Today Jón Gnarr, Icelandic comedian and the world’s coolest mayor, steps down after four years in the job. While this is disappointing, the fact that he held the office at all is something to celebrate. Jón heralded a new era of politics and inspired those who had never been interested in it to participate. In a time of declining voter turnout, growing disillusionment with our existing democratic processes and the desire for something different, Jón and his Best Party have brought us honesty, hilarity and hope.
Having followed his career with interest and excitement, early last year I sent Jón a Facebook message requesting to meet when I was in Scandinavia. I wanted to find out how we in New Zealand could learn from the novel ways he and his colleagues engaged the Icelandic people. How can we make politics more interesting and accessible to the average citizen?
Iceland and New Zealand could not be further apart geographically, but there are some significant similarities between them. Both island countries have relatively small populations, historically liberal identities, geothermal activity, powerful neighbours and more sheep than people. I hoped that visiting the Nordic countries could help me see how we could translate some of the good stuff that’s happening in the extreme north into the extreme south.
Iceland, like New Zealand, punches above its weight in the international arena. It jailed some of the bankers for their involvement in the economic crash, it was led by the first openly lesbian head of government and it is at the top of the Global Peace Index. We too have a proud history of leading the world in progressive change. We were the first country to grant universal suffrage in 1893, we established the model welfare state to protect workers and our vulnerable during the Depression years, we stood up against French and US nuclear testing and we helped to raise the awareness that in part led to the dismantling of South African Apartheid.
Iceland was devastated literally overnight by the global financial crisis in 2008. It is within this context that Jón Gnarr made an historic entrance into politics.
Like other countries, Iceland has struggled with problems of inflation, the value of its currency the krona and inconsistent interest rates. However, in the last two decades Iceland has become renowned for being one of the wealthiest European countries with its inhabitants enjoying a very high standard of living. Much of its economic prosperity can be traditionally attributed to the strong fishing industry. Following the deregulation, free-market reforms and privatisation policies of the nineties and noughties, the economic success of the country became increasingly dependent on its banking sector. Iceland’s banks and businesses sought to capitalise on the global credit boom and lower foreign interest rates by expanding its investments into overseas companies and financial institutions. The outcome of this is that by 2008, Iceland’s three biggest banks Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir held foreign assets (and related liabilities) to the value of approximately 10 times that of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. While this investment abroad by the over-sized banking sector undoubtedly played a large part in building up the fairy-tale affluence of the country since the turn of the millennium, it also over-exposed Iceland’s economy and thus made it dangerously vulnerable to any international economic recession.
Following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions in 2008, the financial crisis spread around the world almost instantly. Banks halted their trade and lending with one another and debts of outrageous proportions were called in. Iceland’s banks had their fingers in many of these pies, and they got burnt.
By October, the value of the krona depreciated drastically and the banks could not afford to repay the debts they had incurred. The Central Bank could not support them as it was also directly affected by the credit crunch, and the enormous size of the private banking sector meant that unlike other countries such as the United States, the considerably smaller Icelandic government was incapacitated and unable to offer bail-outs. In a word, Iceland’s once enviable economy was now fucked. Its banks were ordered to sell off their foreign assets, which created huge problems for entrepreneurs and businesses throughout Europe that were reliant on Icelandic investment. Shares were suspended, Iceland’s stock-market plunged 90 percent, unemployment increased nine-fold, inflation shot up to 18 percent and its biggest banks, which had once been so lauded, failed spectacularly. Iceland, which had so recently been able to boast about having the healthiest public finance sector in the OECD, suddenly had to contend with holding the second worst public debt to GDP ratio.
In response to the financial catastrophe it faced, Iceland took actions that were markedly different to those made by other European countries and the US. As the scale of the disaster became clear in early October 2008, the Prime Minister Geir Haarde promised on national television that “…the Icelandic nation and its future takes precedence over all other interests.” This statement was realised in practice over the following months and years. The major banks were almost immediately nationalised and brought under government control. Iceland requested an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund and later established strict capital controls. More interestingly and controversially, the government held a referendum through which the people articulated their disgust at the irresponsibility of the banking sector and overwhelmingly rejected a scheme that would force Iceland to repay most of its debts. Reflecting in 2009, Iceland’s President Olafur Grímsson said, “The difference is that in Iceland we allowed the banks to fail. These were private banks and we didn’t pump money into them in order to keep them going; the state did not shoulder the responsibility of the failed private banks.” Although this unconventional course of action has drawn criticism, particularly from the European Union, there is no denying that the slowly but surely recovering economy of Iceland owes its life to it.
