You may have seen these memes on your social media. They populate newsfeeds now and then when people from other countries are disgruntled about their governments, about austerity, about misogyny.
Memes that say, look how great Iceland is! When the economic meltdown happened Icelanders jailed their bankers and forgave all the debts! The women went on strike one time in the 1970s and fixed income inequality!
The widespread reach of these memes is understandable, it’s aspirational.
Beautiful though these sentiments may be, I urge you all to stop and critically question the Icelandic Meme Alt Reality.
The most misleading is the meme of former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, where he supposedly explains how Iceland recovered so quickly from the recession. By bailing out the people and jailing the bankers.
Firstly, in too many cases people’s wages have not grown with the cost of living and the centre of Reykjavík is now strictly for tourists as apartment renters have been priced out of their homes by Airbnb. So the impression that we’ve bounced back isn’t honest. Is it better? Yeah, but have we bounced back? No.
This meme also gives the impression that we jailed all the corrupt bankers after the crash when in truth we jailed a few and for very short terms in very nice minimum security prisons. Many banking and corruption cases are still under investigation because it simply takes so long to bring them to court.
Take the women’s rights meme, as another example. Iceland may be a leader in gender equality but Icelandic women still make between 14-18% less than their male counterparts which is not the major leap in equality the meme promises.
Sure, we’re working on it but the meme paints Iceland as a place that already has it all figured out and we really don’t.
The most destructive thing about these memes, though, is that it lets us Icelanders buy into our own hype. We’ve spent a lot of marketing money to show Iceland as a socially progressive, nature-loving haven for the weary city-dweller looking for a nice vacation.
When people admire Iceland as a beacon of equality for women and as a place of justice for corrupt bankers it makes us feel nice, smug even, like we achieved something.
This feeling is a lie. It’s the same feeling I get after I’ve been to the gym one time. The next day when I feel a taut pain in my stomach I think, I’ve basically got abs already.
Spoiler alert: I don’t. And neither has Iceland truly earned any of the spectacular merits bestowed on it by these memes. So don’t be a mouthpiece for propaganda, say no to Icelandic Memes!