There seems to be a lot of Sweden in our lives these days. Not just Dragon Tattoo people our television is full of Swedish and Scandinavian drama; it’s as though they have found the zeitgeist all of a sudden.
I went to Sweden many years ago, when I was nineteen in fact. My brother and I took my little red corvette there and we tried to drive to Lapland. We made it too; drove through the woods and forests amongst the Sami reindeer herders. Smashed the suspension on the ‘roads’. We were aiming for Tanum to see the incredible rock carvings; even back then I was interested in prehistoric man and his means for leaving his story behind. I haven’t been back but later in life we imported a lot of stuff from Sweden, well engineered, beautifully designed. Not cheap, but why should it have been.
The population is around ten million and it is the seventh richest country in the world. Moreover, using the geni coefficient the wealth is remarkably evenly distributed among the population. Unlike some places we could mention. Interestingly, there are few public corporations; there are no BP Petroleums or HSBCs. Most businesses are in private hands, like Ikea and Volvo Truck and Bus. They are taking more than their fair share of immigrants and asylum seekers at the moment although there are fewer than twenty-thousand Jews in Sweden in a population of ten million. So perhaps they are not quite as laissez-fair and welcoming as they would like us to think.
This post was triggered by a dreadful television programme I think it was called Art of Scandinavia which looked at culture and art in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The guy in front of the camera was Andrew Graham Dixon who seems to be the BBC’s go-to guy for anything to do with art these days. I have been to all three countries and honestly, I could have done so much better. It was like he had been sent off to do a programme on a subject he knew nothing whatsoever about and had to rely completely on research. There was no intuitive feel for the place or real empathy for the culture that someone eg a Swede might have had. Beyond awful. Completely misunderstood the place of Strindberg in Scandinavian theatre . . . I mean it’s still coming down to us in these television dramas like Thicker Than Water. Thought Ikea was a major company well it is . . . but Sweden is one of the worlds largest arms exporters. They would all be dependent on food banks if exports of wood products were the basis of the economy. And way too much emphasis upon Skandi crime; I mean, who cares?
Meself, I think it’s the War. Sweden went neutral in the War, Norway and Denmark suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans and if you haven’t come through the fire to the other side then you end up like Sweden. Not complacent exactly in all my dealings with Swedes I have found them very pleasant, more I don’t know . . . self-possessed and not in a good way. Spiritually empty? Definitely distant. And closed-off. What is surprising really is that there is any art at all; they don’t seem to go in for self-expression much.