Euronoir: Day 2
Euronoir: Day 2
Fieldtrip to Aarhus: “a perfectly good city for killing people” – in film, TV and novels
The second day of the Euronoir conference started out with a field trip from Aalborg to Aarhus to test the trial version of the DETECt App. The DETECt web-app is a screen tourism experience, currently developed by Aarhus University in cooperation with VisitAarhus. In the trial version, the conference delegates could explore Aarhus on a 1.5 hour walk that not only introduced them to Denmark’s second biggest city, but also to films, books and television series which are set and/or produced in Aarhus. The app features videos, audios and pictures about the crime TV series Dicte, the upcoming film Undtagelsen (The Exception), the film Lev Stærkt (On the Edge, 2014) as well as on Aarhus’ history as a centre of silent film production. On the tour users can, for example, meet Elsebeth Egholm, the author of the famous Dicte novels that were adapted for television – the most internationally renowned crime story from Aarhus. The content offered on the app will be expanded in the next months, building on the feedback from the trial period.
Keynote by Annette Hill: Rights to roam and contrary freedoms in today’s vast media landscapes
From French dining cars to today’s television
In the afternoon keynote, Annette Hill, Professor of Media and Communication at Lund University in Sweden and visiting Professor at King’s College in London, introduced her concept of “Roaming Audiences”, which will also be the focus in her upcoming book. She started with explaining what “roaming” means for her in relation to Nordic Noir. Rather than seeing audiences as “nomadic”, Annette Hill argued we should conceptualize them as roamers around stories, media and storyworlds. She explored the different ideas of “rights to roam” in societies, relating to the right of way through the landscape. Applying this idea to media, she argued that audiences roaming between stories also means shaping collectives’ ways through media. However, freedoms of roaming can today also be restricted by legal means such as geo-blocking, which are limits that media roamers subvert through illegal media sharing, hence making their own paths through the media landscape. She highlighted that people now have “roaming expectations” about how they can engage with media and share them.
In the second part of her lecture, Annette Hill used Roland Barthes’ description of a dining car experience in France as a springboard for elaborating on her concept of roaming through the contrary experience of stasis whilst on the move. In the story, Barthes reflected on the importance of materiality and performance of an illusion of “immobility” created in the train. Television and its audiences, she argued, also use ways to create an illusion of immobility through certain programming strategies and rituals around TV viewing, although today’s media environment is so vast and fragmented that we feel constantly on the move.
The freedom not to binge
Talking about her research on The Bridge, Hill reminded her audience that many people don’t even have a television set anymore, but consume TV on the train – maybe even watching on somebody else’s screen. Habits have changed too, for which Annette Hill mentions the trend of “binge watching”. However, binging can also be truncated and mixed with traditional experiences of waiting for a broadcast, for example on Sunday night. This experience is also still important for people, who save up their time to watch The Bridge on the weekend. She showed examples from her audience research that show, how people shifted from legal or illegal streaming and binging to broadcast viewing in a social set-up. Another interesting discovery she made was the “social media black-out”, which means that even young students viewed the series on broadcast without using a second screen. She quoted a 24-year-old Swedish student who said: “Sometimes I pick up my phone, and stop myself – ‘no I need to focus’.” This evidence led Hill to conclude that The Bridge became an antidote to the binging and snacking of online and multi-screen television. Hence, this is where we see “roamers in action”, who pick their media experiences consciously.
Dreaming of solving The Bridge
The third part of Hill’s lecture moved to the dream of The Bridge “bootcamp”, a dream formulated by her participants who imagined how it would be to devote themselves to solving the mystery of The Bridge II for 10 weeks. The people formulating this dream enjoyed immersing themselves in the story to solve human relationships – so much so that they wished they had time to do nothing else. Hence, the fans of series like The Bridge enjoy roaming around in the stories of crime and “feeling at home in the stories”, Hill explained. She concluded that this is a case of creating “contrary freedoms” of creating constraints to the viewing experience despite today’s media’s mobility. During the discussion, Hill elaborated further that many of the participants in her audience study expressed that they wished for having watched The Bridge as a more social experience rather than binging it on streaming. This led her to emphasize the importance of time for reflection that is lost in binging.
Where Nordic Noir meets the soap opera
Esser, however, warned against seeing these processes as something new, given that immersion and empathy for characters is also an important element of other forms of television such as soap operas. This view is supported by industry professionals. One of her industry interviewees described the Saturday night slot for the European dramas on BBC4 as “posh soap for people, who want to drink wine.” Playing a brief clip from The Killing, Esser illustrated how the series also uses aesthetics often associated with the soap, such as close-ups and the use of music to convey emotions. She concluded that the close-ups cause “emotional contagion” and argued that “the fact that viewers don’t speak the language does not impede the process” at least when they are really focused on the series, a state supported by the concentration required by the subtitles. The fact that in Nordic Noir series emotions are often conveyed through faces, rather than dialogue helps the process, too.
