Mayor Jón Gnarr explains himself, a little
First, nobody thought comedian Jón Gnarr’s joke party would actually make it to the ballot for the 2010 Reykjavík municipal elections. Then, nobody thought comedian Jón Gnarr’s joke party would attract a significant number of voters. Then, nobody thought comedian Jón Gnarr would step up to the role of mayor. Then, nobody thought Mayor Jón Gnarr would last a full term in office. Then, nobody thought Mayor Jón Gnarr wouldn’t run for a second term.
Clearly, nobody has been wrong about a lot of things pertaining to comedian Mayor Jón Gnarr.
We called him up to talk about it.
Why did you decide against running for a second term?
Because the Best Party is a surprise party. And surprise parties can only go on for so long. You can’t stand up in the middle of a party and yell: “surprise!” That’s absurd. No one would be surprised. The party is already in full swing. Parties that just keep on going, without any element of surprise, they’re just normal parties. And the Best Party was never meant to be a normal party.
Besides that, there is a certain flaw to the Best Party, in that it isn’t a democratic party. It does not play by those rules, and it’s important that it doesn’t. If I were to run again that would have to change. And then it wouldn’t be the Best Party. And I’m not interested in that.
You’ve said the political system is in need of a massive reformation—“a full scale cultural revolution,” as you called it when we interviewed you before the last election. Was the party’s non-democratic nature an attempt to circumvent that system, to instil changes?
Exactly. You can think of the Best Party as an intervention. An intervention is temporary; the counsellor doesn’t stay on the family’s couch while it is in the recovery process.
At the time we first interviewed you, for our 2010 election issue, no one really foresaw the Best Party achieving the success that it did, that you would wind up becoming mayor of Reykjavík. Except maybe you—while outlining your ideas and ambitions, you also discussed whether you would need to reconcile them with those of your collaborators, to mediate and compromise. In your last days, it seems appropriate to ask: how did that turn out? Have you had to compromise a lot?
I would say so. Compromise. Mediation. It’s been one big compromise, and that isn’t so bad—in fact, it’s the core of what democracy is supposed to be. Even though when you sort of try to please everyone a little, the outcome is often a mish-mash that’s equally undesirable to all. But anyway, I’ve had to mediate a lot, and reconcile different parties.
You can take the whole NASA as an example [NASA was a beloved local concert venue that was controversially shuttered to make way for a hotel]. That’s a project that was ongoing when we came into office—it had been settled, the contracts had been signed, the necessary permits given by our predecessors. When we became aware of the matter, it had already turned into a big dispute, with different factions up in arms. There were the ‘Friends of NASA’ people. Then there were the building’s owners and its neighbours. And then there was Alþingi, which also got involved. Not to mention all the laws and regulations that we must abide by, which played a large role.
I have always tried to settle such disputes and resolve them in a manner that is fairly satisfactory to everyone involved. And we certainly attempted that with the NASA affair. But then, satisfaction is relative. People can always claim they’re unsatisfied—and then some might say that certain people will never be entirely satisfied.
The NASA situation is a good example of something we put a lot of work in resolving. And there were other issues that came up. People seemed to have a lot of expectations when we came to power. A lot of artists and, you know, cultural people somehow thought that it was finally their time to be shine and be connected, that nepotism would finally start working in their favour.
And then that didn’t happen?
No, that didn’t happen, which made a lot of people really mad. But our goal was always to put an end to nepotism in city politics, because it has proven incredibly impractical and costly—it’s not a healthy or natural state of affairs. So yeah, I’ve compromised and mediated. And I’m really fucking good at it.
What about your own beliefs and expectations? Did you compromise them? Did you ever have to stand for something you didn’t believe in, to go against your principles?
No, never. I have never done that. I have never gone against my conscience or acted contrary to my beliefs. I know that in life, you sometimes have to swallow bitter pills, that’s just the way it is. Regardless, I have never lied. I have not been dishonest. Even when that was an easy option. I have rather opted for honesty, to admitting that I do not know the answer to a question, rather than telling a lie or diverting the conversation.
