Friday, April 4, 2008

Norwegian Delights

I have just spent the better part of two days watching a Norwegian television program called Norges Herligste. Norges Herligste translates to something like "Norwegian Delights," and no, the program isn't about lutefisk. There's more to Norway than lye-soaked cod. A lot more, as it turns out. American television has nothing on TV Norge. When was the last time you saw a scatological slide show on CBS?

Only the humorless and sourest of disposition would fail to find Norges Herligste an entertaining diversion, even if, like me, you don't understand a word of Norwegian. That's quite acceptable, because halfway through an episode of Norges Herligste you will feel right at home with the language. Certain universal experiences transcend words.

You will also marvel at how peculiar people can be when faced with not only alarmingly cold weather but also endless hours of daylight. Or perhaps Norwegians are just more open about broadcasting their eccentricities and revealing them on television. The country is full of comedic promise. Norway is a very happy place.

On Norges Herligste, it is never enough just to talk about what is going on. The hosts--musician/comedian brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker--are completely indebted to the desire of Norway's most eccentric citizenry to show off their quirks as one would show off a new baby. Beaming with pride, the people invite the brothers into their homes and into what can only be termed their highly unusual hobbies or lifestyles.

The show is filmed wherever the citizens are found, so the brothers travel around a country that looks quite benevolent if a little batty. With a thin, watery sun that never seems to quite come into its own, you quickly get the impression that the country places a premium on entertaining itself in simple, original ways. While the weather may not be the causal connection between people and their peccadilloes, standing out in stark relief is the constant American demand for greater, more sophisticated thrills. It's hard to imagine the average snowbound American finding persistent glee in a collection of owl figurines.

In America an elderly man who has written a 16,000-word erotic dictionary and has decorated his home with carved penises might be seen as a neighborhood threat, but in Bodø he seems like a kindly old uncle who talks a mean vagina over a bowl of homemade soup. Kiwi Bob obsessively stockpiles junk food from the local Kiwi mini-mart; tech geek Knut Motzfeldt hosts a Tuesday-night party at which he plays sounds of recorded flatulence, much to the delight of his guests.

Who's to say what is normal and what is not? The sheer pleasure people get from their hobbies crackles through Norges Herligste like electricity; it's hard not to get caught up in either their infectious enthusiasm or the brothers' mildly provocative encouragement. What separates Norges Herligste from American television is the sense that nothing is scripted or subjected to retakes or much in the way of editorial interference other than to add some small sound effects and music tracks. The natural tendency to make fun of the eccentric is kept well below slapstick level; neither the brothers nor the camera secretly nudges you in the ribs behind the subject's back. What you see is what you get, unlike on American reality television where things are often so heavily arranged for effect that truth is sacrificed to manipulation. Also, there is zero sense of impending catastrophe, something American TV would do well to stop exploiting. Our shows heave with such thick foreshadowing that one gets the impression the editors believe us to be a nation of idiots. Norges Herligste skirts by this type of cheap emotional deconstruction. The premise is simple: The subjects explain their hobbies to the brothers and then the brothers join in as much as is possible. It's derived from season four of the Swedish series 100 höjdare, where the hosts revealed their choices of Sweden's most original personalities.

With so much cheerful idiosyncrasy, it's hard to find a favorite, but after 12 episodes and over 50 personalities Norway's most delightful character appeared on the very first show, in an episode titled Tightsmannen:

Arve Møllevik fra Søgne er en 43 år gammel mann med familie, utdannelse og stabil jobb som dykkeleder for dypvannsdykking i Nordsjøen. Men det er hans spesielle interesse for dametights som gjør mannen unik. Arve liker å gå i altfor trange damejeans som han kjøper på tyske eBay. Han trives med å gå rundt på Sørlandssenteret og vise seg fram. Han er også glad i å ta "wet look"-bilder av seg selv og andre i dusjen, med de trange jeansene på.

Arve Møllevik is a cheerful-looking blonde man who likes to wedge himself into the women's jeans that he has purchased on eBay. Møllevik's taken the current fascination with skinny jeans into the realm of fetish. He opens his door wearing a pair of constrictive jeans whose brand, Mustang, he pronounces as "Moose-tongue." No explanation is required for the way the jeans emphasize his buttocks, except for a small excursus to say that rather than calling attention to his penis, they make him appear castrated. Mustang's skintight stretch jeans, Møllevik says while pinching the fabric as if it were flesh, are known as "skinlines." The tighter, the better. This is the first strategy in being a "Tightsman." Disco is mentioned. Møllevik turns on some dance music. The second strategy is learning to pose for optimal rear view. Bård struggles into a pair and Møllevik shows him how to cross his legs and execute an awkward half turn. Vegard, who hasn't tried on the jeans himself, encourages Bård to bend over. "My brother!" he exclaims.

The third and fourth strategies are parading around in public (the better to gauge the public's reaction: stares) and wetting the jeans in the shower. B
ård steps into Møllevik's tiled tub and poses while Møllevik wets him down with a handheld shower head. Why this is a thrilling activity is anyone's guess since the state of being wet doesn't enhance the body's outlines any more than they already were, or perhaps this is the instance where some translation skills are necessary. In all events, though, where the camera angles up to catch Bård's denim-cradled buttocks, there is a strong sense of feminine vulnerability grafted onto semi-pornography.

By the time you've watched a few episodes, you've grown so accustomed to the Norwegian language that you don't immediately notice how often the brothers slip into English: High five! Freak show! Dude! One Tightsman down and the rest to go! It makes you realize how isolated America is from the rest of the world, and how our narrow perception causes us to miss out on a lot.

None of what happens on Norges Herligste seems like an event, nor is the prey especially elusive. If there's one overriding notion you get from the show, it's that you never know what your neighbor might be up to. Featured are unexceptional people in their unexceptional moments, going about their business with their snack cakes, tight jeans, owls, and overgrown mustaches. You'd probably walk right by them on the street, but take Norges Herligste's guided tour and marvel at how little you actually see.


Miss Woo said...

This looks INCREDIBLY intruiging. Having met some very nice Norweigian peeps while travelling I'm rather curious at their culture..

Sm. said...

This is only fuelling my fascination with Europe generally, and Scandinavia in particular. I'm going to look up flights and hotels now, and fantasize for a bit (not about Tightsman).

thesearchforchic said...

Having been brought up in Norway myself.. closer to the coast then up North. I think Norwegians are really funy people, living in London now I do miss it.