Things are no longer what they were in Iceland. Some fishermen find a corpse, or, rather, what remains of it, in the waters of a town hidden in a fjord. At the bonzo, an activist sets fire to a minister in the heart of the capital Reykjavik. They even claim that a serial killer is behind several crimes. And that it operates a child prostitution network. What happens in one of the safest countries in the world?
Well don’t panic. Because these criminal acts occur in the fiction of series like Caught up (2015-2019), Case (2015) and The Walhalla Murders (2020). Yes, they all speak of this country with a cold surface and a warm heart, away from almost everything and that not only stands out in terms of security but also in gender equality and, above all, in income per inhabitant (59,910 euros, more than double that of Spain, 26,410).
In Iceland, where some 356,000 people live, there were only three homicides in 2018, which translates into a rate of 0.9 per 100,000 (figures from United Nations). A year earlier, four were committed and in 2008, none. The annual average from 2000 to 2015 was 1.6.
The fascination with crime
Many series critics are struck by the fact that countries with low homicide rates, such as Norway (0.5), Denmark (1), Sweden (1.1) and Finland (1.6), are the story factories where crimes are not only rife but can be quite gruesome. But being dazzled by Scandinavian quality of life indices can sometimes lead to deception.
In times of bad news due to COVID-19, it should be noted that Spain and Italy have homicide rates lower than those of Iceland and close to those of Norway (0.6). And this makes us think that, perhaps, the Scandinavian paradox has already reached southern Europe. The Serie Malaka (2019) is a harsh and praised thriller set in the underworld of Malaga that could be seen on TVE.
The reality, behind the fiction
Returning to Iceland, let’s say that in the last decade it experienced somewhat new criminal acts (for that country). In 2013 the first shooting during which the police kill one person, a 50-year-old man who was shooting at them from a building. In 2017, one of the most shocking kidnappings in recent history occurred. The victim was Birna Brjánsdóttir, 20, who disappeared while walking through downtown Reykjavik. His body was found on a beach a week later. The justice sentenced Greenlandic fisherman Thomas Olsen to 19 years in prison for the crime. Maybe someone is preparing a series on this case.
Other details of the series have been materialized a posteriori in reality. In Caught up, one of the few Icelandic words that sticks to us is Lögreglan (“policeman”). In the second season, a woman runs the police force. In real life, last March, Sigrígour Björk Guojónsdóttir she became the first to command that public order force. Its 800 agents usually carry only batons and pepper spray, although, as the series shows, there is a special SWAT-style group.
Those who have many weapons, on the other hand, are civilians. In Iceland there are about 90,000 registered, although they are used more for hunting than to attack other people.
Some series portray suicide, such as the dancer from ballet who takes his life in Case. In Iceland, suicides far outnumber homicides. There are about 30 per year, which translates into a general rate of 13.3 per 100,000 (among men it rises to 21.7), according to the World Health Organization. Although lower than that of Finland (20.8), it is a little higher than that of Europe and double that of Spain.
The argument of Case he enters the waters of drugs, pornography and prostitution. In Iceland the clubs striptease they are prohibited because they are considered prostitution covers and those who pay for sex are also penalized. Yet again, the writers got it right: Iceland Review alert that the sexual offer through web pages increased between 2015 and 2017.
Coffee, alcohol, immigration
Of course, these series also show customs. In Caught up You will see that Icelanders drink a lot of coffee. And this is true: they consume 9 kilos of coffee per year and are only surpassed by Finland (12) and Norway (9.9), in a ranking where Spain appears with 4.5 kilos a year.
An alcoholic lawyer is the character of the series Court (2009). An unrepresentative case if we go to statistics, because alcohol consumption in Iceland (9.1 liters per inhabitant per year) is lower than in the United Kingdom (11.5) and Spain (12.7). The Icelandic government informs that, in 2015, 40% of its citizens drank with monthly frequency (in the European Union, 22%) and 20% with weekly frequency (EU, 40%).
Instead, it may draw more attention that corruption is now part of the Nordic plots, as in Caught up or the finnish Bordertown. According International Transparency, where 100 equals zero corruption, Iceland scores 78 points, less than Finland (86), Sweden (85) or Norway (84). Spain, in this aspect, is below with 62 points.
With about 50,000 immigrants (12% of the population), Caught up shows tensions with foreigners. However, Iceland is considered a country that treats foreigners very well, most of them Poles, although there are some Africans, as the series shows. Another curiosity: Baltasar Kormákur, creator of Caught up and director of Case, it is son of the Spanish painter Baltasar Samper.
It is often said that reality is stranger than fiction. But the fascination for the Nordic police, which includes series like the Swedish Wallander and the danish The bridge, and the novels of the duo Maj Sjöwall-Per Wahlöö or Camila Läckberg, leads us to rethink the saying. In some way, fiction is influencing reality.
Fernando Arturo Muñoz Pace is a professor of Journalism at the University of Palermo. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.