Being able to rely on Jóga [Jón’s wife, Jóhanna Jóhannsdóttir] and her judgement has helped a lot in this regard. She is such a big and active part of everything I do. She plays a much greater role than people realize, because she’s not so much in the front, she prefers to stay out of the public eye.
But no, there’s nothing I regret or would have done differently. I have done everything right.
DRUNK AT WORK
Wow. That’s a confident way of putting it. So you feel that being mayor didn’t alter your beliefs in any way? Doesn’t the cliché state that people enter politics full of fire and ideas and ambition to serve the public—only to make one concession after the other, eventually becoming part of the system they meant to reform?
Well, entering politics is kind of like taking up drugs. Politics is an environment of addiction. Becoming a politician is like moving to Christiania [A Danish “free state” where Icelandic druggies have traditionally gone to pursue their high]. There is a certain culture and there are certain precedents and certain models and blueprints and paradigms. My ambition was always to enter the druggie neighbourhood and be kind of the neat, good little boy who doesn’t drink or smoke and is tidy and polite to everyone [laughs].
Then, of course, there are two substances that are very prevalent in politics. One of them is invisible—that’s power. And power has a side effect, especially for men, which is sexual energy. Power comes intertwined with sexual energy, it is an aphrodisiac. And then you have the more visible substance, alcohol, which is ubiquitous in politics.
When you combine power, alcohol and sexual energy, anything can happen. All bets are off.
The so-called addictive-compulsive personality is very common in the political sphere. There is a lot of alcoholism—many of our leading politicians are alcoholics. This isn’t confined to Icelandic politics; alcoholism is endemic in leader types.
Obviously, it would be preferable if those people had already tackled their demons, resolved their problems, before assuming a position of leadership. I believe there should be a precondition for politicians, just as there’s one for athletes and even folks applying for random jobs. Those who want to run for office should be made to take various personality tests, and those who are active alcoholics should be disqualified.
Are you saying our politicians are literally drunk at work, or that their condition just clouds their judgment in general?
Yes, a lot of them are drunk at work. Or hung-over, not at their best. Or under the influence of something or other. And yes, it obviously clouds the judgment.
You’re saying you’ve witnessed this during your time in politics?
Yes. Yes. This is very prevalent in politics.
Did this come as a surprise?
It did. I didn’t expect it to this extent. But it quickly became apparent.
It’s interesting to note that a lot of us in the Best Party are former users or alcoholics. The people in our group mostly range from all-out straight edgers to abstainers to moderationists. When we were starting out in politics, people would sometimes ask, “how are you going to get to know people if you don’t even drink?”
12 STEPS TO DEMOCRACY
You’ve said that you modelled the party after AA…
Yes. I really like the philosophy behind AA. It’s very unique; it’s really a lifestyle of sorts that the members adopt. And it seems to work. You never hear anything about a scandal connected to AA. The organisation receives donations and handles money, but you never hear about a charter somewhere that was misappropriating funds or anything of the sort… that type of thing doesn’t seem to happen in AA. This indicates that the programme and the organisation work, that it’s healthy.
The Best Party is built like a 12-step programme—you could call it a political 12-step programme, or a 12-step programme for democracy. I think this is one of the reasons why the Best Party works better than your average protest party or joke party. Those parties don’t work. They have no ideology to build on, no philosophy to ground them. Their basis is often an emotion, like rage, or plain tomfoolery.
And you guys build on an ideology, a philosophy? What is it, then?
Well, our ideology is grounded in our admitting our powerlessness over democracy, that we need help from a greater power to change it [intense laughter].
In this surrender, in this humility, lies a hidden power that we can build on.
In that light, some of the AA tenets—like admitting that you can’t handle your life, that you need the help of good people and a higher power to manage it—bring to mind your response when you were first seriously interrogated by Kastljós [respected news magazine show] as mayor. You admitted that you didn’t know the answer to a specific question, that you would have to look into that, which is very unorthodox for an official.
That was in line with my beliefs, yes. Still, as I left the interview, I felt like I had been humiliated, that I was an idiot. I thought, “what are you doing, wading into something you have no idea about. You know nothing!” After that, however, people would approach me in Bónus and at the pool, patting me on the shoulder and thanking me, saying they had never seen anything like it, that it felt refreshingly honest.