The referendum was largely brought about by mass protests that resounded with the clashes of pots and pans outside the Althing, Iceland’s Parliament. This “Kitchenware Revolution” also led to the resignation of the Prime Minister and the dismantling of his entire right wing government that up to this point in February 2009 had enjoyed 18 unbroken years of power. A new left wing coalition government led by Social Democrat Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (incidentally Iceland’s first female Prime Minister and the world’s first openly lesbian head of government) was elected in April. A Constitutional Assembly and Council were also formed to write a new crowd-sourced constitution based on the notion of collective intelligence. This constitution would replace the old one which was almost a carbon copy of Iceland’s former Danish rulers’. The finer details and referendum results about this new constitution are still being worked out.
In keeping with its courage to do things differently, Iceland has not been frightened to deal with the bankers harshly. The US government and others throughout Europe have largely failed to bring to justice those whose risk taking, speculation and financial mismanagement led to the crisis. Iceland’s bankers and regulators can be a very cliquey group. The positions of Prime Minister and Central Bank Chairman have both been held by one man, David Oddson. The public outrage in Iceland against this group of “banksters” forced the new government to establish an unnamed special prosecutor whose role it is to indict those deemed responsible for creating the catastrophe. More than 200 people, including the former CEOs of the three largest banks, face criminal charges and indictment. The hazy legalities of the situation and the difficulty in proving intent makes it hard for the investigators to be cut and dried in convicting the culprits, but a handful of bankers have already been charged and incarcerated for the part they played. The former Prime Minister Geir Haarde also had charges of negligence brought against him, but while these were eventually dropped he was indicted for neglecting to inform the parliament about the extent of the problems in the lead up to the crisis.
It was within the context of this financial and political upheaval that Jón
Gnarr emerged as a potential player in Icelandic politics. His name has been familiar in Icelandic households for decades, but as someone to laugh at on television, not to follow in politics. But perhaps a career in comedy is the perfect basis for one in public office…
Jón Gnarr does not fit within the usual lexicon of politicians. He has not planned his life around a political career and he has not been trained to speak with a silver tongue, forming comforting words that slick over vague answers to sharp questions. Better still, if he doesn’t know the answer to such a question he acknowledges this honestly, and either promises to find out the answer or replies with a smile that he has people who know about such things. One Reykjavik local told me that he wasn’t sure if Jón was the right man for the job. It didn’t seem right for a comedian to be the mayor. Everybody knew and liked him, but he was that funny guy on television that you occasionally ran into at the pools. I asked if he felt that Jón’s comedian status and approach had been a problem since he became mayor, and after some short consideration he conceded that actually Jón was doing a good job but the situation was just a bit weird…because what qualifications did he have to run the city? I decided I would put that question to Jón himself when my friend Matt and I met him the following day.
The fan-girlish anticipation that had been building in the months leading to my meeting with Jón Gnarr overwhelmed any disappointment that I felt when he greeted us wearing neither the Icelandic women’s national dress from the previous Saturday’s Pride Parade nor his famous Jedi outfit. But despite the fact that he was immaculately well groomed for a punk and wore perfectly presentable smart-casual clothes, he did not disappoint. Jón’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a normal guy, and that is what makes him so spectacularly different to other politicians. It is what enables him to cut the crap, tell it like it is and bring back some humour and hope to the otherwise boring and stuffy world of politics. It is what inspired me to send him the Facebook message to request the meeting and consequently to traipse all the way across the world to keep the appointment.
We began with the obvious question: What made Jón decide to leave comedy for politics?
Before the 2008 recession Jón did not follow politics in detail, but the crisis compelled him to read the news religiously and to educate himself as thoroughly as he could about what was happening. In a 2010 radio interview, he elaborated on this: “It began two years ago, and I started going to websites, reading the papers and trying to somehow understand it all. I started to follow this and it began to dawn on me what I have always known: that politics is such a big joke, and great theatre. And I really wanted to do something, to have an influence and maybe change the mind-set, so that people would become more normal and start speaking a language you can understand. And I wanted more sincerity and to make fun of all that I considered to be wrong in all of this.” Like all Icelanders, Jón experienced the effect of the crisis, and he felt that “someone had to do something”.
