Friday, August 08, 2014

Iceland is NOT an alien world...

Twice yesterday, I heard Iceland being described as 'an alien world' and 'a lunar landscape'. The people; one in a radio interview, and the other on an online forum, were both attempting to explain how excited they were by the landscape in Iceland, how different it was from anything they had experienced previously.

It was supposed to be a form of praise.

The problem I have with people describing Iceland in this way is that it creates an 'other' of Iceland. Iceland is an oft stereotyped country and its people are perceived in light of the stereotypes. Case in point, recently, with the Global Financial Crisis, when the people of Iceland ejected their Government and refused to pay back the debt of the scoundrels who bankrupted the country, it was explained away by suggesting something like that could only happen in Iceland (as if it has never, before, happened in the history of people on this globe).

There is a very strong focus on the landscape being 'other worldly', not of this world, but that is simply not true. In summer Iceland looks a lot like New Zealand or Hawaii, or any other volcanic island. Yes, it is cold in Iceland, but not as cold as it gets in the most of the rest of Scandinavia. Don't let the name fool you. Iceland gets down to around -10 in winter, but Norway, even in the South easily get down to -25, and in the North -40. It is windy in Iceland all year round, but that's what it is like on most islands. Islands tend to be quite windy - it is hardly other worldly.

This may look other world, but this is the beauty of Earth, let's claim it
(and protect it, please)
Photo by David Clapp
Have a think about the moon (think about the lunar landscape reference). The moon in arid. Iceland is anything but arid. The moon is dusty. You can't claim Iceland is dusty, muddy, yes, quite a bit, but dusty? No. On the moon you only weigh a fraction of your Earthly weight. I'm sure a lot of Icelanders wished Iceland offered that perk, but alas it does not. The moon is (as far as we know) uninhabited. Iceland is inhabits by 270 000 Icelanders and 50 000 Brits (only joking about the Brits).

So, it would seem Iceland actually has very little in common with the moon, or any other alien planet, for that matter.

The problem with creating an 'other', or more pointedly, a 'not us', of any country or nation, is that it sets that country or nation apart. It exoticises that country or nation.  Think about exotic for a moment. Things that are exotic often become the pawns of tourism. Now tourism offers a lot of benefits for poor countries (Iceland relies quite heavily on tourism since the Global Financial Crisis), but it also has dark side. You see, when a culture is forced to sell its exoticisms, it can become further entrenched in stereotypes. Once stereotypes become 'the norm', countries and people and growth and diversity and progress become less valuable.

The City of Reykjavík
Iceland isn't all berserk vikings and elves and barren fields of snow. Just as Australia isn't all jackaroos or surfies, or kangaroos jumping down the main streets.

Icelandic people - not actually alien, or lunies...
Yes, Iceland is beautiful, like so many other places on THIS DIVERSE PLANET. Yes, we came from Vikings (though mostly from farmers), and a great many of us will not outright discount the existence of elves (though most of us aren't in the habit of speaking to them regularly, either), and yes, there are barren fields of snow, but also a thriving city, and many, many bog ordinary little towns. Don't limit us to what we were a 1000 years ago, learn what we are now, today.

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Good Job!