But isn’t it problematic if your only guiding principle or philosophy commands that you are powerless, that you need help and guidance? Shouldn’t a politician represent a firm idea of how society should ultimately be run?
Well, such ideas have plagued both politics and philosophy. There has been an abundance of great theories and ideas over the course of history, put forth by smart people, like Ayn Rand—she wasn’t stupid, you know. But those ideas are often adopted by people who maybe aren’t as smart and don’t quite understand them—or even people who harbour selfish ulterior motives.
One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned is that ideas are dangerous, especially good ones [laughs]. Because it is almost certain that some halfwit will pick them up and misinterpret them and misuse them. And this is why it was so important that the Best Party presented no ideology, no solution. No theory. Nothing that some idiot could then adopt and develop and use as a basis for something horrible, making us the ideologues behind some atrocity. And this is why it was so important that the Best Party remain blank, that it stood for no idea or theory other than impotence and powerlessness. And the will to collaborate, to seek help.
There are lots of great ideas out there. But they get misunderstood. And the cause is more often than not simple human frailty, which the theories don’t account for, because they exist solely on the ideological plane, without taking into account emotions and error. Just look at our best thinkers over the past few centuries. From Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Marx and Engels. Their ideas led to a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of horror. Schopenhauer was Hitler’s favourite philosopher. Karl Marx created communism because he was outraged by how the underclass was being treated. But then, their theories eventually inspired all sorts of atrocities, events and ideas that in no way reflect their intentions.
We thus figured that the best ideology would be no ideology, save for the one espoused by the AA: Powerlessness, humility, frailty. To realise that we don’t have all the solutions.
And Taoism. Taoism has definitely been an influence.
What about anarchism? You’ve proclaimed on many occasions that you were an anarchist…
To me, anarchism and Taoism represent the same idea. The only difference is that anarchism went the way of any other ideology. It was written down and demarcated, what counted as anarchism and what didn’t—and in that instant, it fell dead.
You can’t be an anarchist if you’re this way or the other. And in effect, this is oppressive. Take straight edge, a really cool movement that sprang up right in the heart of consumer culture preaching different values, preaching health. All of the sudden, you could be cool and a punker without always being wasted. But that quickly turned into a kind of elitism, the group instated rules and even turned to violence against outsiders who didn’t share their outlook. This is a clear example of something that started as a positive force, but quickly turned negative. And it’s of course due to human error and selfishness, frailty and all that crap.
It became an orthodoxy?
So easily! And this is why when I say I’m an anarchist, it’s not because anarchism is some perfect ideology, but because there is no perfect ideology.
The whole idea—what’s important—boils down to the right to remain an individual within a community, to be able to live your life as you will so long as you’re not stepping on anyone else. That you can live in peace, whether you’re a homosexual or like to smoke cannabis or whatever, so long as you don’t disturb others. And that is the only ideology that matters.
A KICK IN THE BALLS
One of the more frequent criticisms levied against you is that you’ve relied too much on administrators and officials. That you’ve entrusted Reykjavík and your mayoral duties to city employees and hired experts, that you’ve instated a technocracy, limiting your role to figurehead…
The city of Reykjavík was sorely lacking balance in these matters. It is proven that the best way to run a city is with minimal political interference. The role of politicians should be confined to shaping policy and then enforcing that policy. The idea that politicians should be hands-on in every matter is a misunderstanding, and a harmful one at that. You hire a gardener to renovate your garden, and you have to trust him and what he’s doing. You tell him what you want and maybe draw up a little map or something, but you don’t go against his professional advice.
There needs to be a balance. And a little research will show you that the world’s highest rated cities are the ones that place an emphasis on professionalism, on proper processes and procedures, and on following expert advice.
And you feel the city of Reykjavík had neglected this?
Absolutely. We have countless examples in our recent past of politicians going directly against the counsel of experts, often with horrible results.
This idea that a mayor should be hands-on with everything, fostering pet projects and GETTING THINGS DONE is also directly connected to this masculine mentality that has prevailed in Icelandic politics for far too long. This idea that a real man just ambles forth, solving every problem with brute force, never admitting that he doesn’t understand or that he needs help. Like some wimp.
