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THE MEDIA IMAGE OF SWEDEN AFTER STIEG LARSSON AND THE MILLENNIUM-TRILOGY

JOAKIM LIND Cloudberry Communications AB, Stockholm E-mail: joakim@cloudberry.se SPEECH HELD AT THE STORYTELLERS OF SWEDEN ARRANGED BY MINISTRY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AT THE PRESS CENTRE AT ROSENBAD STOCKHOLM, NOVEMBER 22, 2012 www.government.se/storytellers

I have the great pleasure to introduce and moderate this next part of the programme about Swedish Noir and Prime Crime - a discussion about what the international crime fiction success means for the image of Sweden abroad. Before I invite and present the prominent crime authors I will start with a presentation of the findings in a media report I made earlier this year on behalf of the Swedish Institute about the media image of Sweden after Stieg Larsson and the international success of the Millennium trilogy. An English summary of the report is available from the Swedish Institute and their web Sweden beyond the Millennium and Stieg Larsson. -The report analyses and comments on how the image of Sweden is reflected in a couple of hundred articles and reports in foreign press writing about Stieg Larsson and or the Millennium. Stieg Larssons trilogy has as we all know been a global success. And we can see that together with other Swedish crime fiction stories, his stories have increased the interest in Sweden as a country - not at least in media. But this interest in the stories also rise questions about Sweden and the post-modern society. We have a very, very dark side, and I think youre only just finding out about it now. Magnus Betnr in The Telegraph, March 2, 2010, The dark side of Swedish society

The Swedish Institute has over the years received many questions about what a success like Millennium do for the image of Sweden since it gives a quite a dark image of Swedens society. In Larssons Sweden, the police are useless where they are not corrupt; the countryside is full of violent drug dealers; the rich are utterly unprincipled. It sounds like Mexico in the snow. This is no longer a clean, well-lighted place for Volvo owners. What went wrong? Foreign Policy, 2010-05-26, We're All Swedes Now Looking at what has been written in the foreign press about Stieg Larsson and the Millennium trilogy, a darker but probably also in some ways more realistic and multifaceted image of Sweden emerges. The readers know it is fiction. But references and parallels to contemporary society and history make readers to ask questions about what is true and what is not true. The interest in Swedish society is of course related to the interest in the authors life and the parallels readers tend to see between his life and death, the questions he dedicated his life to, and the trilogy. The stories are written by a journalist with a strong commitment to social and political issues, a commitment that Stieg Larsson transferred into a fictional world. It is as if his readers, right or wrong, think that he chose the format of the crime novel intentionally or not to be able to reach peoples with his concerns about the society through emotions. This interest has also given rise to a meta-culture. Within this meta-culture we come across, articles, blog posts, fan sites, non-fiction books and biographies. The stories continue to develop in new formats. And Lisbeth seems to go on as an superhero living here own life outside the books as an icon. Many of the articles commenting Stieg Larsson and Millennium also contain references to many other Nordic crime stories. Several articles also try to explain the phenomenon. And why Swedish or Nordic stories have been so successful. This will be discussed later today. The Millennium stories deal with social issues and challenges that most people, regardless of where they live, can identify with: corruption, abuse of power and injustice. Thats probably one explanation to how the stories have appealed to such a large audience.

Sweden becomes a manageable example of social issues and prompts audiences to reflect on matters such as power structures, gender roles, sexuality, equality and more. There are several ways to read the books. Some read them probably as a straightforward crime stories. They are written from a political-ideological perspective, but the books do not become didactic and hence do not put off readers. To write crime novels from a leftist perspective is on the contrary quite often a recipe for success. The trilogy takes a close look at the challenges involved in building a caring welfare state, and how it requires dedicated and critical individuals who do not solely rely on state and authority. But the books also have a mythological drama within and the storyline and the characters can be read on a more symbolic representative level. The bad guys in Stieg Larssons books are not only malicious as individuals they personify the evils of society. The men who abuse women become symbolic of female oppression and a symbol for bad society. These men are both examples of oppression and the structures that maintain an oppressive society. Nils Bjurman epitomizes the evil man in what could have been a good society. He embodies a society gone wrong, a society that has lost its ideological base. Bjurman is an attorney and guardian central roles in a society governed by law. But this is a guardian who rapes the woman he has been appointed to protect. Hans-Erik Wennerstrm and Martin Vanger represent the evil capitalists, the evils of capitalism and perhaps the evil in all economic structures. Henrik Vanger and Harriet Vanger are chosen to represent the good of capitalism. Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomqvist and other characters are the good guys they are symbols for good values and good society representatives. And in the end they win so the stories gives hope in individuals. Even if Sweden is more of an example or a scenery where the stereotypical image of a country makes a good environment for contrast, the stories still connect to Sweden and Swedish contemporaries. The Millennium story is highly place-specific. Theres no mistaking that we are in Sweden, seeing as Swedish culture, history, language and characters are a central part of the plot. Sweden is received through a filter of fictional thriller. 3

The Millennium series is also full of political and social perspectives that are closely associated with Swedish contemporary history. The books are littered with parallels to real events. Millennium can also be read as a map over Swedish history. Together with the geography it seems like a modern version of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson. The books contain information that ranges from positive to negative: a history of Nazi elements, independent journalism, anti-racism, a market for sexual services, etc. The notion of Sweden as a conflict-free model nation is shattered. A simplified picture is replaced by one that is more complex, darker and more exciting. It becomes evident that Sweden faces similar social and societal challenges as other countries. Lisbeth Salander is a criminal, hacking into computers, battering and killing people. But her crime is a prerequisite for justice and the common good to prevail. The story is about people who stand up for what is right and fight against violent patriarchal structures. It reminds us of the need to constantly question authority. The books are obviously also about men that hate women and violence against women. But they also seem to symbolise a country went wrong. Seems like opression against women is a central theme in commenting capitalist exploition - the bad capitalism. Sweden is portrayed as a nation with several historical traumas: Nazism, minister murders and unsolved crimes. The French press talks about Swedish isolationism and also uses the therm trauma. That these events and topics are becoming apparent and discussed is nothing bad rather the opposite. And in that way the stories serves as a kind of if not trauma therapy then at least therapy to reflect upon questions about contemporary questions connected to society and identity. In the French press, Lisbeth Salander has been hailed as one of the most influential women in the world. Stieg Larsson inverts the gender roles typical in literature especially the crime novel. The stereotypical female blonde has no place in the Millennium trilogy. Lisbeth Salander is complex. She personifies the story on several levels. She is representative of both the liberated and the oppressed woman. Sexually abused both as a 4

child and adult, Lisbeth becomes the avenger who gets back at her oppressors and fights the society that protected her tyrants. It is a society that brings out the revolutionary. Salander is sexually liberated from the traditional hetero-normative relationship form. From a Swedish perspective Lisbeth Salander might be the modern version of Moder Svea Mother Sweden as a superhero. Obviously Stieg Larsson was good at analysing contemporary debates and gave his representation in Millennium. And he was able to attract the worlds interest. The stories also being used to comment on current political questions. To conclude if I should summarize what I can see through the articles published all over the world. It seems like the Millennium stories, together with the interest in Stieg Larsson and the Nordic crime hype as a whole, have increased the interest at least from media in both Sweden and the Nordics. The stories seem to make good and makes us reflect on important questions on what kind of society we are building. --But working with this analysis, made me wonder [Introduce authors and questions.] : Joakim Lind Twitter: @jold E-mail: joakim@cloudberry.se

Report summary in English: http://bit.ly/sweden_beyond_the_millennium SLIDES: Slideshare

Creative commons (CC) Joakim Lind