Governed by fear or humour?

What happens when the general public gets fed up and thinks enough is enough?

A lot of people never thought Trump would be elected and many people also thought Brexit would never go through. But it shows you should never say never. People were fed up with the situation and wanted a change. That’s what they got. Without really knowing what sort of change they were voting for.

Today I am mainly going to talk about examples from Iceland where the general public had enough and how it presented itself.

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Blissfully unaware

By the end of September 2008 I was in a hospital in the east of Iceland. I had just had my first child. My beautiful baby girl. She refused to come out naturally and therefore I was wheeled into an operation room and she was delivered by C-section. After the operation I had to recover so I stayed in the hospital for a week. Maybe it is just me but after having my first child all I talked about was how well she took the breasts, how many nappies we changed, how well she slept and whether she was getting air out by burping. I completely forgot there was a world out there. After 6 days in the hospital I realised this and decided I needed to ask people what was going on with them as well. I didn’t have a TV in my room. You  also have to understand that this was before the times of smart phones and people constantly being connected to the internet. That very same day my auntie called me and I blathered out this and that about my daughter, then I remembered my newfound realisation and therefore asked: “How about you guys, how are thing with you?

She angrily replied: “US!!? HOW are things with US??

Very confused about how I managed to insult her I carefully replied with: “….yes…

Again, very angry she replied: “EVERYTHING is falling apart! We have NO idea what is going on! ALL WE KNOW is that we are FUXXED like EVERYONE else!!

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After very cautiously asking her what she meant by that I got a little bit of the background to her reaction. Something had happened to the banks. I still didn’t understand what exactly had happened and asked my fiancé at the time to get us some newspapers. I could see in the papers all the main banks had gone bust. I still didn’t know what it meant but by reading the papers I understood it was not good.

Once I got home from the hospital, I turned the TV on and watched the news, the situation didn’t look good. Following the news was a comedy show. This was a weekly show that always made fun of the current affairs and what had been going on in Icelandic society since the last show. At this point Russia had offered Icelanders aid in the form of financial support. All the comedy sketches were tailored around that. In the show they pretended we had taken the support and Iceland had changed into an old time Soviet country. People were poor, they were begging and had food stamps. People were wearing worn out clothes and women had shawls on their shoulders and cloths on their heads.

Still not hormonally tuned I didn’t see it as a joke. I sat on my couch and cried, I hugged my baby girl and feared the situation I had borne her into.

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Protesting the Icelandic way

The financial crisis in 2008 hit Iceland very hard.

Icelanders weren’t happy. The government said too many people had bought flat screen TV’s without having the money. The people were blamed. Banks had behaved really irresponsibly but the general public had to pay. England invoked the Anti-Terrorism Act against Iceland due to Icesave and Icelanders were gobsmacked. A group called InDefence was formed and it fought against Icelanders having to pay for Icesave and tried to fight the image of Icelanders being terrorists. Pictures like this were posted on social media:

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Life quickly became harder and Icelanders were struggling. People were losing their jobs, homes and possessions.

It’s the only time I’ve been sincerely grateful for owning nothing and being relatively poor.  There was nothing they could take from me.

The society was boiling and ended up erupting like a volcano. Protests and demonstrations were planned. People flocked down to the city centre to protest the government. They felt like the government wasn’t taking responsibility or looking after the people of the country. The protests involved planned public speaking in front of the parliament and peaceful gatherings. Famous writers, journalists, business people and activists would lend their voice and join forces.

Thousands of people showed up every week and took part in what was called “The Pots and Pans Revolution”. It may seem harmless and quite comical, but it worked. People showed up with signs and whatever they could make noises with, they hit pots and pans with ladles and honked horns. Just whatever they could do to make noise and make it visible they were unhappy with status quo. It ended up escalating into a bit of a riot in January 2009, where windows of the parliament were broken, eggs were thrown, and 20 people were arrested. By April 2009 Icelanders got to vote a new government and the sitting right-wing had to resign and a left-wing government had a big job ahead of them as they needed to do a lot of cleaning up.

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Since then Icelanders have protested like that twice. First in 2016 when the panama papers were revealed, and the sitting prime minister was a big name in them. People called for elections, which they got and then again 2017 when the general public discovered that people in high places and linked to the governing party in the parliament had vindicated child molesters. They had declared these molesters were now all better and vouched for them behaving well and therefore they got a clean slate and a clear criminal record and could go about their lives as normal. This made people angry and they protested.

