Sunday, July 04, 2010

In Iceland, the Clowns Are Running the Circus

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America has long had a tradition of comedians running for public office, with varying degrees of seriousness and success.

Smother Brothers regular Pat Paulsen was known for his perennial presidential campaigns. (One slogan: "I've Upped My Standards. Now, Up Yours.") Columnist Dave Barry was also a frequent contender. (Slogan: "It's Time We Demanded Less.")

Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert actually went so far as to try to file for both the Republican and Democratic primaries in South Carolina in 2008. (He dropped out of the Republican race because of the $35,000 filing fee; the Democrats refused to let him on the ballot.)

Your Humble Columnist, let's remember, has also thrown his hat in the ring from time to time. ("Saturday Night Live" alumnus Al Franken doesn't make this list, by the way, because he retired from comedy before running a serious campaign to become the junior senator from Minnesota.)

But what would happen if a comedian ran a joke campaign for office - and won? To my knowledge, it hasn't happened in America yet, although I do admit to the possibility that Michelle Bachmann's career is some sort of extended comedy routine, or possibly a piece of performance art. Britain's Official Monster Raving Loony Party has had some minor electoral success, most notably in municipal council elections in the U.K.

But by far the most successful intentionally comedic politician has been Iceland's Jon Gnarr, whose so-called "Best Party" pulled down 43.7 percent of the vote in recent elections in the country's largest city, Reykjavik, thus making Gnarr the mayor and putting the other Best Party candidates (described by The New York Times as "a who's who of Iceland's punk rock scene") in charge of governing a third of the island's population.

It's been a tough couple of years for Iceland. First the economy crashed and burned in a particularly spectacular way, then the government was wracked by one corruption and cronyism scandal after another, and finally, just to top it all off, the world now blames the country for screwing up transatlantic air travel because that volcano whose name no one outside of Iceland can pronounce keeps erupting.

So maybe Gnarr, who once played in a punk band called "Runny Nose" and who's known for pranks like calling the White House, the CIA and the FBI (yes, ours) to see if any of them had found his lost wallet was just what the country needed to cheer itself up.

"We want a city that's cuddly, clean and cool, with topnotch stuff as a general rule," Gnarr and his -fellow Bestians sang in their campaign ad, a "We Are the World"-style music video which also promised "a polar bear for the Reykjavik Zoo" and "A drug-free Parliament by 2020." (some blog readers may need to click through the get the video in full screen):

Now that they've won their plurality, the Best Party faces the dilemma of the car-chasing dog who actually succeeds: Now that they've caught the thing, what do they do with it? First came the task of building a coalition government, although Gnarr solemnly insisted he wouldn't work with anyone who hadn't seen all five seasons of "The Wire."

And, he reassured the people, "No one has to be afraid of the Best Party, because it is the best party. If it wasn't, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that." Hard to argue with that logic.

Gnarr and his cronies may have started as a spoof, but they seem to be buckling down and getting serious about doing the work of governing. "I love this city very much so I really want to do a good job," Gnarr told Britain's Financial Times last month. The Best Party's plans include harnessing Iceland's plentiful geothermal energy to turn the city into a "hub for electric cars." And I hear they really are working on getting that polar bear.

In Iceland's most populous city, the clowns really are running the circus. It's almost enough to make Your Humble Columnist think of running for office again. After all, as I often say, "How hard can it be?" Hmmmm ... that might make a good campaign slogan. Anyone want to form an exploratory committee? And can you pick up some beer on the way over?


Fran said...

Oh my! You know, that actually gives me hope!

Anonymous said...

ever been to Reykjavik JD?

JD Rhoades said...

Never have. What's it like?

Dana King said...

Part of me is afraid for them, and a (larger) part says, "What the hell? Give it a shot."

Fran said...

One of my former students was stationed in Iceland, and when he left the service, he stayed there. He says it's the best place he's ever been, the people are friendly, the countryside is amazing, and he didn't ever want us to come visit and spoil his newly adopted country!