And yeah, I get a lot of that, people saying I’ve entrusted all of my power to specialists and technicians, that I’m not a real mayor. The funny thing is that while they think this hurts me—that it’s a kick in the balls—that couldn’t be further from the truth. It makes me happy; it’s what I wanted all along. I am not a strong, masculine problem solver. In fact, I strive not to be one. I believe strong masculine problem solvers have caused a lot of damage through the years, and I am proud to be thought of as the opposite.
This is perhaps in line with what you discussed during your campaign, about changing the language of politics and attacking its culture—about the importance of cultural revolution. Sometimes foreigners will ask me what you and the Best Party have accomplished, and I have a hard time answering, beyond the Reykjavík Energy reforms…there’s no entirely new system, no sweeping structural changes or free admission to the swimming pools—in fact the prices have gone up. The changes I have noticed are more subtle, pertaining to the atmosphere in city hall and how its denizens interact in public. Preparing for this interview, I spoke to a few city employees and administrators, who all maintained that their working environment has changed for the better, that it’s more polite, more human.
I am happy to hear that. And I would add that, maybe most importantly, we have improved the administrative process. It’s a lot more professional.
What lies underneath is often more important than the surface. We humans have a tendency to superficiality…people spend a lot of money fixing their face through surgery, undergoing intense and life-threatening operations, but they don’t get operations on their brain, to create new connections so they may understand and experience the universe in new ways.
Yet, creating a new understanding or new state of mind, a new process or way of doing things, is much more important in the long run. And out of that process, we eventually make progress and achieve visible results.
It’s like education. You spend a lot of time teaching someone how to be a doctor, but they’re not curing anyone while their brain is processing the information and creating the necessary connections. This could be likened to what we’ve been doing. Teaching, training, signifying something. Representing a mode of thought or method. Proving that this is possible, that this can work.
But then, we’ve of course done all sorts of concrete things. We helped Reykjavík Energy overcome its difficulties. We’ve moved statues, and laid hundreds of kilometres of bike paths. We made a new zoning plan. And all sorts of important stuff.
Then there is my personal campaign for peace and human rights. Even though it hasn’t yielded concrete results, I believe it is the most important thing I have ever done in my life.
It might have had some effect. Independence Party mayoral candidate Halldór Halldórsson has remarked that he admires your emphasis on human rights, and that he will carry on that tradition if elected mayor. And he’s not the only candidate to express such a sentiment—international human rights have become an issue that anyone who’s running is forced to contend with and at least take a stance on….
Exactly. This is my proudest accomplishment. It’s invisible and intangible, yet very real. It is like love. Love is a certain consciousness or state of mind that isn’t anything until you express it in action. When you act out of love for another. And that is what we have been trying to do, to build a loving environment that is based on consideration, respect and trust. To convince people believe that we respect them even though we are in disagreement, that this is possible and that it works. That political opponents can walk side by side in good faith, trusting that neither party will use the opportunity to hurt them or push them aside. We wanted to show that this works, that you exist in this way without being burned or abused.
This is what I think is important, what I believe will ultimately be the Best Party’s legacy. It’s this entirely unique thing that wasn’t supposed to happen, yet it did happen.
Then, we can talk about numbers regarding Reykjavík Energy and that can be a discussion in and of itself, but, you know, what I find important is that I am the first mayor in the world to publicly protest the jailing of Pussy Riot. At a Gay Pride march. This act of mine didn’t free them, so you could claim it was a failed attempt, but it wasn’t. It left something behind, a seed that will grow and move us forward.
That’s the thing with ideas. They tend to grow.
So I take pride in that, but I also take pride in the fact that I am coming out of this without having made any enemies—sure, there are people who purport to hate me, but I am glad to say the feeling is far from mutual. It’s been difficult, but I could well have come out of it a bitter mess. But I didn’t. I am happy and grateful for the past four years and, thankful to the people I have worked with, and to the people of Reykjavík.
As I express my gratitude, I must acknowledge that I couldn’t have done this without admitting my shortcomings repeatedly, every day. Facing my powerlessness.
A HORRIBLE CULTURE
This culture you say you’ve tried to establish, of humility, cooperation and good will. Do you believe it will remain in City Hall?
