Jón Gnarr just won himself an election—we called him up to talk abut it
We begin by talking about celebrated TV show The Wire, which has for some reason become a sort of calling card for his campaign [as you constant readers might remember, Jón told us in the last issue that he would only consider working with politicians that agreed that The Wire was the best thing to happen to television]. He tells us that season one is his favourite, his most beloved character is Omar Little, that his favourite Wire-quote is “It’s all in the game, baby”, and that he feels television storytelling reached new heights with the series. He feels The Wire needs more public acknowledgment.
“Most brilliant accomplishments do not get the recognition they deserve until after the fact. People are busy or caught up in preconceptions that blind them from appreciating them. Like [great Icelandic author] Þórbergur Þórðarson remarked: “You can spot a genius from the fact that he is despised and snubbed by the majority.” Genius is often overlooked or disregarded. I think that is a big waste. You yourself can hardly be described as “overlooked or disregarded,” having just won the Reykjavík City elections and all. Does this mean you’re not a genius?
Well I haven’t... Ehrm. It’s of course an act of genius to form a political party in December that goes on to become the largest one and win an election in May. That’s pretty genius. How does it feel to win an election?
It’s a good feeling. It’s been very fun; an interplay of certain factors that I feel are very valuable somehow managed to come together harmoniously. It also feels good to have gotten all these good people to join our ranks and to stand by me and believe in this; to be ready to give it a chance and even try and understand what I was all about. To take a risk. It is not a given that people would do that. Did you have a timed action-plan for winning the election since starting the party in December? Or was it all improvised?
It wasn’t improvised, but I didn’t study Machiavelli or anything. I’ve never read him. But it was focused and rather thought out from the beginning. My plan entailed winning a clear majority with eight seats, which I didn’t accomplish. Perhaps this failure can be ascribed to some mistake I made in the campaign. If everything had gone according to plan, I would have won eight seats. The environment and public perception of your party changed a lot from the time we conducted our interview three weeks before the election until it was published a week before the election, and then in the week leading up to it. There was almost a sea change in the discourse every week—it went from humouring you, to angrily questioning you, to being sort of panicky...
Lev Tolstoy has been a great influence on me, especially his religious and philosophical writings. There is a famous phrase from Ghandi that is rooted in him: “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they attack you, and then you win.” And I sort of observed that process and feel it corresponded to how our campaign was received.
Because I felt I was going forward in total honesty and non-violence. I took great care in not speaking ill of any man; I take the non-violent, non-aggressive route very much to heart. What was your experience of the public’s—and especially the political parties’—changing attitudes towards your campaign over the last month?
I made one discovery. I’ve often wondered about the concept of politics and ideologies. Of living by ideologies, like politics and political parties often entail. I’ve tried most of them on, but never completely identified with any of them.
I agree with parts of every political ideology, except the really nasty ones. I do not agree with racists or fascists or any of that. But in every corner of ‘conventional politics,’ I’ve been able to find a lot of things I can agree with. I can agree that we as a society should protect and take care of those in need, and I can also agree that entrepreneurs and creative people should enjoy the fruits of their labour. The left and right extremes.
My discovery through this campaign was this: the line between ideals and personal interests is, with many people, often very thin when examined closely. When pushed, people will protect their self interest, but refer to their ideals in justifying themselves. This is dishonest. They do not want to admit to being driven by their own selfish interests, so they attempt to place them on a higher pedestal by calling them ideals.
This is a concept I’ve been interested in for a while, interests versus ideologies, and I’ve played with it a bit. For instance with the [infamous] character Georg Bjarnfreðarson. He is a big idealist, and his every action is motivated by protecting his self-interest. I think that is interesting, and it is revelatory to learn that it indeed goes on to the extent that it does in our society. This dishonesty.
The truth is always a liberating force, even though it may be painful and uncomfortable at times. It is always for the better. As Jesus said: “The truth shall set you free.” It is the greatest threat to any kind of evil—I can attest that from my personal life—while the lie is the queen of evil.
Nazism was all based on a lie. The lie begets irresponsibility, which breeds evil. Everyone is free to act as they will—those that are no longer responsible or accountable can be so evil, and they can always find someone to blame for their misfortunes or their actions.
Righteous rage is the vilest form of anger. Every bit of human wisdom indicates that anger is to be avoided; it is indeed one of the seven deadly sins. Yet all of the sudden we find ourselves living in a society where anger is almost considered a virtue, where it commands a degree of respect, even. In the media, one hears phrases like “peoples’ anger is understandable,” and “of course everyone is burning up with rage”—as if we’ve released this monster and it’s just fine? Everyone keeps on living their lives as if it’s alright that we have a society that is sick with rage and anger. As if that’s just right? It isn’t.
Anger isn’t creative or nourishing. It is like sustaining oneself on junk food or candy. You feel energized and full for a while, but it contains no nutrition or sustenance. And then there is the inevitable sugar-crash. You say true. How were the party leaders’ reacting to you that last week before the elections?
They didn’t care too much for me... the joke was wearing thin for them. And I sensed that pretty well. How about after the elections?
That was more... everyone seemed to be in a state of denial and shock. They didn’t fully comprehend what had just happened. At many times, I sincerely felt sorry for them, for having to be stuck with me in this situation. Immediately after the elections, you launched the ‘Better Reykjavík’ web (www.betrireykjavik.is), which is a forum for citizens to suggest what issues the new majority should focus on. It is a very cool initiative. Will it be translated into English and other languages so Reykjavík’s community of immigrants and new Icelanders may contribute?
Yes, we do plan on translating the site as soon as we’re in power and we have the means to do so. We also want do many more things to service this community. Every good thing in Iceland has come from abroad. It’s always been like that—it’s what Icelandic culture is made up of, and it’s created a diversity within our society. Ever since the island was settled. Our forefathers most likely came from abroad, you know.
Foreign influence enriches our culture and contributes greatly to creating a harmonious, diverse and multi-layered community. Enriching our culture is a personal ambition of mine, I am a fan of diversity and I abhor uniformity. A diverse community makes for a mature society, which is what we should strive for.
---Speaking of diversity...Reykjavík Muslims have been waiting to build a mosque for almost a decade now....
I don’t see the Muslims of Reykjavík building a mosque as being any sort of problems. They should have their mosque—we should enjoy total freedom of religion, and everyone should be free to worship according to their beliefs. I am not familiar with why they’ve had to wait for so long, but they hopefully won’t have to wait any longer. At least not if I have any authority on the matter. Do you think the people of Reykjavík will start experiencing any change as soon as this summer?
Well, yes. They are already experiencing change, with the rising atmosphere of hope. And our plans are that people will start noticing tangible change very soon. A lot of people are interpreting the election results so that you’ve struck a deathblow to Iceland “four party system”. Was killing “the four party system” an ambition of yours?
I have always thought a lot about politics, and read a lot of political theory. I wanted to try creating something new that could be a viable option for people to get behind. An ideology will never be sounder than the person that’s enforcing it; I therefore think that our political ideologies have been drowned in our politicians’ self-interest. I feel they have been guarding their self interest, and cloaking it with ideology.
If The Best Party was an attack on anything, it was an attack on the two-faced duplicity and dishonesty that has been allowed to fester in our culture, and which always inevitably leads to disaster. Because the lie is the root of all evil, and always leads to disaster.