From Iceland — Ungoo


Published July 17, 2014

Part IV: Vital Irritation

Haukur Már Helgason
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Part IV: Vital Irritation

[Continued from Ungoo III]

Until the advent of Iceland’s economic crisis, anno 2008, the conservative-liberal daily newspaper Morgunblaðið published a weekly supplement focused on culture, called Lesbók, literally translatable as Readbook. The Lesbók‘s history dates back to 1925. Around the turn of the millennium its main editor was Þröstur Helgason. As a scholar of literature interested in contemporary critical approaches he would at times be derided by the right for being post-modernist as in non-traditional, and scorned by the left for being post-modernist as in apolitical. Both groups read Lesbók for the sake of irritation, to feel forced to respond, mentally, verbally or in writing, to someone else’s thoughts. This was the only widespread publication wherein you would read debates about global warming. You might also find lengthy articles about Iceland’s aluminum smelter industries. Mainly, though, it would be the place to look for thoughts on culture, arts and the media. As part and parcel of Morgunblaðið‘s cultural section, Lesbók had several editors and journalists on its payroll, and paid fees to its freelance authors. Admittedly, the fees would not have fixed anyone’s rent, but actual bank transactions were nevertheless involved. Lesbók has probably never been Morgunblaðið‘s most financially lucrative enterprise. Depending on your analytic tools you might say it was driven by a sense of civic duty, or the accumulation of cultural capital. Regardless, today, the mere existence of the kind of paper Þröstur edited seems, if not miraculous in the Icelandic mediascape, then in any case a rather far-fetched dream.

Proving that all of us do not share the same dreams, the first drastic change made to Morgunblaðið during its post-2008 remilitarization, was to cease publication of the Lesbók. Remilitarization as in: throughout the Cold War, Morgunblaðið was explicitly the right-wing Independence Party’s mouthpiece. Post-1991, the socialist, social-democrat and progressive parties’ mouthpieces all crumbled, while Morgunblaðið stood tall and, somewhat factually, declared itself ‘The Daily Paper of all Countrymen’. As soon as political ideologies became a matter of some public debate again, during the aftermath of the 2008 bank collapse, a representative of Iceland’s old money, i.e. the fishing industries, bought Morgunblaðið, on a generous discount, from one of Iceland’s nationalized banks. Shortly thereafter, Davíð Oddsson was hired as the paper’s editor-in-chief. That’s ex-chair of the Independence Party, ex-Mayor of Reykjavík, ex-Prime minister, ex-head of Central Bank and Time Magazine’s Top-25-People-to-Blame-for-the-2008-Crisis-World-Wide Davíð Oddsson. As editor, he has slowly deteriorated from an ‘it sure as hell wasn’t me’ and UK-USA-EU-bashing to an openly xenophobic and immigration-hostlie rhetoric. Morgunblaðið is again explicitly the daily paper of a very few, seemingly tortured, souls. All souls are tortured, you retort, and I dare you to read the editor’s blog paper’s editorials before dissolving reality by over-generalization.

[To be continued …]
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