Influencing with fear

In both 2016 and 2017 the right-wing parties got to power again after being overthrown with protests. People were speechless. There was so much anger and turbulence but still the right-wing parties were going strong. (The Panama PM did not get voted back in and left politics for a while).

What had happened? Was it a loud minority or was there something wrong with the system?

I believe what happened was similar to what happened when both Trump got into power and Brexit became a reality.

When I did a philosophy course while doing my bachelors we had to look into power, power struggle and fear. I did a group assignment where we watched and analysed an hour-long interview with Teresa May and read loads of articles, just before the elections in 2016. We also had a look at how Corbyn conducted himself but not in as great depths as May was the focus of our assignment. While watching the interview and looking at the articles it dawned on us, she didn’t talk much about what she wanted to do to better the lives of UK citizens, she didn’t go into depths of her policies. She used scare tactics and fear. She focused on the fact the UK would sink without her as a leader, that she was the one that knew what to do when it came to Brexit and that other parties were not to be trusted.

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The same happened in Iceland in the elections in 2016 and 2017. New parties emerged and smaller parties were gaining support. The big right-wing parties have a lot of capital and therefore started a campaign where they focused on trashing the smaller parties, there were adverts on YouTube and other social media which dragged up negative stories about the other parties and played on fear. In interviews they kept telling people the other parties didn’t have the experience they had and that Iceland would go bust again without their leadership.

And the scariest thing about these fear tactics is that they work!

Hopefully however, the results in all these cases will wake people up and make them realise they need to vote! They also need to see beyond the crap, which can be harder, but being informed and not just believing the one whom is the loudest can make a huge difference.

The Best Party

I am going to end this post on an example, also from Iceland, which I find humorous and shows what happens when people get fed up but have better choices than Trump to show their discontent.

The year was 2010 and it was time for City Council Elections. Promises had been made for years and were never kept. People were getting tired and felt like no matter who they voted for they would always get the same kind of government.

A new party emerged. It called itself “The Best Party”. The leader, comedian Jón Gnarr, said he had always wanted power and money. He also said he had always wanted to be in a position to be able to help his friends out. He said he had nicked a lot of the material on his manifesto from other parties like helping old people, women and the Less Fortunate but he also said he didn’t mean any of it and it was just a cover up. He hoped people wouldn’t take any of it too literally.

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So, there was a party that promised all sorts but did it as a joke and was always upfront about the fact they didn’t mean to live up to any of their promises. The party also promised to be different from other parties as it would be openly corrupt.

Here are some of the promises on their manifesto:

  • To improve the quality of life of the Less Fortunate: We want the best of everything for this bunch and therefore offer free access to buses and swimming pools, so you can travel around Reykjavik and be clean even if you’re poor or there’s something wrong with you.
  • Stop corruption: We promise to stop corruption. We’ll accomplish this by participating in it openly.
  • Effective democracy: Democracy is pretty good, but an effective democracy is best. That’s why we want it
  • Free bus rides for students and disabled people: We can offer more free things than any other party because we aren’t going to follow through with it. We could say whatever we want. For example, free flights for women or free cars for people who live in rural areas. It’s all the same.
  • Free dental services for children and handicapped people: This is something that is lacking, and we definitely want to take part in promising it.
  • Free access to swimming pools for everyone and free towels: This is something that everyone should fall for, and it’s the election promise we’re most proud of.
  • Take those responsible for the economic collapse to court: Felt we had to include this.
  • Listen more to women and old people: This bunch gets listened to far too little. It’s as if everyone thinks they are just complaining or something. We’re going to change that.

They made fun of all the promises and phrases other parties used like “sustainability” and “transparency”, which were hugely popular at the time.

This is Tina Turners’ “Simply the best” which they made their own lyrics to, it has English subtitles, but I have also translated it and you can see it below:

They won the elections and the party governed Reykjavík for 4 years. The Mayor, Jón Gnarr, was open about the fact he didn’t know what he was doing and when he was interviewed, he always had someone close by to call if he got questions he couldn’t answer, and he wasn’t shy about it.

I lived in Reykjavík at the time and it was colourful, Jón supported human rights and was vocal about that. He dressed up every year for Reykjavík pride and took part in the parade.

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If you are interested in knowing more about Jón Gnarr, here is a documentary about him:

When Icelanders voted for a new President in 2016 there was pressure on Jón Gnarr to run but he decided against it.

All of this shows that one does not have to use fear, even though it is a powerful tool. One can use creativity to provoke the status quo. When I go out to the world and hopefully start working in Public Relations I hope I can do just that, be creative, think outside the box and have some fun while I am at it!

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