Yes, it will carry on. But I have no idea how it will grow.
I mean, I am a bit of a gardener, and just yesterday I made a decision about my garden. I planted some shrubbery a few years ago, and it has thrived. Except for one bush. And the past winter seems to have taken a big toll on it, so I decided to remove it and plant a new one in its place.
You can’t always know in advance which plants will thrive and which will wither away. And then of course there’s the chance that your plants will get infected by some random plant disease or ravaged by insects. I don’t know.
At least, I think it will be hard for things to revert to the way they were. I don’t think that’s a possibility.
That’s a hefty claim you make, that you instigated a permanent change to city politics. Do you likewise feel you had an effect in last year’s parliamentary elections?
Yes, we were very influential there. Óttarr Proppé [HAM singer] is an MP now! That is very important, and that would have never happened [laughs]!
However, Alþingi’s problems are obviously a lot greater and more difficult than the ones facing the city. It is plagued by a devastatingly inefficient and faulty administrative process, a horrible culture of discourse and massive, ingrained nepotism.
Naturally, the biggest threat facing Western democracy today is the power of the financial elites. They pose a direct threat to democracy, they have devised ways to manipulate the system to their own end. It is a vicious circle wherein money buys advertising, and advertising buys votes through stylized, empty promises, and those promises are never honoured, and this leads people to eventually stop respecting politicians and lose faith in the process. It becomes increasingly evident that it doesn’t matter how much you study or read, what opinions you hold or any great ideas you have—whoever has the most money to spend will have their way. Political candidates might have good intentions of servicing their community, but when it’s common knowledge that they’re there because someone bought them a ticket, they are hard to support. And without the public’s support, they can’t accomplish anything. So they’ll need to raise funds and hire advertising agencies to get voted in again. And the circle continues.
Oligarchs and corporations have hijacked democracy. The problem is not that we have a few corrupt politicians—I’m sure we have many—but they are only symptoms of a greater ill, the ever-growing vicious circle. A few people resigning doesn’t solve anything.
The only thing that can create meaningful change is a shift in attitude. A balance must be created. This is what we stood for on the municipal level, and this is what needs to happen on a global level. Balance and equilibrium.
WOMEN CYCLIST HEGEMONY
To name an example of what needs to change, car dealerships have wielded an unreasonably great influence of Reykjavík’s affairs. This goes a ways towards explaining why the city has evolved in the way that it did—sprawling, rife with freeways and cars and parking lots. This is in part due to the influence of car dealers and oil companies. I’m not saying that they’re bad people or that we need to get rid of all of them—just that a balance is needed, that other points of view also need representation.
Women cyclists, for instance haven’t had that much of a say in anything. Nobody considers their interests when big decisions are made, because they don’t have the resources to back up certain campaigns. Imagine if Kría Cycles had as much money to spend as the car dealerships. They could sponsor politicians, who would then cover Reykjavík in bike paths. More citizens would see bicycling as a reasonable option, and Kría would sell more bikes.
It would be fun at first, but the consequences would be horrible in the long run. You couldn’t go out for a walk with your dog or stroller out of fear of being hit by a cyclist. You’d always be by or on a bike path, and the bikes would be in full right to run you over.
It’s like this with cars in Reykjavík and a lot of other cities. They seem more designed for cars than humans.
Have you experienced direct political pressure from car dealers? Did they request a meeting?
[Laughs] No. But that’s part of the problem. That kind of political pressure is usually not out in the open. Such interest groups often use politicians they’ve sponsored to get their message across, to promote their interests.
This is perhaps best visible in US politics, where the campaign finance laws have been made so liberal that candidates and politicians can use lobbyist donations to fund their lifestyles. Needless to say, they are the same people who create the legislation. Lester Freamon summarizes this nicely in The Wire: “When you follow the drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But if you start to follow the money, you don’t know where the fuck it’s going to take you.”
Because you mentioned Pussy Riot earlier, I wanted to bring them up in the context of what you’ve been saying. About the need for a shift in attitude, of friendly cooperation; that idea that you are powerless, and that you can operate sans ideology. And then you have Pussy Riot, who are fighting a very ideologically-inspired battle, employing methods that are far from pleasant or friendly. You support their battle, yet their approach seems far removed from what you yourself claim to represent. How does this go together?
