From Iceland — What If Sunday is on the Phone to Monday?

What If Sunday is on the Phone to Monday?

Published July 30, 2014

The Police Chief, the Minister & the Enigmatic Beatles Tweet

What If Sunday <em>is</em> on the Phone to Monday?
Haukur Már Helgason
Photo by
Kaisu Nevasalmi

The Police Chief, the Minister & the Enigmatic Beatles Tweet

Nothing like a country that every day walks further down the path of its own inexorable decline. Nothing better than an ever more provincial country run by a rotating crew of the same incompetents, dishonest, corrupted by their support of a permanently and totally corrupt regime. What is better than living in a land where justice is a bazaar? What artist wouldn’t dream of such a nation?

—Said filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard in the 1980’s, regarding France. Mutatis mutandis … we are not there yet. Iceland seems corrupt yes, at times fundamentally so. And yet the work may not be completed. Since Tuesday, it seems as if one of the country’s higher public officials may have refused to get involved in some indecencies. It is a highly unusual case, and remains under investigation.

The journalistic merit of what follows is questionable. I’m not sure what to call it. Speculative journalism …? Whatever it is, it takes place in a sort of semiotic twilight-zone.

In the Mood for Metaphor

Tuesday actually started with a metaphor. That morning, DV published what may turn out the be the story of the year: that chief of Capital Area Police Stefán Eiríksson resigned from his post under pressure, and due to abnormal interferences, at the hands of Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, regarding the case against the Ministry, that has lately been under investigation by Stefán’s force. Meanwhile, RÚV’s top story was headlined: Fox Fauna Stable, Regardless of Hunting Ban. It sported a big picture of a very cute baby arctic fox. So that’s it, I thought: so this is the best they can do when confronted with a crisis of this sort. They are telling us to stay calm: even if they are not allowed to ‘hunt’, the politicians will not grow in number, but stay each in his/her respective ministry. Carry on.

Of course I didn’t mean this literally, but I used the reading to mock RÚV a little while they seemed reluctant to cite DV’s claim and run their own story on the matter. Up until now, while evidence has piled up against the Minister, RÚV’s newsroom has shown very little initiative in covering the events leading to this current crisis. Eventually, around noon, they did cover DV’s story. Probably they were never even reluctant to begin with. Just mindfully doing their job. All that is largely irrelevant to this article, except as to explain the circumstances of what then happened. My mood. As I kept updating news sites and scanning the highly variable treatment the story got in various media outlets, I was already in the mood for metaphor.

One of My Favorite Songs

After DV ran its cover story, various media outlets obviously tried to reach Stefán for comment. For a few hours he didn’t pick up the phone, leaving the press with no comment except for a message on Twitter. The ambiguous tweet explained that he had quit because it seemed opportune:

Many have pointed out that this is just about all a police chief could say, anyway, legally bound by confidentiality, as he is. As police chief (@logreglustjori), Stefán is an erratic Twitter-user. His latest tweet before the one quoted above, appeared three days earlier, that is on Saturday. Innocuously enough, Stefán then tweeted: ‘Here comes one of my favorite songs with the Beatles’ and a link:

The song he linked to is Abbey Road‘s 1969 ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’. As made evident in the third verse, the song is sung on behalf of a man who just quit the police, explaining why. Later that day, hours after this tweet was first mentioned on Facebook, Fréttablaðið —a medium up until now mostly uninterested in practicing any actual journalism about the Interior Ministry’s mess— reached Stefán to ask him about it. Stefán confirmed that, in his mind, the song indeed had some relation to his departure from the police. How delightfully cryptic.

She Has a Lagoon?

Those who belief Stefán’s tweet means something, take that line and the following verse as key to its interpretation: ‘And so I quit the police department / And got myself a steady job / And though she tried her best to help me / She could steal but she could not rob.’

Now, there are two fundamentally opposed ways to interpret this latter tweet. As there would be. It can either mean something, or it can mean nothing. Nothing more, that is, than saying, for example, ‘I quit the police’.

The song’s title, chorus, and first two verses, focus on a female character ‘protected by a silver spoon’, who seems to have lived in some sort of denial, as the singer asks: ‘Didn’t anybody tell her? Didn’t anybody see?’. That is, right until the singer explains: ‘And so I quit the police department’. Then the lyrics turn back to the woman. Those who belief Stefán’s tweet means something, take that line and the following verse as key to its interpretation: ‘And so I quit the police department / And got myself a steady job / And though she tried her best to help me / She could steal but she could not rob.’

