As a non-American, I have always been kind of baffled by a certain phenomenon involving the elevation of serial killers or mass murderers to pop culture icons.
I do get that many people instinctively react (myself included) trying to read as much as possible about some of these criminals in an effort to comprehend what drove someone to embody such evil.
However, I never understood the elevation of these same murderers to iconic figures, with fan bases, auctions of memorabilia, love letters or marriage proposals.
While following the beginning of the trial of Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik on Monday, I discovered that he is quickly becoming what I believe is the first case of a European mass murderer achieving pop icon status.
Breivik rose to infamy last year when, on July 22nd, he bombed a government building in Oslo, which resulted in eight deaths. He then carried out a mass shooting at a camp of the Workers' Youth League of the Labour Party on the island of Utøya, where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers.
While searching for more details of his trial, I came across a Tumblr entirely devoted to praising him under the (also terribly unoriginal) name of “European Resistance.”
“European Resistance” is run by a 17-year old-girl who finds Breivik “cute,” someone far removed from the stereotypical image of a scary skinhead plotting to commit terrorist attacks. A-17 year-old girl who says she is also a fan of Radiohead living in Finland.
As of this writing, this Tumblr still exists, but many of his fans and acolytes seem to change names and locations quite often.
I was horrified that someone would not only create a Tumblr to praise him, but would also express an open lack of empathy for the victims of his crimes.
Alarmed by the racist motivation behind his crimes, I read his “manifesto,” 2083 -- A European Declaration of Independence, which he released in the aftermath of the attacks.
Most of it is rather incoherently written and it reads as a neverending rant about his allegiance to ultranationalism, the recalcitrant promotion of Islamophobia, lots of misogyny and anti-feminism and demands for the deportation of all Muslims from Europe. He claims that he committed his racist crimes in order to defend his country from the threats of multiculturalism.
“European Resistance” spouts a lot of the same ideas that Breivik peddled in his “manifesto:” the notion that Europe is being invaded by a horde of savage immigrants, that Europeans need to defend themselves from this cultural threat and that there is an impending doom brought upon the continent by a lack of decisive action.
Finding this Tumblr was like falling through a surrealist rabbit hole. I found myself wincing while I checked the Tumblr tags associated with Breivik’s name. There is fan art. No, I am not facetiously calling this fan art. The producers themselves dub it so.
Moreover, until yesterday morning, there was a Tumblr called “Fuck yeah, Anders Behring Breivik.” It has now been renamed simply to “Breivik,” I suspect because several users reported it for racist and right wing apologia.
There are also animated GIFs of Breivik’s crime reconstruction in the island of Utøya, pretty much in the same vein that people make animated GIFs with their favorite Doctor Who or Sherlock moments. There is digital art hosted at Devianart, depicting Breivik as a man of mystery, an attractive blonde figure in a seductive pose. There is a Breivik + Pepper Spray meme cop mashup. There is an attempt at a “politically incorrect” parody of his crimes under the title of “Breivik’s Private Swim School”. There is Breivik as a video game character shooting People of Color (content warning for disturbing imagery). Needless to say, there are also musical tributes.
Recently, the Internet was taken by storm by a video showing Sweden’s Minister of Culture cutting a cake shaped like a Black woman. The cake’s “head” actually belonged to Swedish male artist Makode Aj Linde in blackface. The artist claimed he wanted to make a statement and create awareness about Female Genital Mutilation in Africa. In the background, a crowd of white Swedish people laugh out loud while they cut portions of this supposedly metaphorical woman’s body.
The National Afro-Swedish Association (NAFA) rightfully called this art performance “a racist spectacle.”
Jallow Momodou did not mince words in his article about this performance at The Guardian: “Sweden: the country where racism is just a joke.” He also reminds us of another mass murder attempt, eerily similar to Breivik’s:
In October 2010, a white Swedish man went on a rampage in Malmö, shooting more than 20 people of colour and killing one. The killer was officially considered to be a lone wolf with psychological problems rather than a terrorist with racist motives, and he has still not been prosecuted.
However, this violence is not limited to Nordic countries. In December last year, an Italian far right extremist killed two Senegalese men in Florence in yet another racist attack at a market place known for being a meeting point for immigrants.
In Germany, a neo-Nazi network killed nine immigrants throughout the course of several years and planted a bomb injuring 23 people. None of this violence can be brushed off as isolated incidents. There are dozens of racist attacks reported throughout the EU on a daily basis. All of these are all part of a larger issue with intolerance and unaddressed prejudices.
While a significant group of people elevate Breivik to a new status as pop culture icon, trivializing his crimes and joking about racism and ill treatment of minorities, we are bombarded by right wing rhetoric about the immigrant threat. Young girls like the one behind the “European Resistance” Tumblr might believe that foreigners and non whites endanger the very fabric of this continent.
But it seems that the threat is of a very different nature. Racism, xenophobia and violence against minorities pose a much more direct and urgent menace.