Thousands of miles away, in a small, Banksy-decorated office sits one of the most fascinating mayors in the world: Jón Gnarr. He is a former comedian, movie star, rock musician, and taxi driver, and now the proud mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland. The greatest thing about Gnarr isn’t that he loves Star Wars or that he used to be in a band called “The Runny Nose”, but in the uncommon way that he approaches politics: with open-mindedness, personality, and humor.
Despite the fact that he was born with serious mental disabilities and eventually diagnosed with ADHD, Jón Gnarr is a man who refuses to let anything get in the way of him achieving his ambitions. He began his career as an entertainer, playing bass in a punk rock band and befriending the now world-famous Icelandic singer Björk. Before long, Jón Gnarr was a well-known name in Iceland, appearing in movies, television shows, and standup comedy specials. But the lights and cameras weren’t enough for the Icelandic celebrity. Gnarr craved a different audience and different means of expressing himself, and in 2009 he decided to run for mayor.
Who in Reykjavík could say no to free towels at swimming pools? Or a polar bear for the zoo? Jón Gnarr’s “The Best Party” presented an array of solutions to improve the living conditions of the city. The party consisted of a small group of his friends, and their initial goal was to satirize the Icelandic politicians of Reykjavík. Other platform aims included building a Reykjavík Disneyland and creating a drug-free Parliament. Gnarr quickly gained popularity, both in Iceland and on the internet. A music video was created for the campaign, featuring rather forthright lyrics such as “We are the best/the bestest of parties” and “Vote for us/we’re the best”. And people did vote. Whether it was the public’s way of protesting the country’s current government or Gnarr’s personable charm, The Best Party proved triumphant, and Jón Gnarr became mayor of Reykjavík.
Remarkably, the tawny-haired Gnarr has so far performed his mayoral duties quite well, managing to preserve his quirkiness while advocating human rights and enhancing the lives of the people of Reykjavík. Now, just take a moment to imagine if more people like Jón Gnarr were voted into mayoral positions. Or any political position, for that matter. The vast majority of today’s politicians seem strictly bound to socially constructed norms. They are often hesitant to reveal “too much” personality in fear of restricting their supporters, they are cautious when it comes to speaking frankly, and steer away from acknowledging failure. Would Stephen Mandel dress up as a drag queen during Pride Parade? Probably not. But Jón Gnarr would (and did). People like Jón Gnarr are rare, and politicians like Jón Gnarr are even rarer. The world needs more honesty, more openness, and more humor.
CC photograph courtesy of Flickr, found here.