“Doing something” for Jón Gnarr was to create the Best Party (or Besti Fokkurinn in Icelandic) in November 2009 with a bunch of his mates; a motley crew of various artistic types. Highlighting the ridiculousness of the political scene in Iceland and elsewhere, the Best Party promised to be openly corrupt, unlike all other political parties which are secretly corrupt. As vowed, their platform was based on the non-policy of not promising to uphold any of their policies. These range from “Free bus rides for students and cripples” to “A drug free Parliament by 2020!” and “Free access and towels in all public swimming pools!” A brilliant joke on the surface, but the foundations of their policies are the very serious concepts of human rights, pacifism and empathy, or in Jón-speak “All kinds of things for the unfortunate!” He was attacked for being ambiguous about this last statement, but he defended it articulately. “[It means] just what it says. If a city or a society can’t take care of those who are down and out, what can such a society then do? We were going to conquer the world but we couldn’t build decent housing for our criminals, for instance. But we were going to build convention centres… thinking big.” Amen.
When lined up beside the leaders of other contending parties and told asked why the people of Reykjavik should vote for them, instead of providing a carefully rehearsed soundbite Jón quite simply said “I see this campaign as a choice between a bright and fun future with the Best Party, or whether people want to destroy Reykjavik.”
Six months of haphazard anarcho-surrealist campaigning later, the Best Party won the majority of votes with 37.4 percent in the 2010 Reykjavik municipal election, securing six out of the fifteen seats in the Council. “Hooray for all kinds of things!” With these they were able to form a coalition with the left wing Social Democrats, who have all presumably watched the best television show “The Wire” as Jón publicly refused to go into coalition with anyone who hadn’t seen it. Critics have claimed that Jón and his Best Party only won the election through protest votes, but he believes that although some would have been protest votes, the majority were considered and intentional because “everybody just wants what’s best.”
My interactions with Icelanders make me agree with Jón. I was astounded by the level of engagement that the people had with the social and political situation of their country. Young and old, partygoers, bartenders and taxi drivers all seemed knowledgeable about or at least interested in these things. Everybody had something to say. Twice I caught a taxi with drivers who pulled up and turned off the meter just so that they could discuss politics and their mayor with us at four o’ clock in the morning. One even showed us Youtube videos of Jón’s comedy skits from his past life and translated them into English for our amusement. The locals I spoke with were proud to have Jón as their leader, even if some didn’t agree with everything. One of the drivers instructed me to tell Jón not to reduce the size of the roads for bicycles because it makes it too hard for the buses and taxis to navigate. “He should know this already because he used to drive cabs too. But tell him from me it’s a bad idea. Everything else he’s doing is good though.” They are proud that he is different from other politicians, they are proud that he is normal, they are proud that he is one of them. They can connect with him.
When I relayed such stories to him, Jón explained that Iceland’s exceptionalism might be because Iceland is such a small country, and everybody there knows each other. It is easier to engage with issues if you know the people involved in them. “We are only 320.000 and practically everyone is friends on Facebook.” However, Jón was quick to lament that this engagement is sadly declining. “I have four children between the ages of 21 and 27,” he told us. “They aren’t interested. They care about what I do because I’m their father, but their interest ends there. They have never even been to visit me in these offices.” He also pointed out that the 2013 parliamentary elections had a turnout of only 81.44 percent, the lowest since the republic became independent from Danish rule in 1944.
This was still a higher turnout than New Zealand’s last parliamentary elections in 2011, in which only 74.21 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. This is the lowest voter turnout we have had since 1887, before women gained the vote. It is shameful that we are two of the better democracies in the world, and yet rather than being proud and engaged our people don’t feel it’s worth participating in the democratic process, not even to tick a couple of boxes on a piece of paper once every few years.
I ponder this problem of civic apathy a lot and work with various groups such as RockEnrol to find ways to help engage and include young people especially in our democracy. It is certainly possible to lay part of the blame on the mainstream media, which in New Zealand presented the right-leaning and governing National Party as the inevitable winners just weeks before the election date. People, especially young adults, didn’t bother to vote because they believed the outcome was inevitable. Policies and messages are not directed at young people or minority groups. Our two largest parties are too similar to warrant changing the status quo. Political engagement is a luxury for those who can afford the time to care about it. There is a multitude of possible reasons but the one that I always come back to is that politics is just plain boring.
