“Translating” the “News” - The Reykjavik Grapevine

“Translating” the “News”

“Translating” the “News”

Published August 10, 2007

Here in Iceland there is a phenomenon called ‘gúrkutíð’, which if translated directly from Icelandic means ‘cucumber season’. Every summer this label is applied when discussing the apparent atrophy of newsworthy material. Amazingly enough, when you translate Icelandic news it is not enough to translate the words and convey the meaning in the best possible way. Icelandic news needs to be translated twice for people of other nationalities to comprehend what the hell is going on. Before illustrating a case in point I think it is necessary to explain the obvious translations and cultural differences.
So, if I was asked to sum up the Icelandic news in a few words, to explain its quintessence, then the quote “the extreme innocence [is] the corruption” pretty much hits the mark. Because of this obvious lack of news, Icelandic people resort to raising each and every event relating to Iceland, even on the most miniscule level, to an epic scale, in lieu of news about the Middle East, flood victims and various other items that headline international news. Maybe this has something to do with the attitude of Icelandic translators. For example, I recall watching the British show Smack The Pony many years ago. A simple translation for ‘redrum’ became lost in translation. The allusion to The Shining was obviously too international for the translator, or perhaps too high brow. In any case, his translation was rautt romm or red rum, not ðrom (murder). Another time I looked at the subtitles at the cinema and the term ‘blowjob’ was translated somehow as vacuuming. However, the newest paradigm, The Simpsons translation, made me cringe ever so slightly. To avoid confusion, I am not focusing on voiceovers just text based translations. There were various confusing translations in the movie, e.g. Green Lantern and Sinestro were translated into X-Men in Icelandic, despite the fact that they are DC owned characters, well known to any person well versed in the lore of pop culture. To sum up the problem: Translators, like the news here in Iceland, fail to convey a significant meaning. Not only do references become lost but everything becomes Icelandic-centric, just as if the rest of the Earth was put there as filler material for Icelanders.
Of course the reason for mentioning these translations is to try and dissect the psyche of Iceland, at least its news coverage. Despite there being a ‘gúrkutíð’ there have actually been news which could actually constitute as news in other countries. So, despite the fact I consider almost of all those events not newsworthy, I shall still “translate” them, i.e. convey the meaning without foregoing any “cultural meaning”.
Anyways, the first headline of Icelandic news is when a dog in Akureyri was supposedly thrown in a bag, kicked to death whilst inside and thrown to the rocky countryside, in the outskirts of the town, just as if he had been a deformed Spartan infant reject. A young man was implicated in the murder and received numerous death threats and/or threats of bodily harm. Translation from Icelandic psyche: “He killed the dog, wtf is wrong with him?” “Evil person” “Did you hear about the dog, you know Lukas?” “Poor little thing”. Well, to set the record straight: The dog turned up alive and well. Meanwhile, the guy didn’t venture outside for fear of retribution. Now he is going to sue the various other individuals, or would be assailants, who threatened him online. Everything about this Lukas thing reeked of comedy – despite the fact that everybody took themselves too seriously during the whole farce; especially those guilty of the tired cliché of “O tempores, O mores”. There is also a subtext in this translation. Even when everybody was jumping on the bandwagon of animal cruelty there was not, and still isn’t, much discussion about all the cats being left behind or chucked elsewhere to be put to sleep because people are too lazy and irresponsible to think ahead during the summer vacations: “Sorry, kids, we have put the cat down because we are going on holiday!” However, when some blabbermouths make up a story about the death of a dog the whole event becomes tantamount to a national tragedy.
Now we actually get to some news. The other day a man is murdered in broad daylight, drive by style, while changing his tires. His killer, more blind of jealousy and despair than Othello, shoots him with a rifle and then turns it on himself near Þingvellir. The murdered man simply began a relationship with the man’s ex-wife, therefore reaping the killer’s wrath. And because of the sombre manner and seriousness of this event, I would like to point out that in no way am I mocking these people and the suffering that their families have been going through. However, a translation is needed: Most Icelanders, especially online, were quick to point out a culprit in their witch hunt. Some fingers pointed their blame in the direction of foreigners, others named drugs (somehow forgetting that alcohol is one too) as the cause of the event. An overwhelming amount of public writing related to the matter reeked of hysteria and insensitivity. Some Icelanders never know when to shut up, even when they have no clue on what the hell is going. Notice the trend? Then there was a small discussion on gun control – and then the whole shock of the matter just faded away, quite sadly on to another news piece which has actually dominated every magazine, newspaper and blog.
Yes, I am referring to Eiður Smári Guðjónsen, “world famous footballer”, being attacked. This “attack” spawned various covers and even an editorial in the Morgunblaðið about violence surrounding Reykjavík’s nightlife. Everything is worse now than it was twenty years ago. I am positive that Icelanders did not drink, fuck and fight twenty years ago or 800 years ago. Sure we didn’t. Well here is the translation for the news about Guðjónsen: “Það er ekki sama hvort það sé séra Jón eða Jón” or in English – it really depends on who the hell you are. Because, quite frankly most people forgot that a girl, during the same weekend, got attacked by three other girls. She was kicked, dragged by her hair, had a bottle thrown at her – and apparently one of her attackers did a Mike Tyson on her ear. Well, somehow Guðjónsen being attacked downtown doesn’t sound so catastrophic. Because, seriously, how many times has the man been tackled in a game? A punch, push or tackle. Semantics, I say. It just depends on your translation.


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