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Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, University College London

Nordicness Noir

– The British Construction of a Scandinavian Utopia for the 21. Century

  • Name: Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen
  • Academic credentials: Senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Literature, Department of Scandinavian Studies, University College London

Abstract: When Nordic crime fiction travels abroad, it is consumed as a globalized cultural good, desirable for its blend of recognisable generic forms and its somewhat exotic local anchoring. A utopian “Nordientalism” may best describe the allure of “Nordic noir” in the British reception, where all-things Nordic have come to represent an imagined elsewhere, sampling everything from Nordic social values, sustainable life styles and well-designed consumer products, which can be accessed en bloc through the consumption of crime fiction. Parallel to the British interest in Nordic crime fiction over the past decade there has been much attention afforded the “Nordic model”. Several TV programmes, events and books have appeared in the United Kingdom portraying the Nordic countries individually and together as mostly utopian societies. For instance, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall hosted three episodes on Channel 4 (2014) about Nordic food and life styles with the title Scandimania. His tour of Scandinavia presented a veritable “nation-crush,” a “scandimania” for Nordic wellness, institutionalised egalitarianism, a dedication to sustainability, a strong sense of community and quality of life.

This paper will discuss how the reception of Nordic crime fiction, TV documentaries and a recent flood of popular books on Nordic societies and life styles present the Nordic region neatly packaged so that all recognisable elements—history, art, culture, food and consumer trends—appear mutually dependent, causal and, importantly, essentially local or regional. Nordic social realities are here treated as alluring, homogeneous, utopian and exotic tourist destinations.

This recent trend in popular ethnography, I shall argue, provides less in terms of real insights into the complex and changing Nordic social realities, of what it actually means to be Scandinavian in a post-welfare, multicultural, globalised world, than it does about trends in the receiving culture: the desires and dreams of a segment of the UK population, who find their own values challenged by the socio-political climate of an imagined more complex, wayward nation. The flood of journalistic and popular ethnographic explorations of the Nordic region in the UK can be viewed as an expression of a search for a lost sense of identity, a nostalgic longing for an imagined past society more in tune with pre-Thatcherite welfarist values, by way of consuming, appropriating and exoticising proximate cultural identities such as the now much hyped Nordic utopias. However, such nostalgic utopianism may also be found in the Nordic self-representations we find in several of the bestselling crime narratives.

As such, this paper will argue that constructions of “Nordicness” abroad pose both a challenge and an opportunity for “re-thinking Scandinavia” in a globalized twenty-first century.

Theme: Scandinavia in the Eyes of the World