Published July 17, 2015
Five and a half years ago, I fulfilled my childhood dream of moving to Iceland, a country that I had idealized for as long as I could remember. My story is not unlike those that other expats tell, except that, unlike most, I am also Icelandic by blood. Growing up in California, I had always identified, proudly, as an Icelander.
Upon moving to Iceland in the wake of the financial crisis, however, I slowly discovered that the country had a lot more problems than I had previously considered based on my annual visits during the best time of year (read: summer). I also came to realize that the kind of blind patriotism that I had felt was actually fairly characteristic of the nation as a whole, and that might in turn have contributed to the financial crisis.
I enrolled in a master’s programme at the University of Iceland, including a class that led me to discover that the Icelandic media systematically ignored negative reports from external rating agencies in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Later that semester, the Special Investigative Committee published its great big report investigating the crash, which incriminated the media, among other parties. In many ways, the report argued, Iceland’s media functioned as a cheerleader for the banks as they grew to ten times the country’s GDP and nearly bankrupted the country.
This winter, I took a few months off from Grapevine to finally finish the master’s thesis that I started so many years ago now. For my thesis, I decided to study the media’s habit of enthusiastically reporting on damn near every mention of Iceland in the international media. This tendency seemed worthy of investigating, as it seems like another form of cheerleading, emblematic of a nation dogged by codependency, a nation that’s continually stunted by its propensity to sweep under the rug uncomfortable or difficult facts while trumpeting every small victory as yet another confirmation that it is Bezt í Heimi (“Best in the World”)!
As I delved into my research, it became readily apparent that—regardless of how trivial—any mention of Iceland in an international media outlet is considered newsworthy in Iceland. Headlines, in particular, seem to express the sentiment “We are liked” or simply “We received attention.” From an outsider perspective, this feels peculiar. Comparable headlines—that the USA is being noticed and/or liked or disliked by other countries— are hardly common in major US newspapers.
It seems to me that it would be worth considering what this tendency says about us Icelanders and the problems we face, and that the media, in particular, might consider whether its time is perhaps better spent on other tasks.