Be nice to poor Icelandic celebrities!

A row has erupted within the English-language media in Iceland about celebrity, about free speech and about being nasty about people in print. Is it okay for an Icelander writing in English to be cruel about celebrities? One celebrity says absolutely not.

(Editorial opinion column) News about celebrities is not in a normal day’s work at IceNews — especially Iceland’s brood of famous-for-the-sake-of-being-famous ‘in crowd’ from the pages of gossip magazine Sed og Heyrt. It is similarly not in a day’s work to comment either way on what our contemporary English media outlets are doing. But sometimes something weird happens that deserves attention.

The most recent issue of the Reykjavik Grapevine has a tongue-in-cheek look at some of Iceland’s most famous people without special reasons for being famous. In other words, everyone knows their names even though they are not musicians, politicians or footballers. The article, written in English by Icelander Ragnar Egilsson, was anything but flattering and describes five celebrities in much this vein:

“Gillz’ climb from humble chauvinist blogger to the top of the celebrity shitpile has been an amazing thing to behold. Using nothing but his upper-body strength and his ability to come up with super clever words for the lady bits, he was able to build an empire that included a television series, bestselling books, countless ads and walk-ons and more interviews than you can shake a stafur at.”

Another of the five celebs has responded in an open letter to the Grapewine (sic.) but sent to accusing the paper of bullying.

The Grapevine wrote about Tobba Marinos: “Tobba is a dating advice blogger and gossip scribbler who thrust her way into the limelight sometime last year. Now best known as the author of some Carrie Bradshaw-esque monstrosity and an upcoming TV-series based on said crime against humanity (much better proof that God hates this country than that volcano aerial view that looked like Satan). As the female version of Gillz, you would think she would try to counteract his bare-assed misogyny, but instead she gangs up with Gillz in a pincer movement on sanity—a kind of lobotomized Robin to his Down’s syndrome Batman.”

Tobba, a.k.a Thorbjorg Marinosdottir, says in her letter that the paper is bullying people who dare to be different and insinuates that mocking Icelanders in a magazine aimed at foreigners is a slight against Iceland as a whole, “This type of work reminds one of certain foreign media outlets. Icelandic media has thankfully been devoid of such work up until now – do they lose their morality somewhat under the circumstances?” she says in closing.

The truth could hardly be more different, Tobba. As celebrities famous mostly just for being famous, you should very much be open for criticism and taking the rough with the smooth should be par for the course. The fact that people don’t usually write bad things about you should not automatically be interpreted as a glowing endorsement of either your character or of the Icelandic media. The sort of society you crave where people dare to be different and express themselves can hardly exist if the standard mantra is “Icelandic celebrity = good. Poking fun at Icelandic celebrity = bad.” What sort of freedom is that?

The Grapevine counts a large proportion of Icelanders among its readership as well as ex-pats. Against those two reader groups, tourists are probably the minority. That being the case, why does it matter that it’s written in English? Just because it is written in English, the celebrities in question suddenly come to represent Iceland as a whole in some sort of ‘us versus them’ scenario: “Iceland is degraded in many media every day all over the world. Have we now started doing it to ourselves?” she asks. Honestly, I just don’t know where to begin picking holes in that question…Maybe the fact that self criticism is not a bad thing and that it is not the media’s job to mollycoddle you. And, as somebody who reads foreign coverage of Iceland every day, I can tell you that a majority of it is currently unreasonably complementary. We are being praised for letting the banks fail, praised for prosecuting Geir Haarde, praised for going back to basics, praised for the Pots and Pans revolution and praised for standing up for our rights in the EU application. It seems sometimes that the foreign press has even rosier tinted glasses than you do when it comes to Iceland, Tobba.

Words by Alëx Elliott

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