Keynote by Arne Dahl
After two parallel paper sessions on Gender and Ethnicity in crime fiction and European Transculturalism II, the second conference day concluded with a keynote by the famous Swedish author Arne Dahl, most known for his novels about the transnational crime investigation Team “A Group” and the Intercrime series. In his keynote Dahl addressed the topic “Finding a Voice for Europe through Crime Fiction”. In her introduction to Jan Arnald whose pen name is Arne Dahl, Katarina Gregersdotter pointed the audience to his strength as a transgressor of borders of nations and genres.
“Europe is no longer itself”
Dahl started out by looking at the many differences and divergences in Europe and its history epitomized by the Second World War, which then again was at the heart of the communist/capitalist split of Europe. Preventing the rise of fascism as a threat to peace was and is the well-known idea behind the European Union, which has successively joined by countries in the North, South and East of the continent. When recounting this history of the European Union, Dahl however drew attention to the gap between the rich and the poor in Europe that could not be superseded as well as notions of nationalism, which we now see re-invoked by the political right. Arne Dahl sees now, a Europe that returns to the old national frames while at the same time, the threat of climate change requires transnational answers. He repeated: “the climate crisis can only be resolved internationally.”
“The travelling experience paved the way to writing”
For Arne Dahl, Europe opened up when he was 11, in 1973 and traveled across Europe in a caravan with his family, and also discovered reading and was mesmerized by fiction as a world to enter. He said that he now believes that “the travelling experience paved the way to writing.” After a long Inter-rail summer through Europe he began to study literature and also completed a PhD, whilst developing as a writer and literature critic. In the mid-1990s, he said, he felt he had to made his choice between critical/academic writing and being a novelist. When trying to find a new way of writing, he began to explore the world that his two daughters would grow up in. At the same time, Dahl emphasized how he was at the looking for writing that was fun: and the answer to this quest was the crime genre. He explained to his audience how he reinvented himself as a different writer as Arne Dahl, who “rose from my surname Arnald”. He began to look for real crimes “that were morally interesting in the year that I was writing.” This was and is interesting to Dahl, because it allowed for the exploration of what is different between what is legal and what is just.
Restarting after the Global Financial Crisis – “one gigantic crime”
Dahl pointed out that his crime stories form a timeline of his own relationship with Europe. His books show us that no crime is ever just domestic. His series about the A Group dealt with international crime at a time when the Iron Curtain had just fallen and Sweden also became challenged in its self-conception as a neutral and “special” country. The books explored the 1990s financial crisis in Europe, human trafficking, race ideology, the remnants of the Cold War.
Dahl’s next series, the Intercrime books, began around the Global Financial Crisis, “which began to look like one gigantic crime”, Dahl said. At the same time, he pointed to the hope in the world with Barak Obama as a new US-President and an unprecedented strength of the European Union, which found expression in ideas about more European collaboration in crime investigation. In his series, the idea of a European FBI is realized. The team tackles big crime and “tests the borderline of crime fiction, thriller and spy novel.” The crimes covered here included human trafficking, tax evasion, the mercenary industry, rogue DNA research, surveillance, which Dahl sees as his attempt to find a voice for Europe through crime fiction. However, he now says he did not see many things coming ten years ago, things that he summarized in a list: climate change, the feminist uprising, international interference in democratic elections, the close connection between Russia, the Mafia and other criminal organisations, Fake News, the rise of leaders like Trump, a country leaving the European Union, gang violence and crime, waves of immigration at the borders of Europe, and the conflict between nationalism and internationalism.
Following from this list, Dahl asked, though, whether this conflict between nationalism and internationalism is really the new big rift in society, that replaces the conflict between the rich and the poor. “We live in a very dangerous world”, he concluded. This dangerous world discouraged Dahl from exploring this complex society, turning towards explorations of characters. But in these new books, Dahl found that he did not abandon the political issues he looked at earlier, but that he just changed perspective to the inside of people, uttering a feeling of insecurity that “you really can’t trust anyone anymore.” Hence, in his more recent books, Dahl shifted more towards the spy genre.
“We need to dive into the abyss to appreciate the light”
Concluding his talk, Dahl observed a turn of literature on the one hand to escapist entertainment, but on the other hand also a feeling that “violence could always be just around the corner”, a feeling that crime has come much closer. Dahl highlighted, though, that a distance is necessary to enjoy crime fiction, summing it up: “Nobody reads crime fiction in Aleppo.” Dahl is convinced that “we need the thriller, we need the chaos”, but he is also convinced that we also need clarity and reality. He concluded his talk with a call for enlightened crime fiction:
“We need to dive into the abyss to appreciate the light.
Today’s crime writer has to work really hard to get to this light, but the promise of today’s crime fiction is that there is after all a light at the end of the tunnel.”