Published July 26, 2011
First off, a few tidbits of unexplored Iceland trivia for you. In the scheme of Europe, with 103.000 square kilometres, Iceland is not a tiny island in the middle of the North Atlantic. Iceland, is, in fact:
• more than double the size of Switzerland;
• around 25% larger than Ireland;
• nearly ten times larger than little Holland;
• and—get this—almost as large as England, with her 130.395 square kilometres.
That’s right: England is only 26,2% larger than Iceland!
Of course this is land-mass-swaggering; we all know that Iceland’s population is smaller than most European countries. Yet it may surprise you to know that according to the recently released IMF 2011 Outlook Report, Iceland still fares well with GDP purchasing parity per capita, coming in at number 16 worldwide—ahead of the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
So what’s all the fuss about then?
As we’ve come to notice, quite frequently the foreign media portrays Iceland as a piddly little dot in the North Atlantic, once home to one of the most successful economies on earth, now home to a handful of quirky knitters, farmers and fisherman.
And yes, Iceland is an island nation, but only in such a way that Ireland, Britain, or Greenland are island nations.
The thing is, Iceland is still far from the rest of Europe. Some of you who live in Europe may have noticed that unless there’s some kind of volcanic eruption, Iceland doesn’t even figure on European TV stations’ weather reports. As far as BBC Weather is concerned, Iceland isn’t even on the European map.
A myth perpetuates because it sounds romantic and mysterious, and because the Kunois and Hapag Lloyds of this world sell Iceland as a forbid-den, unexplored land. Fact of the matter is, Iceland needs tourism to survive. For big tour operators, it pays to make Iceland the wacky, mysterious volcanic ‘Wunderland.’
Jaded eyes tell no lies?
And how do foreign journalists perpetuate this myth? Well here at the Grapevine, among others, we’ve tackled the New Yorker, Harpers and the New York Times Magazine. Let’s have a gander at how Philip Reeves, NPR’s ‘Arctic-correspondent’ portrays Iceland in his recent blog post for NPR: “Iceland: Land of Stark Beauty And, Lately, A Run of Bad Luck.”
At first, quoting a passage from Grapevine’s last letters page, Philip tries his best to distance himself from what he says the Grapevine calls lazy journalism, but notes that despite first impressions often lacking nuance or being plain wrong, they also “can provide a refreshing snapshot of a place. Taken before the eye becomes jaded.”
What in hell’s teeth is he talking about? Before the eye becomes jaded?
Is he saying that there’s more objectivity in a one-night-stand than a ten-year marriage? Hmm, maybe he has something there.
OK, so Reeves does the obvious bit about the luminous blue pools and the stark, volcanic lunar landscape—as one does as a foreign journalist landing in Iceland for the first time. He mentions the lack of trains and notes that Reykjavík has an ‘Enid Blyton’ toy-town look with its houses “painted in bright primary colors.”
And then, of course, since it’s midsummer, he finds everyone sipping brewskis in their shades in outdoor cafes and bars—even in the late hours of the evening. He can’t resist slipping in the fact that the ‘nutty’ Icelandic government is considering passing a bill for selling cigarettes on a prescrip-tion only basis. Sipping a beer all by his lonesome, he notes: “Judging by the crowd sitting outside on this summery evening, the doctors will be pretty busy.” What he may not realise, is that more than half of these folks are probably tourists.
Philip says bars in Reykjavík, celebrating the evening hours, light candles in ritual preparation of a night that never arrives. You can’t help but feel-ing the tongue in his cheek, as if Icelanders are about to call out the spirits of Óðinn and Freyja.
Where is that pagan dance going down, anyway?
As we read on, we are once again not surprised to find that Reykjavík is a brief lay-over, on Reeves’ way to Nuuk, Greenland. And he says that although he was hoping to have a nibble on a bit of smoked puffin or hákarl, he finally ends up in a [sigh] Asian noodle bar. What he should have known, of course, is that hákarl is available in many restaurants and supermarkets in Reykjavík…
Now, compared to others, Philip’s little piece is balanced, and moderately boring, yet, it still smacks of wry irony. It’s as if nothing can really be taken too seriously in this medium-sized nation in the middle of the Atlantic.
You tell me. Is half of the media hullabaloo the spawn of foreign spin-doctors? Or, is there something missing in the marketing mix?