Jón had an interesting solution. “We can’t smash capitalism but we can learn from it. It’s actually a brilliant system. We can get people to vote by offering them free iphones!” I was skeptical, especially about the part of capitalism being brilliant, but I heard him out. “Like when you’re at the airport, and someone hands you a form to fill out about your experience in the country. Things like “How did you hear about Germany?” and “What was your favourite tourist activity?” You only fill it out because it has CHANCE TO WIN A FREE IPHONE at the top, and you’re bored. But when you complete it you write what you actually feel. It would be the same at the polling booths. Seduce people there with the chance of a free iphone, but once they are there they will vote with their conscience.” I couldn’t tell if Jón was joking or not but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.
The Best Party’s Ottar Proppe, who moonlights as a punk musician when he’s not politicking, identified the problem to a bewildered audience in a meeting during the party’s campaign. “We in the Best Party got into politics because we really were against politics. We found politics extremely boring, and we never knew of politics unless there was trouble, some scandal or some other mess, and it had become a bit like the drunk uncle who dominates the party.”
Not only is politics boring, but the people who sometimes dominate political or activist groups can alienate others and put them off wanting to participate themselves. This is exacerbated by the progressives’ struggle to unite to organise ourselves effectively against our common neo-liberal enemy. Perhaps this is because our causes that start out so hopeful and energised deteriorate into personality politics and squabbling over “I’m a better activist/feminist/socialist/anarchist/environmentalist/(insert your favourite -ist here) than thou” type arguments. A Marxist inevitably declares another to be a dictator, the conspiracy theorist gets paranoid and conspires a rumour that somebody else is an undercover cop, the Stalinists start using strong language about eliminating the weak links and the anarchists see this opportunity to set a couch on fire while the greenie politely suggests that everyone should just chill. Everyday people who would otherwise be sympathetic and helpful to our causes are put off, especially when they are branded as “privileged white middle class bourgeoisie” by teenagers who have conveniently forgotten that they too are privileged white middle class bourgeoisie. We’re all on the same side but we forget that sometimes and our campaigns are derailed. Ottar tackled this too, in the same breath. “This reminds me of the hey-day of the punk era. People started talking about what was real punk, and that so and so was not a punk, and that the other guy was playing disco and so on. From that point on punk died and everything since became boring misery… maybe it’s time for more punk and less hell?”
Yes please. It is possible to be punk and still work within the system effectively.
Jón Gnarr is walking proof of this. He sports tattoos and used to play bass in a punk band called the Runny Noses. If he must be put into a box then he considers himself to be an anarchist, or as Chomsky would define it a libertarian socialist. In his AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit.com, Jón responded to the troubling question of whether it is possible to be an anarchist and still work within the system to change it. “I am not an anarchist because it’s the perfect political theory. I am an anarchist because there is no such thing as the perfect political theory. For me it is first and most a job”. This is something he also made quite clear when I spoke with him. He has worked hard to fulfil the requirements of this job to a high standard, as he would any other job.
Before he became the mayor, Jón was a comedian, though he never saw that as a job. “I was born a comedian,” he explained to us. “It is part of what I am, who I am. It’s like being gay or left-handed.” But Jón is also very serious. “The attitude I sense towards me among politicians is that I’m a comedian. They think everything is a joke, that my life is some kind of a joke and that I live in a comedy bubble, but that’s far from the truth. I’m the father of five, I have a child in kindergarten, I buried my father, I had a child with a long-term illness… I was not a comedian then. I’m not a comedian when I pay my bills or when I’m raising my children. … Yes I’ve been poor, and unemployed and working and then lost my job.”
He is serious about things that matter, but laughs at the rest of it and encourages others to do the same. Jón sees comedy as a creative and productive way of thinking that makes people happy, and he hopes that since he took office the residents and visitors to Reykjavik smile more and laugh a lot. As he explained on Reddit, the campaign was “mostly about nonviolent communication, humanistic values like humour and the opinion that politics are a part of our society and don’t necessarily need to be boring. You can be funny and even silly and still be serious.”
The Best Party was attacked by the opposition and media for taking the piss too much and undermining the seriousness of the campaign. In a radio interview Jón responded to this accusation that they were completely serious but had resorted to jokes to attract attention. Ottar went on to further quash this by explaining “We’ve been told that some things are so serious and boring that you can’t touch them. and that other things are so crazy and irresponsible…I think it’s a misunderstanding. Everything should be enjoyable if addressed with the right attitude and with your heart in the right place.”
