by Robert A. Saunders on January 28th, 2018

​Note: The blog post originally appeared at E-International Relations on 18 January 2018. The original post can be found at:

​In the context of debate over his country’s immigration policy, the dark corners of U.S. President Donald Trump’s geographical understanding have been forced into the light, with swift and troubling ramifications for American foreign policy in Africa. In a bipartisan meeting of prominent politicians, Trump reportedly referred to the whole of Africa (as well as the Caribbean nation of Haiti, which – incidentally – was the first free black nation in the Western hemisphere) as ‘shithole’ or ‘shithouse’ countries (the exact wording of the quote is currently in dispute, a fact which some of the president’s defenders have used to decry widespread condemnation of the chief executive’s scatological language). Putting aside the ‘hole’ vs. ‘house’ dispute, Trump’s policy position is clear: he wants more immigrants from ‘countries like Norway’ and seeks to bar immigration from the world second-largest and most populous continent. While there has been endless palaver about Trump’s incorrigible racism and a return to the pre-1965 quota system that favoured immigrants from northern Europe (effectively banning people from the developing world), less has been said how Trump imagines Africa.

​If we can say one thing about Trump it is that he is rather simple-minded. The Norway comment attests to this, given that he met with the Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg the day before the now-infamous outburst during the immigration summit. Put simply, Norway was on and in the front of his mind, while Africa, Haiti, and other places were confined to its darker corners. So when Democratic lawmakers brought up protections on immigration from these places, Trump was forced to access what scholars refer to as ‘geographical imagination’. In its essence, this is an individual’s way of thinking about places and people based on their accumulation and synthesis of images, stories, and life experiences. For many of us (and especially those without stamps in their passports), this means an imperfect understanding based on jokes we have heard, what we have read in comic books or novels, seen on television or film, and learned from the news.

Like the travel writers, journalists and museum curators of yesteryear, contemporary producers of popular culture have not been particularly kind to Africa, continuing to project what David Campbell and Marcus Power call a ‘scopic regime’ of the continent that accentuates exotic natural attributes (animals, jungles, etc.), violence (civil wars, child soldiers, etc.), and extreme poverty (starving women and children). Far from sloughing off the jaundiced gestalt conjured by Joseph Conrad in his imperial novella Heart of Darkness (1899), Western media continues to labour under a blinkered view of Africa, one which artificially keeps alive the notion of it as the ‘Dark Continent’.

From telecoms company AT&T’s infamous use of a monkey on a phone in Africa (when all the callers on the world’s other continents were humans) in a 1993 publication to H&M’s more recent controversy over its advertisement featuring a black child wearing a green, hooded sweatshirt bearing the slogan ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ (other jungle-themed hoodies were modelled by white children and did not make references to simians), corporations have regularly stumbled into thickets of casual racism due to pervasive – some would argue ubiquitous – false seeings of Africa and Africans. Coincidentally, the H&M debacle has overlapped Trump’s geopolitical affront, showing that Africans will no longer be silent with regards to their continent’s representation by Westerners. For its part, H&M was forced to shut seventeen of its stores in South Africa for security reasons when the Economic Freedom Fighters, a revolutionary group that took offence to the ad, rallied its supporters resulting in multiple protests. While economic implications are likely to come, the Trump administration faced an immediate diplomatic backlash. The African Union issued a strongly-worded rebuke to and a demand for an apology from the president, while Trump saw a number of his ambassadors summoned to account for the vulgar depictions of the continent.

Here in the U.S., the pundit class continues to chatter on about whether or not this most recent example of bigoted opprobrium will hurt or help Trump with his so-called ‘base’, a hodgepodge of Republicans, independents, and white, working-class Democrats who are purportedly ‘fed up’ with globalization, immigration, and the ‘browning of America’. While Trump’s discursive discharge certainly reflects the blooming ‘white identity crisis’ that fuelled his campaign, it also elucidates the West’s problematic geopolitical imaginaries of Africa. With its burgeoning national economies, deep natural resource base, and key role in global security, sub-Saharan Africa should be a realm that Washington pays careful attention to (Beijing certainly does). Instead, it appears that the White House would rather fall back on hoary representations of the continent gleaned from Tarzan novels, Disney movies, and other (poisoned) fruits of Western imagination and news reporting. Sadly, in a country where much of the population still tend to regard ‘Africa’ as a country (rather than a continent or a world region), there is little hope for change in the near term.

by Robert A. Saunders on January 28th, 2018

​Image by M. Fino
​Note: The blog post originally appeared at E-International Relations on 4 January 2018. The original post can be found at:

​In the third instalment of my series on the pop-culture presidency of Donald J. Trump, I want to focus on the current Us + Them tour of Roger Waters, former frontman of the hugely influential progressive rock band Pink Floyd. The creative genius behind Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), and the visceral-yet-enduring The Wall (1979), as well an unapologetic auteur who often challenged fans with painfully introspective projects like The Final Cut (1982) and Radio K.A.O.S. (1987), Waters has taken on a long list of political targets from the Falklands War to monetarism to food policy. I recently had the pleasure of attending one these shows, and while Waters has always been known for his politics, this current tour represents a watermark in his evolution as a musician-cum-activist.