While I can’t support anyone that resorts to violence, I can and do support those who act in self-defence against violence. It’s like Judo. I studied Judo—in fact I hold a blue belt—and this is the methodology it teaches. You never use Judo against someone for fun. You only ever employ Judo in self-defense. And Pussy Riot are clearly acting in self-defense. To me, it’s all Kung Fu.
Do you have any plans for the future?
Jóga and I are currently meditating on the next steps. We want to find a way to further this concept we’ve been discussing. Maybe create a think tank or something, or find a way to teach it? Like I said, Jóga is a big part of everything I do, and we look forward to collaborating on a project.
You told Vice that you’d be focusing on writing…
Yes, I want to do that. But I have no idea if it’s going to be a main profession of mine or something I just do on the side, like it currently is. I’ve been a big extrovert for such a long time now, so I do feel the need to engage in something that’s a little more introverted. But that might change if I take a few days off. So I honestly have no idea.
Considering your artistic output and comparing it to your stint in politics, it’s tempting to look for recurring themes. Are they there? And if so, what are they?
I’m not so sure.
Someone recently said to me that the red thread running through all of my projects was that in some way, they all touch upon—or even worship—the sincere, the childlike, the playful and innocent. In opposition to the strict and serious and cynical.
It’s true that I like to posit the world of children against the world of adults. I was thinking about the whole ‘Night Shift’ series the other day, and discovered that the character that represents me isn’t Georg Bjarnfreðarson, who I played. It’s Ólafur. That’s me, I’m him. Always running around with some great idea in his head, always cheerful and upbeat, while everything around him and connected to him is sort of a wreck. That’s been my life. And Georg represents the force I’ve been fighting my whole life, in myself, and in others.
And you feel this theme carried on into city hall? A playful naïveté, resisting the adult world?
A little. It’s the same thread. As a child, I was faced with either accepting what I was or just destroying myself, either directly or indirectly. Because I felt so stupid, and a lot of other people thought I was stupid too. Stupid and weird and uncomfortable to be around. I had a hard time learning things that came easy to others. Reading and writing came very slowly to me… I think I was sixteen years old when I managed to learn what all the months were called. There were all kinds of things that confounded me, so I started believing it was true, that people were right, that I was stupid.
So part of my mission has maybe been to fight for that person, not just as it relates to myself, but as it exists in everyone. That people may be who they are without being judged or mocked or belittled. You are who you are, who you were born to be, and you can’t do anything to change that. And that’s why I feel such an empathy for those who are spurned and persecuted for who they are, be they homosexual or female or whatever.
This is what I burn for, this is what motivates me. Few things get me off balance, but witnessing injustice gets me fuming. When people are discriminated against for superficialities. And I’ve always been this way—this has been my red thread, and I definitely maintained it over the past four years.
This is why I address the city council without having combed my hair, why I am not afraid of appearing stupid. It is my demand that people be allowed to be who they are. Everyone. It’s my passion.
If you and your ideas are what the city needed four years ago, what does the city need today?
More young women. We need more young women to enter politics, because this will create a balance. And this is indeed one of the reasons I am stepping aside. To create room. If I were a young woman, I would have probably stuck around a bit longer. But I’m not, so I won’t.
What qualities do young women possess, that you find lacking in politics?
It has to do with a certain energy, certain values. Ehrm. It would be more fun. And more fair. Because, half of the population is female, yet this isn’t reflected in our political system. My main role models have all been female. From my mother and her sisters up to my wife and beyond.
What we need to do is seek a balance. The best government would equally represent young men and old men, young women and old women. That would make for the best results, the best harmony. And it would be the most democratic pattern.
This also has to do with the childlike and innocent qualities, and my struggle to further them. Young women often have a harder time of proving themselves than young men. And they often represent views or methods that are considered childlike. The type or tendency I refer to as “the aggressive male” or “the bully” likes to say women engage in Barbie doll politics And I think that’s lacking. I want more Barbie doll politics. More warmth and beauty. That we consider not just practicalities, but also other aspects.