Unlike some career politicians, the Best Party peeps definitely have their heart in the right place and their attitude of nonsense and honesty is clearly effective. “We can’t compete with them on their level,” Jón explained me. “These people have been trained to debate, to shut down opposition in meetings. They don’t necessarily have very good social skills in their personal lives, but they have speech writers and they can debate. We will never win against them if we play their game.” You only have to watch the faces of the opposition and media lackeys in the documentary “Gnarr” when Jón confounds them with his nonsensical but honest attitude to see that it is effective. “Baffle them with nonsense,” he continued. “They can debate all they like, think quick on their feet and be good at constructing arguments, and you can’t beat them at that. But you can stump them with silliness. Then, when they attack you, be honest. Always be honest. Then when they attack you they just come across as if they’re treating an honest person like he’s an idiot. It’s brilliant.” He laughed, “The simpleton never fails.”
And it didn’t fail him. Jón surprised many by actually making a damn good mayor. “It was terrifying at first”, he reflected. He had the unenviable job of running the capital city of a country that had just stepped back from the brink of complete disaster, and he had no previous experience in anything like it. Jón was immediately thrust into endless meetings about the imminent implosion of the Reykjavik Energy Company’s finances. Like the banks, RE had gotten greedy and spread itself too thin. There were many long, boring meetings, but these meetings were too serious to just walk out of as he did during his campaign. Jón and his team stripped the company back to the basics, “got rid of the bells and whistles and all of that bullshit” and took it back to just providing electricity and hot water. “When people criticise or ridicule me for being a clown, they remember ‘Oh but he did that good work with Reykjavik Energy…’ and it makes them think. It’s good to make people think.”
There is method to the madness then. I asked him if he would take the Best Party onto a national platform, as I had heard a rumour that he was considering doing so. He replied that the Best Party isn’t really a proper party as it has no members or even policies, so a number of people from the Best Party started up a new party “Bright Future”. Unfortunately the conservative coalition won the parliamentary elections and are governing again. I face-palmed. “Why would Iceland vote them in again?” I asked. “Especially after everything that’s happened in the last five years! I try to understand but I just don’t!” Jón felt the same way: “One word: Populism. The conservative alliance promised to fix the problems. They won’t fix anything of course, but people want to believe. Sometimes I meet nice people, or they are my friends, and they’re conservatives! I ask them, “How can you be conservative?” It makes no sense, because they have empathy. Conservative governments don’t seem to have much empathy. Conservatives are successful because they stick together, they’re like a religious group with their fervour and loyalty.”
It must be difficult for him working with such a conservative national government, I mused. “Actually, it’s summer so they are on holiday and I haven’t had any meetings with them yet. I know what they think about me though. I’ve heard some things, and they’re not very nice.” He laughed again with a shrug.
How do we beat this populism? We can’t all be radical cross-dressing comedians.
Jón is a big fan of the use of social media. If you don’t have the networks or the money to run for office, then be creative. “Use Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, the lot. What has affected my anarchistic ideas most is the internet. And maybe there will rise a new idea of neo anarchism and I think and I hope that some sort of anarconomy will be the economic system of the future.”
What about protesting on the streets? “I don’t know if that works anymore,” he replied. “Violence definitely doesn’t work. The system is just too well-oiled and knows how to deal with opposition easily now. Look at Occupy Wall Street for instance. It’s faded from international media, even within the US. It was huge for a while. All those slogans like “We are the 99%”, they were so powerful, they still give me chills up my spine. But now what? It’s all been brushed over. The Pirate Party is also struggling, but I admire the platform and the hive concept. The powers that be know how to deal with this kind of opposition now. We have to really unsettle them. Not with violence, but with humour. And honesty. They don’t know how to take it, how to respond.”
Jón is probably most internationally famous for being outspoken on human rights and pacifism. He doesn’t know how to sell out for the sake of diplomacy because he wasn’t trained to do so. As he told the Reddit community, “The best thing about being mayor is getting the chance to really have a say. I try to use it wisely.” On the flip side, he also has to be a bit more careful about the things he says. This hasn’t stopped him from giving advice to other world leaders. “Be yourself. Don’t be evil. Show a little empathy.” The world would certainly be a much better place if more powerful people were themselves, weren’t evil and showed a little empathy.
