Scandi Noir: boxset viewing and its impact on cultural perception

My perceptions of Nordic countries have changed, irrevocably, and it’s all the fault of the Scandinavian Noir explosion in TV and literature, the sudden and huge interest in Jo Nesbo, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Killing and such like.

I grew up in the UK, but a fair proportion of my cultural diet came from the States. Alongside Bagpuss, Kes, Grange Hill, Pepsi and Shirley from an early age I consumed American TV, American movies, American music. Even though my favorite childhood TV program was Japanese, it was re-imagined and dubbed by American producers*.

The first time I visited the States I was in my mid twenties. I remember being astounded to find myself stepping into the world which all that media had created in my head. The fire engines really were that shiney and chromey, the suburban houses really were that wooden and uniform, the clothes really were that baggy and oversized. Etc. I remember it being very easy to fantasize along the lines of familiar movies: to think that that the soccer mum and her three kids had a wholesome, mawkish and quaintly amusing family life, that the guy in the suit was a part-time psychopath, that the guy in the baseball cap was an undercover cop packing a pistol. I was really aware of what was happening, of how I had been taught to see these narratives and themes by all the movies I had watched. It was a lovely game. I had a spurious mental model, a conception of America which I knew was a fiction. I could relish this fiction, look out for it and play with it. I could really easily imagine that the narratives of drama and of fantasy were playing out in front of me. I pretended to myself that dwarves were going to start speaking backwards to me, that German guys with pony tails were going to urinate on my rug.

The Nordic countries have been a fairly constant fixture of my life for the last ten years or so. I’ve done a lot of work for Nokia and Bang and Olufsen which has taken me to Helsinki and Espo and of course Copenhagen. I’ve worked with a series of wonderful researchers, designers, marketers engineers and strageists from the nordic countries, and have even had the pleasure of researching Finns, Danes and Swedes**. To me, these countries and cultures always seemed very civilized: quiet, liberal, non-judgmental, sophisticated yet practical. The narratives I had to draw on to help me make sense of these countries were the stuff of generic northern European fairy tales.

The sudden dominance of Scandinavian thrillers in literature and TV have flicked a switch in me. Forbrydelsen, the Bridge, TGWTDT, Ahne Dahl and Borgen have changed the way I think about Nordic countries and the way I daydream when I’m visiting.

I realized this was the case on a recent trip to Sweden pretty much as soon as I landed at Arlanda- the well appointed, modern airport 25km north of Stockholm. It was as expected: neat, with occasional flashes of Scandinavian design, full of tall, beautiful people, close and comfortable and modernly efficient. but it had changed since my last visit; it had become pregnant with possibility. I could see dead bodies in the loos, men in suits became political assassins: everyone with a hidden a life, a dark secret to betray their seeming normality.

The deep, deep platform for the express train into downtown Stockholm became claustrophobic and closed, but rife with possibility. Even with the handful of people waiting with me for the train, the platform was lonely and isolated. Even given that I was closeted in deep rock, it felt open, like a hoody wearing wraith would swoop in any second to inflict some unexpected and unbelievable crime on me.

It would seem that it’s not just me fantasising about crime ridden Scandinavian cities. A few weeks after my return from Stockholm, I was comparing notes with another researcher who had also recently been to Scandinavia for fieldwork, in her case Denmark. She will remain anonymous. My friend had been briefing and watching focus groups. She too had been infected by watching too many jumper heavy Scandinavian crime boxsets. She*** recalled how her mind got carried away as she watched focus group participants talking about the in home drinks category:

“Frederick, a teacher originally from the Jutland but who had moved to Copenhagen was one of the more curious respondents. He introduced himself as 29, but single and without family, took on a whole new persona. Before Forbrydelsen I would have seen him as a bored respondent. It was late, Monday evening after Midsummer’s eve. The guys were tired and listless. They were trying, but towards the end were struggling to engage. This one guy in particular stood out, and became object for my projections. He was actually, probably, really just a bit bored, had other things to do, slightly distracted, wanting to get out and get home, tired of being asked questions about when he’d drink whiskey as opposed to rum, and tired of being endlessly expected to explain what he thought was obvious. Frederick put on his coat, kept looking anxiously at t