Women are also less likely to revert to violence than men. If women had more control of our affairs, the world would be a better place. And yet, they’re continually denied positions of power. Take the Independence Party Reykjavík preliminaries for the upcoming elections. I followed them with excitement, rooting for the young women I’ve been working with over the past four years, like Þorbjörg Helga, Áslaug Friðriksdóttir and Hildur Sverrisdóttir. Not that they’re a gang of superhumans or anything, but I have enjoyed working with them—they are smart and reasonable. Then they lost to the middle aged man, the party didn’t trust them to run in the city even after all their years of service.
It’s very evident that the prospect of entering politics isn’t very attractive for young women. It’s a difficult path, much more demanding than what their male contemporaries are faced with. And that’s just wrong.
Why do you think it’s different?
Our political culture. But more generally, it is due to our attitudes towards women. Changing those attitudes is what Iceland currently needs the most. We are transitioning from an incredibly masculine society of farmers and fishermen, into something new and modern. And as we move forward, so must our attitudes. Because holding on to the old ones is proving costly. It’s for instance evident that one of the main reasons Iceland got itself in all that financial trouble is the nation’s culture of masculinity and the attitudes it fosters.
Do you think it’s a contradiction that you, a male leader of a political party—the mayor of Reykjavík—is preaching the importance of getting more women into politics, the importance of feminine values?
Not at all. I don’t see any difference in being a man and a woman. Beyond men being physically stronger, there’s no difference. There’s no intellectual difference, there’s nothing men can do that women can’t. That is all a myth.
Meanwhile, we’ve been holding women down for some 40,000 years. Just on the strength of our biceps. And now, the biceps’ time has passed [laughs hard].
The time for biceps is over, and now we are at a place where people are judged by their qualities and character rather than their race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation…those things are no longer an issue. And they won’t be an issue. That mode of thinking is a thing of the past.
I’ve thought a lot about the people I’ve met throughout my life. I’ve raised four adults of both genders. And I’ve kept looking for a difference. And I can’t say I’ve found one. All the differences are strictly on an individual basis. Well, men are maybe generally hornier than women. You could maybe say that. Very few women have had to seek help for their porn addiction.
So there are maybe differences like that, but with regards to communication and behaviour and conduct—there’s no difference save for on the individual level. My daughter is a weightlifter. She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. And she could easily beat me at arm wrestling.
So when you talk about the need for female values and qualities, you’re more referring to a female culture or what?
Yes, well. Young women for instance have a better sense for beauty than older men. That’s not without exception though. Some young women are absolutely tasteless, and then we have old men that display great taste.
It’s harder for young women to get a chance. And I feel we often have these reservations about young women, that they’re demanding or “bitchy” or that they’ve succeeded through trickery. Those attitudes are never far removed from our discourse, and I think that’s unfair. I just want a society that values people for their worth, and nothing else. The only thing that matters is what people have to offer. If you’re drunk downtown, yelling at people and causing problems, you will be judged by that, and if you try to take care and present your opinion in a polite manner, you will judged by that.
There’s definitely a character or personality type that tends to succeed in politics.
That’s why I think we should cultivate a system that notices this, that says, “hey, this assembly is full of old men! We need to get to get some young women in here!” Then again, there are plenty of old men that have a lot to offer.
But getting a wrinkly old man to participate in politics is much easier than convincing a young woman who just graduated from university. If you were to establish a political party, you could very easily fill it with wrinkly old men. But you would have to make a lot of effort to attract young women to work with you.
And you can’t really blame them for being reluctant to participate in politics, with the environment they face when entering the field. And that is the problem. And that’s what we need to fix.
By bringing more young women into politics.
Jón Gnarr is a comedian, actor, playwright and novelist who, in 2009, formed the satirical political party Besti Flokkurinn (The Best Party) to run in the 2010 municipal elections.
Winning 34.7% of the vote, The Best Party gained six out of 15 seats on the city council, with Jón becoming the 20th mayor of Reykjavík.
You may find a fairly comprehensive overview of our Jón Gnarr related stories (by him, about him, etc) in this article, which we published upon his handing over the keys to City Hall.