The best thing about Jón is that he doesn’t just talk it, he really does walk it. In every year of his mayoral career he has proudly led the annual Reykjavik Pride Parade, dressed in full and beautiful drag in support of the proud and strong Icelandic LGBTQ community. This year he made a stab at the fervent nationalism of the conservative government that was voted in earlier this year. My first glimpse of him was at the Reyjkavik Pride Parade four days before this meeting, smiling and waving to the throngs while draped in the Icelandic national costume of a woman. Shortly before we met, Jón sought to terminate Reykjavik’s sister city relationship with Moscow in response to Russia’s atrocious lack of rights for the LGBT community, specifically the draconian bill banning “homosexual propaganda” that Putin recently signed into law. This came after he sent a letter to his counterpart in Moscow last year asking him to reconsider the banning of Pride Parades in Russia’s capital.
People often ask him why he fights for the rights of LGBT people, and his response when addressing last year’s Outgames in Antwerp was simple: “Why not? It just annoys me very much to witness bigotry, hate and violence – in whatever form it comes. Do we personally have to suffer injustice to be able to fight it? Empathy is at the very core of humanity. Occasionally I like to wear dresses. Some call it drag. I call it fun. What does that make me? The power pyramid in the world is something like this. At the top are white heterosexual men, next are women, followed by coloured people and disabled, and finally LGBT. At what meeting was this decided? It is unfair and stupid and we don’t want this anymore. We want a new meeting!”
Jón is able to put forth such profundities without pomposity getting in the way. He is honest and to the point. He doesn’t spout these grand declarations in support of human rights and peace in the way that Barack Obama might, for instance. He isn’t trying to be grandiose, he doesn’t want to be anyone’s hero; he just simply and calmly states what he thinks is right and kind.
Being seen to be so radical has perhaps caused a bit of frustration for him, because people expect that he can do anything now.
I said it must be hard, trying to please everyone. “Yeah, you have to get over that. People get confused between politics and law. They place too much importance on the influence of politicians, or of me as the mayor. Like the mosque that has recently been given approval for building. Some people are up in arms about it, demanding me to put a stop to it. But freedom of religion is in our constitution. If I used my political power to stop that I’d be sued! It’s the same situation with buildings such as that one with the excellent bar Factory that is being pulled down for hotels in the central city. It was sold years ago but the demolition plans were forced to stop in the recession. Now that the economy is recovering they are able to build again. I can’t stop it. The building’s owner has every right to knock it down, they couldn’t care less if there was a good bar there before. He owns it. If I used my influence to stop him, he would have the right to sue me for huge amounts, and then he’d still build! Some people don’t understand this, but it’s just how it is.”
I asked Jón if he had experienced any personal difficulties being the mayor, if it had impacted on his family life. He had been worried about this initially, but he is grateful that the media has stayed away from his family and just attack him instead. “Reykjavik is a small city and people will always recognize you, but no one bothers you. There’s not really such a thing as a celebrity here. I used to get a lot more bother from people when I was a comedian. Drunk guys coming up to me in restaurants would tap me on the shoulder and go “Hey! You’re that guy on TV! Do that voice! You know, the lady voice!” I try to avoid drunk people now. When Bjork was a superstar she couldn’t leave her house in London for fear of being accosted on the streets, but when she came home she could go to the swimming pools and everyone would recognize her and be proud of her, but no one would bother her.” (A little side note of interest, Jon and his wife are very old friends of Bjork, whose song “Joga“ is actually written about Jón‘s wife.)
“Oh wait!” Jón laughed. “There was one incident that was very surreal for me. I was in Chicago with my eight year old son, and I took him to the massive Lego store they have there. This young guy who worked there came up to me like he was star-struck, and said he knew about me from the internet. It was nice but very strange. Very surreal for me.”
That story made me blush because I was also a bit (read very) star-struck myself.
My allocated half hour with Jón Gnarr had extended to a generous hour and a half. He had been focused and unfailingly polite throughout the meeting, but I noticed that foot had been jiggling for some time and I was reminded of the attention disorders he was labelled with as a schoolboy. He posed with us for photos in front of the stencil that Banksy had gifted him when he won the election. Five minutes after we left the Town Hall he posted an article on his Facebook page about Icelandic atheists trolling a fundamentalist conservative who was visiting the country.
Jón Gnarr has undeniably been a new kind of political leader, full of beautiful nonsense and refreshing honesty.
Now we must be brave enough to try something different and bring in our own normal, honest, funny and empathetic politicians down here in New Zealand.
Miriam Pierard has been an activist since her high school days. She was most recently the spokesperson for Aotearoa is Not for Sale and is currently an Internet Party contender for candidacy.