the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Mayor Jon Gnarr, the Best Party, and Iceland’s Punk Politics

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It’s a punk rock Cinderella story. For Iceland, that is.

Jon Gnarr, 43, a satirical comedian and punk rocker who once toured with Bjork’s former band, the Sugarcubes, created his Best Party as a joke in December 2009. Six months later, he’s running the show as mayor of Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city.

The Best Party consists of rebellious punk rockers who hung around Reykjavik’s main bus station in the late 1970s and 1980s. Think New York’s CBGB’s circa 1978.

It’s a dream only anarchy-famished punks in the United States can imagine. What if Patti Smith became mayor of New York? The city’s creative economy might flourish and the World Trade Organization – Patti once wrote a WTO protest song – would never gather in the Big Apple.

Gnarr campaigned on a comedic ticket with the country’s bohemian class joining his cause. They wrote political lyrics to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” and filmed a video:

OK, Tina Turner songs aren’t exactly punk anthems, but the creative endeavor wooed voters. Best Party candidates now hold six of the 15 city council seats, just two short of a majority. A slate of creative types like Einar Orn Benediktsson, a former singer with Bjork in the Sugarcubes who also sits on the board of a record company, and Elsa Hrafnhildur Yeoman, a self-employed artist, will now make policy decisions about Reykjavik’s future.

The Best Party’s victory has its roots in punk’s artistic, in-your-face political expression.

“While Jon Gnarr is a well-known comedian in Iceland, voters probably knew next to nothing about the other candidates on the party lists,” Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland, told Politics Daily.

The Best Party didn’t have any clear policies on issues concerning Reykjavik, said Kristinsson.

“So, what were people voting for?” Kristinsson said. “Clearly not any particular solution to the problems of Reykjavik. Their vote for the Best Party was a comment on the other alternatives, namely the old four parties which have dominated the political scene in Iceland since the 1930s.”

Kristinsson said that an April report by Iceland’s “truth commission” showed Icelandic politicians in an unflattering light. The anger and paranoia fueled by the report only helped the Best Party.

Gnarr campaigned on common sense, although some call it sardonic humor.

He promised to bring a polar bear in the zoo and offer free towels at public swimming pools. Both are actually serious issues in Iceland. In 2008, the first polar bear to swim to Iceland in 15 years was shot by police. Gnarr’s solution? Capture the endangered bears and put them in the zoo.

Even Gnarr’s free towel message makes sense. Like any good mayor, he wants to attract tourists to his city. If Reykjavik’s public pools with their seawater and sulfur baths offer free towels, then they can reach accredited spa status under European Union rules. Spas equal more tourists.

Gnarr also made a promise to a group of kindergarten students to create a Disneyland at the capital’s airport. A little extreme, but what politician hasn’t made a promise he can’t keep? He has four years to do it. Under Icelandic law, an early municipal election cannot be called for the next four years.

Parliamentary elections, however, can be held early, which happens when the country is politically shaky, as it is now with its financial crisis. But Kristinsson said an early parliamentary election is unlikely because the four established political parties fear fringe groups have gained too much power.

If that happened, Bjork might just win the prime minister’s seat.

Sure, Iceland has problems. The global financial meltdown collapsed all three of the country’s major banks after they faced difficulties with refinancing short-term debt. That, in turn, has created economic chaos in Iceland with the country facing a depression.

Earlier this year, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, paralyzing large chunks of European air traffic for weeks. In turn, tourism boomed during the eruption as tourists made pilgrimages to the volcano. But the tourism bump is now tapering off, which only adds to economic troubles.

But it is also a progressive country where punks can be politicians and politicians can be happily gay.

Last weekend, the country’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, 68, married her long-time partner, Jonina Leosdottir, a writer. The couple chose to marry on the first day that Iceland legalized same-sex marriage as a “union between two consenting adults regardless of sex.”

Those aspiring to change the United States, such as Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, might study Iceland for inspiration.

Biafra ran unsuccessfully for mayor of San Francisco in 1978 and president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket. Currently there’s a draft-Biafra-for-president-in-2012 movement.

As Generation X kids turn into 40-somethings, politics may be a perfect platform for these anti-establishment, anti-government types who long for social and political reform.

Punks are certainly more well-versed in the DIY mindset than a bunch of tea partiers. They have been self-publishing zines, organizing show promotions and starting record labels for years.

Gnarr’s election offers hope for all disenfranchised punks who still want to wring some sort of justice out of a two-party system. Politics is simply an extension of the DIY movement. As Biafra yowled in “Stars and Stripes of Corruption:

If we don’t try
If we just lie
If we can’t find
A way to do it better than this
Who will?


Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Well worth a read: how Iceland’s comedians, rock musicians and artists are taking political control in Iceland: Mayor Jon Gnarr, the Best Party, and Iceland’s Punk Politics « thesuziparkerfiles. […]

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