this was a heart-warming reprieve.
Remember that love-hate relationship? Part of the “love” part is that Iceland has for a Prime Minister a man who will invent or (more charitably) confuse the facts, sometimes citing specific figures without any evidence for his claims, seemingly unaware that there are people listening to him, some of whom might check up on whether what he says is true or not. Sigmundur Davíð doesn’t possess the political savvy to re-word or backpedal when proven wrong; instead, he lashes out at his critics for the crime of criticising him. A few days later and the cycle begins anew. A public figure this consistently wrong would be more amusing if they weren’t actually leading the country. But hey, you take your comedy where you can get it.
Best Reason To Love This Country: Social Progress Reports
Whenever we get bogged down about how awful some of our public figures are, it’s refreshing to be provided context. Every few months or so, it seems another study or poll will reveal that Iceland is still at or near the top of the list when it comes to things like gender equality, personal safety, raising children and just general tolerance for people not like you. We might like to smirk and scoff at these reports, pointing to how terrible some of our politicians are, but these reminders of how privileged we really are in a lot of ways clears your head and gives you the perspective needed to make it through another news cycle.
The case of Tony Omos is the kind of thing that makes “only in Iceland” come to mind. There are government ministers in Nordic countries who have resigned over using the wrong credit card or getting a friend a low-level NGO position. Not Iceland! Here, you could keep your job as the head of a ministry despite being subjected to a criminal investigation, with police searching computers and phones until they find that at least one of your direct assistants is strongly suspected of having deliberately fabricated disparaging claims about an asylum seeker, written them up as memo, and then hand-fed that memo to select members of the press. Why? Because that’s Iceland.
We would be the first to admit that even we play up certain stereotypes about Iceland and Icelanders, but this story is a perfect illustration of sacrificing the actual news for the sake of said stereotypes. The Gálgahraun Lava Fields, a subject of paintings by legendary Icelandic artist Johannes Sveinsson Kjarval and legally protected in 2009, got slated to have a series of residential roads carved through them last year. A few brave souls went to the site of planned construction and lay down in front of the machines, only to be dragged away by police, setting off a legal battle that has lasted half a year. The story abroad? They were trying to save elf homes from destruction. We can understand why the Gálgahraun story by itself might not be the stuff of international headlines, but add a little elf magic and presto! It’s a quirky story about quirky Icelanders being quirky!
Remember about ten years ago when we couldn’t stop writing about what an amazing financial miracle Iceland was? How it seemed like everybody and their grandmother was trading bonds or starting an investment company, the money was just going to keep on coming, and anyone who doubted our methods or stability was just a jealous hater? Happy days are here again! Only this time, the people giving us money are coming here, too. Time and again, the rush of one company or group of landowners to capitalise as much as they can off of tourists is met by other Icelanders who warn that maybe we’re getting too greedy. Those people, my friend, are jealous haters.
Sure, the current back-and-forth between the US and Iceland over whale hunting is intriguing, but the introduction of Hvalabjór—“whale beer”—seemed like it was deliberately calibrated for maximum rage inducing amongst anti-whalers. Replete with claims from the brewery that drinking the beer would make one “a true Viking” (and what does that even mean, by the way?), the “whale” in Hvalabjór was mostly dried and powdered whale bits in quantities so minute they likely had no effect on the flavour whatsoever. This didn’t stop anyone from pointing out that the whale bits may have been years old, or come from the less savoury parts of the whale. The Hvalabjór story took an issue that has been and is a very divisive one, for our readers included, and provided some much-needed and entertaining cartoonishness of oblivious self-parody.
Big surprise here, eh? Still, it would be deliberately obtuse to ignore Jón Gnarr’s impact. The media has followed his political career from comedy-as-protest in the form of satirising the self-aggrandising nature of politics, to a politician (although Jón himself would almost assuredly disagree with the job title) in the scope of international focus. He has continued to represent the better nature of our country—its tolerance, friendliness and individuality—while maintaining his humility. Even though he’s left city hall after just one term, bear in mind that he’s the first mayor of Reykjavík to even last a whole term in the past 30 years or so. Whether he makes another run at politics again or not, Jón Gnarr has definitely been one of the most refreshing public figures Iceland has had in a very long time.