They had to do it. They just had to do it. When Swedish Television introduced the story about the presentation of the Danish Canon they chose a panorama with the Little Mermaid. You know the little sculpture placed out on Langelinie.
So let me just point out that the Little Mermaid (the sculpture) was not selected for the list and neither were the Royal Guards. H.C. Andersen’s tale was selected but if you have read Andersen either in the original Danish version or in a decent translation (admittedly difficult: The market is swamped with bad or family-friendly translations), you will know that Andersen’s tales are the stuff of nightmares rather than of travel brochures.
Some would argue that the same goes for Denmark as well.
But to get the perspective, let us go back to November 2001 when the Liberals and the Conservatives took office supported by the Danish People’s Party.
Now National Identity and Ordinary People were in. Cultural Radicalism (US English translation: Liberalism), Multiculturalism and Expert Rule were out. And Muslims should get out and stay out.
As part of these cultural wars against the Cultural Radicals and the Muslims – the authorised Danish term is kulturkamp – the Conservative Minister of Cultural Affairs Brian Mikkelsen in early 2005 declared that the government would sponsor a Danish Canon which should contain outstanding Danish works of art in the fields of literature, music, painting and sculpture, theatre, film, industrial design and architecture. The works would be selected by seven committees staffed by eminent experts in the respective fields. Yes, I did write “experts”.
Brian Mikkelsen almost managed to halt the work in September 2005 when he gave a much talked-about speech at the annual convention of the Conservative Party. In the speech, Mikkelsen repeated the attacks on Culture Radicals – look for yourself and see just how many times Mikkelsen uses the word “kulturradikal” in his speech – and Muslims.
The attacks on Culture Radicalism didn’t really offend anyone but it did cause a public outcry when Mikkelsen described Muslim culture as such as mediaeval and less valid than the Danish culture. Among the upset were his canonic experts who threatened to leave the entire exercise and Mikkelsen had to make amends by declaring that the Danish Canon wasn’t intended to be a part of the culture wars.
Anyway, the work continued and now we have the official Danish Canon. 108 pieces of art selected as the best, most typical or most influential works of art in the Danish history and of cause most belong in the solid mainstream of Danish culture.
There are a few surprises, though.
The Minister of Family and Consumer Affairs may have to think twice before accepting Jess Ørnsbo’s drama “Majonæse“. Not only does it depict a deeply dysfuctional family, Ørnsbo also took direct aim at the antiquated and often pretentious Danish way of spelling imported words.
Whether the selection of Adam Oehlenschläger’s (pronounced something like ”Ernslaiger“ if you want to try it at home and, yes, his family was German) ”Aladdin” should be considered a hidden criticism of the entire project or a case of orientalism is something I will leave open to discussion but the inclusion of Henri Nathansen’s “Indenfor murerne” (Inside the Walls) could be a little interesting.
The thing is that “Indenfor murene” is an acknowledged classic in Danish drama but Nathansen was Jewish and the play addresses the subject of anti-semitism in Danish society in the early 20th Century and the tight-rope walk between integration and assimilation that Jewish families had to perform.
Oh, and by the way: Donald Duck is part of the Danish cultural heritage.