Adopted musician, Sweden, and two kinds of open access

November 19, 2008, [MD]

I spent a year studying in Sweden, and really enjoyed getting to know better our neighbour, that Norwegians always make fun of (they tell us the same jokes back, with Norwegians in the stupid roles, so it works both ways). I love the Swedish language, and often read Swedish novels, or download audiobooks (my latest experience was something like a total of 60 hours for the Stieg Larsson trilogy).

Norway and Sweden are similar in many ways, and we both have our public broadcasters, which show generally high quality shows with no advertising. They have also been experimenting with the web, perhaps inspired by BBC, and both the Norwegian NRK and the Swedish SVT (as well as the Danish DR) have began streaming their video, and producing podcasts and vodcasts. This latter is important for me, because living in Canada, it has generally been impossible to watch high-quality streaming video. NRK produces some great shows, that I would love to watch, but alas it is almost impossible.

Imagine how impressed I became when I checked out SVT’s website and saw something called “Play Prima“. At first, because of the title, I thought this was a system where you had to pay to access the material (this is common for Norway’s commercial channel, which uses payment by cellphone. Note that I would happily pay if I was able to watch content in high quality in Canada, but it’s only for streaming). In fact, Play Prima turned out to be comepletely free (and no sign-up, thank you) and offer very high quality streaming video of many of their TV series.

This is offered through a commercial provider (Move Networks), which has come up with a new way of streaming that is able to downshift and upshift quality very rapidly, and I am guessing they also have a global network of mirrors, something similar to Akamai. This is probably costing SVT a fair penny - then again, they have a mandate to provide quality programming to the Swedes, and since Sweden is one of the most wired countries in the world, it makes sense that the TV station has to follow. The advantage of the Nordics is also that their own programming is not in English, and therefore they don’t face the problem that BBC faces in justifying why the British public should pay tax money for the BBC providing great programming to the entire world (therefore, there is luckily no geo-ip blocking in place either).

All that background story to say that I clicked on a TV show randomly, and ended up watching a delightful three hour miniseries on an adopted African-Swedish boy whose biggest dream was to sign in a “Dansband“, a group playing a particularly Swedish kind of very “danceable” music. This music is seen as “very white”, “very Swedish”, and the biggest audience is older people in small towns - thus, traditionally conservative. The show follows Lennart during his travails, until he finally puts together his own group, and after much ridicule and prejudice is able to reach his goal. Not only were the series very well made, but they also included Fares Fares, a Syrian-Swedish who is one of my favorite Swedish actors, who has starred in several Swedish blockbusters.

After watching the series last night, I felt the need to read some of people’s and media’s reactions to it, and I googled around for a while. I chanced upon a thesis on the portrayal of adopted children in Swedish media, using this series as a case study, which luckily I was able to download from the Malmö University institutional repository. One of the points made by the thesis was that Lennart, as an adopted African, was culturally entirely Swedish - he grew up in a small town where everyone knew him, he spoke Swedish with a dialect, loved Swedish music, and felt uncomfortable in the “immigrant quarters” in Stockholm. Yet, everyone kept treating him as an immigrant with a different cultural heritage, and finally, although the ending could be seen as happy, he could only find success through a “dansband” made up almost entirely of immigrants… He could only be accepted as an immigrant, not as a native Swede.

I thought this was a very interesting point, and I was glad to have read the thesis to provide me with some perspective on the film. Turns out the author of the thesis was himself internationally adopted from Korea, who has later written about his own experience (in Swedish).

In the end I had two thoughts. The first was that I really appreciated the fact that I had, from Canada, gained a little insight into the national discourse on immigration, adoptees and racism that happens within Sweden - through two different kinds of open access. The first, making the TV series available online (apparently it was also viewed by 1,3 million people when shown on TV, out of a population of 9 million). And the second, Patrik making his thesis available in the institutional repository.

And I also wondered when I would see something similar from Canada. Hopefully racism is not as rampant here, but there are certainly enough issues of ethnicity to grab on to. The Little Mosque on the Prairie was quite good, and the book Banana Boys and the play based on the book, which I recently saw, were great. But there are many stories yet to be told!


Stian Håklev November 19, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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