Category Archive 'Hygge'

12 Jan 2017

“Like Candles and Warm Socks? You Nasty Racist!”

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Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver-white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

“You dirty racist!”

Do you like warm fires, candles, generalized coziness, intimate gatherings with family and friends, even pumpkin lattes and warm socks? Beware! you are guilty of fondness for Hygge, a Danish kind of reactionary thinking that Slate deplores.

Christina Cauterucci last Fall, in response to last years publication of several books on Hygge, mocked the hankering for candles, doubted that Hygge was even achievable for American residents of “drafty apartment[s] with no fireplace, no grandma, nothing but sweatsocks, and an understuffed sofa,” and described Hygge as essentially a yearning for a return to the uterus. She didn’t come right out and say so but, back in the uterus, there are no bearded Muslim refugees looking to cut your throat, shoot you full of holes, or blow you up.

More recently, Alex Robert Ross identified the sinister connection between a liking for candles and warm socks and Racism and Populist Xenophobia.

This all makes sense. A collective craving for childlike comforts in response to social trauma is a psychoanalytic classic. It was Carl Jung who wrote in The Practice of Psychotherapy, “The patient’s regressive tendency[…] is not just relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary[…] the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, or protection, or reciprocated love, of trust.” He was a half-sentence away from extolling the virtues of homemade yogurt, eye contact with close family, and a deep, abiding hygge.

Hygge’s turning inward against the world outside comes with a more sinister edge, however. As Charlotte Higgins pointed out in her deep dive for the Guardian last month, hygge’s ties to the far-right in Denmark are remarkably strong. Pia Kjærsgaard, the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, has publicly extolled the virtues of the lifestyle, insisting that her office remain cozy and hyggelig at all times. Denmark’s welfare state and reputation for tolerance may be admired by progressives in the U.K. and U.S., but, as Higgins points out, the country’s love of hyggefied thatched cottages with closed doors suggests a conservative undercurrent. “Anything that threatens that safe community, including alien values and ideologies, cannot be tolerated,” she writes.

The journalist and author Michael Booth had the same sensation when he moved from England to Denmark. “Hygge can seem like self-administered social gagging, characterized more by a self-satisfied sense of its own exclusivity than notions of shared conviviality,” he wrote in The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle. Bloom says that it falls in line with a “postcolonial drawbridge theory—the ‘What was lost without [will be found within]’ way of valuing what little cultural and economic capital Denmark had left after the loss of its empire.”

Indeed, Denmark has been struggling with its colonial legacy lately; a rise in the number of refugees over the past two years has uncovered the limits of Denmark’s famously progressive outlook. The government can now seize any item worth more than $1,450 from a refugee in order to pay for their sustenance and upkeep in the country. And after slashing refugee benefits last year, the government advertised the news in Lebanese newspapers, just to be sure that the country didn’t seem quite so attractive to newcomers. The far right Danskernes Parti, or “Danes’ Party,” handed out ‘Asylum Spray’ in the port town of Haderslev in September. Pepper spray being illegal, they filled the cans with hairspray instead, but the message remained hideously clear. “We wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves,” party leader Daniel Carlsen said. “In the short run we want to provide solutions to make life better and safer for the Danish people.”

If his words sounded a little hyggelig, it’s no coincidence. Poured into hygge’s candlelit sweetness, like a cloying cream filling, are inevitable and explicit cases of xenophobia and racism. In their recent study of online communities in Denmark, Ahmad Beltagui and Thomas Schmidt explored the hygge of the closed chat room. In one instance, this sense of community was fostered with “what one [user] referred to as a ‘‘little Hyggelig racist joke’.” This online interaction had an unsavory conclusion: “The rapid escalation saw the opponent being addressed in upper case text and accused of both not speaking Danish and being homosexual.” Though such bullying, the researchers write, would not ordinarily be particularly hyggelig, the abuse came “from a user with the word Hygge in their username.” With racist, homophobic abuse online being a cornerstone of right-wing populism today, this little hyggelig anecdote should raise doubts about just how apolitical hygge can claim to be.

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Here’s that Nationalist Julie Andrews:


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