Published May 22, 2015
The most-read stories across multiple Icelandic news sites this week are about a Progressive Party MP projectile vomiting all over other passengers on a WOW Air flight. This led to multiple accounts, retracted stories, and, at the very least, the appearance of lying.
Reading the first DV story about the incident, in which the MP denied being drunk and claimed to have had a stomach bug, my initial thought was, ‘wow, that’s really gross and terrible for everyone involved, and isn’t it in bad taste for the media to be reporting on this?’
The plot quickly thickened though. In story after story, people came out with conflicting versions of what happened. One of the unlucky passengers claimed that he was visibly drunk and that he could barely stand when she saw him going through passport control in the United States. Then, an Independence Party MP who was also on the plane claimed that none of it happened at all. He later retracted that statement and declared that he would never talk to DV again. After that, the chair of the Progressive Party parliamentary group (the party’s whip) said that the MP was actually quite ill and is now on sick leave. Shortly thereafter, however, the captain of the Pirate Party claimed that he had been at work the day before and looked just fine.
At this point, it’s pretty difficult to deny that people are lying. It seems the MP and his colleagues are desperately trying to save face, spinning all kinds of conflicting stories. Unfortunately, in that first DV story, when the MP was asked if he struggled with a drinking problem, he replied, somewhat defensively: “No, what? I have never heard that before. I’m the last member of parliament to have an alcohol problem.” That was the golden opportunity to make the story go away.
Admitting to having a drinking problem and deciding to seek treatment for alcohol and drug addiction doesn’t carry a stigma here like it does elsewhere in the world. In fact, more than 10% of males over the age of 15 have gone to rehab, and Iceland’s Centre for Addiction Medicine, SÁÁ, which runs the nation’s drug and alcohol rehab, says its practices have touched every family in Iceland through the years.
A case in point: also on the list of most-read stories on Icelandic news sites this week is one about the editor of Kastljós, a highly rated newsmagazine TV show (Iceland’s version of 60 Minutes), announcing that he would be checking into rehab for his alcohol addiction. The editor’s announcement, which was made via a Facebook post, has garnered thousands of likes and heaps of supportive comments.
You could argue that the editor didn’t vomit all over a bunch of other people like the MP did, but the Icelandic public have been known to forgive other vile acts. Earlier this year, one of our former ministers misappropriated hundreds of thousands of ISK and still seemed to gain public sympathy when he owned up to his problems and checked into rehab.
The facts are simple:
- The MP boarded a plane and puked over fellow passengers.
- People on the plane are claiming he was drunk.
Instead of everyone rallying behind him with support, he’s been ostracised. There’s a hashtag and a litany of internet memes. People love a villain and people love a redemption story. He chose villain.
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In the United States, drug and alcohol rehab is closely tied to celebrity culture. It’s thought to be for people like Amy Winehouse, who died prematurely due to alcohol intoxication just three years after releasing her hit single “Rehab” in 2007, and Lindsay Lohan, who reportedly wants to open a rehab centre in her name, given her extensive experience in such facilities.