Post-Irony wins the Reykjavík Municipal Elections


I had never heard the term “post-irony” until about two months ago, but the explanation I got was along the lines of “people taking a serious subject, making fun of the subject, but in a serious way” – a shorter version of this could be “ha ha only serious.” Wikipedia more deeply defines post-irony as “a technique that uses the juxtaposition of empty symbolism and loaded evocations to create humor whose roots lie not so much in the mocking of any one ideology proper so much as in mocking the stupidity that lies at the roots of the propagation of modern ideologies.”

The examples are numerous. 4chan, Anonymous, Encyclopedia Dramatica, Flying Spaghetti Monster,… any number of projects, assemblies and events all attacking the everyday monotony that envelopes serious issues – politics, religion, and so on – by ridiculing them to the point of sensibility.

Enter Jón Gnarr. I’ve never been a big fan of Icelandic humor, it being somewhat more slapstick than necessary, often lacking the intellectual element that makes the slapstick hijinx of Monty Python or Mel Brooks both entertaining and pointed. On occasion I’ve noticed that there may be slightly more to Jón Gnarr and his troupe than meets the eye. It’s not much, but there’s something. His recent TV series and movie humorously depicts some of the more sullen aspects of Icelandic life is portrayed through his somewhat ironic protagonist/antagonist Georg Bjarnfreðarson, a conflicted power-hungry know-it-all whose inability to see his own flaws repeatedly gets him into various degrees of trouble. Despite the fact that the humor is clearly manifest, there is an underlying level of attention to the plight of the average Joe. “Ha ha, only serious,” indeed.

And now Jón Gnarr is apparently going to be mayor of Reykjavík. His party, The Best Party, started campaigning on the platform of semi-dadaist hilarity, making absurd claims and having a party manifesto that included having free access to a public park (that is and always has been free), having a polar bear in the Reykjavík zoo. One item on their list of issues is “free access to all swimming pools, and free towels”. Below they explain that “this is something everybody is going to fall for, we’re very proud of this promise.”

Now it seems he’s run into a Lawrence of Arabia problem: Yes, he won, big time. The Best Party got six seats out of fifteen on the city council – the Independence Party got five, the Social Democrat party got three and the Left Green party got one.

This major victory means that they either have to come up with a really cool plan real quick, or start spilling their guts on what they’re really intending to do. They don’t have a pure majority, but both the Independence Party and Social Democrat party leaders have suggested that they will allow the Best Party to have the first move in making a coalition to run the city. A majority with Social Democrats would be slightly weaker but they are much more in tone with what few items of real political agenda have come out of the Best Party. During a TV interview last night Jón Gnarr started laughing when the reporter asked if the party had a libertarian stance. He said, “I’ve heard a lot of things, but not that one. People tend to read what they like out of our agenda. I’m really proud that people seem to have such vivid imaginations, but no, we are not libertarians.” (quotation from memory; I probably mangled it a bit, but that was the intake.)

This isn’t the first time a political platform of silliness has come into existence, but I don’t know if there are many other examples of them actually winning. One of my friends in Parliament pointed out that the Best party have been expressing some fairly interesting semi-Marxist ideas, but then again that’s not really surprising.

Nor is it particularly surprising that a political party made up of well known artists would win a major victory. The genius of their campaign was to select a logo that every Icelander sees every single day:

Some have said that the election results are a sign that populism is on the rise, but calling it “populism” is a horrible oversimplification of a fairly complicated issue, and is only geared towards protecting the interests of those parties that have lost favor with the electorate by virtue of being, oh, say, corrupt, incompetent, and naïve. Sure, there is definitely a populist element, but hey… this is representative democracy – it’s a dog and pony show by definition. You cannot complain over populism in a representative democracy system – it’s entirely equivalent to complaining about personality cults in dictatorships.

It’s impossible to say what it is we’re going to end up with, but it looks like we’re in for an entertaining four years, and quite honestly, they can’t be much worse than the previous majority. I for one congratulate the post-ironic movement on this success, and hope that you all enjoy yourself in the great weather that we’ve been having. I for one am sunburned.