She, then, would be Interior Minister Hanna Birna. The Minister has indeed proven clumsy, to say the least, at any sustainable, long-term abuse of office, showing little tactic and even less strategy in response to the apparently believable accusations she has faced for the past months. Within this interpretational framework, the rest of the song is rather self-explanatory, not least the line: ‘Well I knew what I could not say’ —the police chief being, as already said, bound by confidentiality. This interpretation seems to be valid if and only if DV’s cover story about the Minister’s interferences is true. The tweet was posted, then, according to the well-known dictum: whereof one cannot speak, thereat one must hint.

The other interpretation, the anti-interpretation, that the tweet means nothing, seems likewise, to only hold true if, and only if, DV’s story is false. Then it would not even have occurred to Stefán Eiríksson that the silver-spoon-protected female small-time crook central to the song’s lyrics would ever be considered a reference to his superior. That point of view is mainly supported by the argument that ‘we should not read too much into this’. Which is, of course, absolutely correct. All sides to this lovely little debate surely agree that we must read no more than the right amount of stuff into this. And then, of course, no less.

Interior Ministry

She Could Steal but She Could Not Rob

So far, no one, except the Minister herself, has outright denied that she interfered in the police investigation. —Even she limited her negation to ‘improper interferences’, leaving open the possibility of any interference she might consider appropriate. In any case, if the story holds true, and Stefán’s tweet was intended as commentary on the prelude to his early departure from the Police, its purpose would seem, at least, to be to vent some steam. At least that. Actually, it would have a somewhat greater significance.

If this story has an end, and if that end will involve clear evidence of the Minister’s meddling in the police investigation against her, as she now stands accused of, Stefán will have pre-emptively distanced himself loud and clear from that whole affair. He will also have, pretty unambiguously, shown that when confronted with a choice between the fair weather from a politician and her party on one hand, and principles established for the public good on the other, he did not take the easy road. And he will have, tongue-in-cheek, nudged people a little towards finding out what it is that he himself could not say. He would then have sided with the common good, against the corruption that more cynical members of the tribe take for granted. Taking principle over privilege, he would have put himself at risk to reveal an urgent truth about injustice being done, to the Minister doing it, a ruler with the habit, as it seems, to scold and ignore those who confront her, and to the public suffering all that. Stefán would then be entitled to more credit than most of us are used to granting officials. Basically, this stunt of his would smell of ethics.

Inconclusive Evidence

On the other hand, if DV’s claims turn out to be false, which remains at least technically possible, then Stefán’s tweet was just a tweet and the song remains just a song. About a woman who sucks her thumb and wanders / by the banks of her own lagoon. Having not been to Twitter for three days, last weekend, Stefán logged in to post a link, on a whim, because he really loves the Beatles. Incidentally, the only Beatles-song involving the resignation of a police officer centres on a female character in a privileged position, who clumsily involves herself in some dubious affairs, while not realizing, and no one telling her, something that she really should know. Something evident to almost everyone else.

But wait, what? Ethics? An ethical attitude of resistance exposed in subtle satire, elegantly even, on Twitter? From within the police? What a blatantly absurd proposition! —I told you. Speculation. Speculative despair and hallucinatory ramblings, obscured in semiotic shades and sprinkled with hope-glitter. As chief of police, though, as @logreglustjori, Stefán has, until now, not been known to tweet videos trivially. —You’re lost, you’re lost in over-interpretation! Snap out of it! —Alright, alright. It’s still true. —! And so on.

She Came In Through The Bathroom Window

She came in through the bathroom window
Protected by a silver spoon
But now she sucks her thumb and wanders
By the banks of her own lagoon

Didn’t anybody tell her?
Didn’t anybody see?
Sunday’s on the phone to Monday
Tuesday’s on the phone to me

She said she’d always been a dancer
She worked at 15 clubs a day
And though she thought I knew the answer
Well I knew what I could not say

And so I quit the police department
And got myself a steady job
And though she tried her best to help me
She could steal but she could not rob

Didn’t anybody tell her?
Didn’t anybody see?
Sunday’s on the phone to Monday
Tuesday’s on the phone to me
Oh yeah

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Enough. Stop. Now.


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