Amid the financial crisis, U.S. media outlets have paid extra attention to the two nations worst-hit in western Europe: Iceland and Ireland. Publications from The New Yorker to the A.P., and everything in between, have parsed the deflationary risks, excess housing, and fiscal problems. They've talked about the strains on social welfare safety-nets and rising unemployment.
And they've done so with lots of bloated and condescending scrim on how Ireland and Iceland are the magically quaint fairy-lands of leprechauns, vikings, alcohol, and the in-bred!
For instance, in Vanity Fair, top financial reporter Michael Lewis came out with these brilliant insights into the denizens of Reykjavik: those "mousy-haired and lumpy" people, one of whom he calls a "bearded troll," love to "drink themselves into oblivion and wander the streets until what should be sunrise." He describes "orc shrieks" emanating from a hotel room. Zany laws mean citizens have to "write to the government and quit" to "stop being Lutherans." And Icelanders, "sincerely" believing in elves, made an industrial conglomerate "pay hard cash to declare the site" of a smelter "elf-free."
Today, in the New York Times, veteran reporter Timothy Egan makes an equally enlightened assessment of Irish culture in his article about, erm, housing stock.
"Every village that had seen nary a rock wall or a cottage window unchanged suddenly had a cul de sac of insta-homes and a half-dozen O’Mansions," he writes. "Anyone with a mortgage could get rich in little more time than it took for a head of Guinness to settle."
Needless to say, the Irish and the Icelandic are, well, unhappy.
A online commenter on the NYT piece writes:
Yet more condescending, starry-eyed tosh from the New York Times regarding Ireland...Oh and, is it mandated by the New York Times editorial board, that every article about Ireland contain boilerplate about flowing pints of guinness and gap toothed peasantry? Perhaps the Irish media will take to writing colourpieces about New York in which the sky is compared to a swirling tankard of Budweiser.
New York magazine ran a take-down of Lewis' reportage from a more bemused resident of Iceland:
"His is a wild account of a backwards Nordic island populated by 'lumpy' and 'inbred' people who might force you to shower in scalding water or, worse, blow up a Range Rover. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were a sitcom waiting to happen. Unfortunately, none of this is exactly true."
At CounterPunch, Gregory Burris likewise takes Lewis down a notch:
"As I masochistically forced myself to continue reading Lewis’ article, I could not help but wonder: how did such a dimwitted diatribe ever make it through Vanity Fair’s editorial process? Did the editors really find it fit to print? Yes, unfortunately for us, they really did."