​Waters has never been shy about his social and political views. In one of the series most talked-about interviews, BBC HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur probed Waters’ background which included discussions of his father’s die hard pacifism and membership in the Communist Party. Waters employs this patrimony as a foundation for his globally-inclined political project, one he argues is based on ‘love’ as he recently told the centre-right CNN host Michael Smerconish in an interview on the anti-Trump content of his current tour. Like many U.S. conservatives of a certain age (and gender), Smerconish was visibly at pains to reconcile his aesthetic admiration for Waters’ oeuvre and his distaste at the overtly leftist orientation of the performances, from indictments of the Israeli border wall to post-9/11 critiques of Guantanamo Bay detentions to the current anti-Trump invective. The pundit even went as far as to pen an editorial about his ‘complicated relationship’ with the singer and his work in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I saw a late summer performance on Us + Them in Newark, New Jersey – one the U.S.’s most economically depressed and crime-ridden cities, a rather appropriate venue for the dystopian themes of Water’s tour-associated album Is This the Life We Really Want? (2017). Towards the middle of the North American leg of the tour, it was clear that Waters had settled into a groove (both performatively and politically). The concert was a stunning exhibition of technology, sound and messaging. Interestingly, a giant Battersea Power Station-like projection extended over the middle of the floor-level seating, blocking the views of the highest-paying audience members, but giving those of us in the ‘cheap seats’ the best vantage points to experience the full effect of spectacle (thus providing a subtle reminder of his socialist roots). Kept under wraps until the start of the tour, the content was decidedly anti-Trump, featuring the ‘billionaire’ real estate mogul-turned reality TV star-turned U.S. president as a demonic nemesis of the common people. Effigies of a coiffured Trump proliferated throughout the show, but interestingly, Waters did not let Barack Obama off the hook, heavily featuring footage of the ‘drone presidency’ of Trump’s predecessor (a theme of the new track ‘Déjà Vu’, which was featured in the concert). While the set included tracks from Dark Side of the Moon (1973), The Wall, Wish You Were Here and Waters’ latest album, the most evocative songs were those drawn from the Pink Floyd’s concept album Animals.

Referenced in the title of this post, the lyrics from ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ – which was the second song of the second set (following Animals’ anti-bullying anthem ‘Dogs’) – proved particularly ripe for Trumpian era. Intertextually referencing the political elite of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), ‘Pigs’ was originally written as an invective against mid-1970s British politicians and social campaigners, and specifically calls out the conservative activist (Mary) Whitehouse by name. However, the song proved infinitely versatile, quickly being retooled to impugn the U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and a list of other officials over the decades). With the opening lines ‘Big man, pig man/Ha, ha, charade you are’, ‘Pigs’ tears into the institution of politics, eviscerating the very notion of ‘public service’. However, it is now painfully evident that Waters’ youthful antipathy towards the greedy, self-serving politico was tragically naïve, given the contemporary manifestation of Trumpism. On Inauguration Day, the Pink Floyd alumnus explicitly linked Trump’s anti-Mexican campaign rhetoric to the content of ‘Pigs’, posting a video of a performance of the song in Mexico City to initiate the ‘resistance’. The show included images of Trump ‘toting a machine gun outside the White House, giving the Nazi salute and surrounding himself with KKK members’, a prognostic chimera that is now chilling in the wake of Charlottesville.

Waters seems comfortable in his role as activist-musician, taking direct aim at the malignant narcissism of ‘demagogues and despots’ who use ‘us and them’ bombast to assure their positions (and fill their wallets). Whether the Berlin Wall, the West Bank Barrier or Trump’s promised-though-as-yet-unrealised ‘Southern Wall’, Waters has long railed against such physical manifestations of (state) power. And for those fans who don’t want to hear his messages, he dismissively suggests they go listen to Katy Perry (a somewhat ironic barb given the pop-star’s close association with Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton). As a multimedia phantasmagoria, the Us + Them tour represents the current pinnacle in the meeting of pop-culture and global politics, as Waters has mobilised his political fervour for the world stage. From his criticism of Radiohead for performing in Israel as part of his support for the Boycott, Divest & Sanctions movement to his re-imagination of his 1970s-era lyrics for the Trumpocalypse, Waters constantly proves himself to be a key player in the popular culture-world politics continuum. And with the tour now headed to Europe and then Australia, it appears that there’s no stopping him.

by Robert A. Saunders on January 28th, 2018

Note: The blog post originally appeared at E-International Relations on 1 October 2017. The original post can be found at:

​​I recently sat down with Robert Sikoryak, who typically works under the name R. Sikoryak, to discuss his recent project The Unquotable Trump. Building on the artist’s expertise at adapting great works of literature to the comic book format, the collection of retooled iconic covers uses Trump’s bombastic quotes cast against fantastic scenes to satirize the U.S. president and his policies. With this explicitly political project, Sikoryak joins the ranks of other cartoonists who have turned their pen into a weapon against the billionaire reality-TV host-turned-leader of the free world, from Stephen Byrne’s ‘Trump Rally’ to Pia Guerra’s Bannon-Trump ‘Big Boy’ to the feminist anthology ‘Resist’. In many of Sikoryak’s depictions, Trump assumes the role of a super-powered antagonist, such as a winning-obsessed Magneto taking on the ‘Ex-Men’, an apish campaigner chastising ‘The Black Voter’, and a Dr. Doom-like overlord trying to nab some ‘Hombres Fantásticos’ (all of which reprise famous covers from Marvel Comics (The Uncanny X-Men, The Black Panther, and The Fantastic Four, respectively). On other covers, he assumes more banal forms, such as a flesh-eating zombie in ‘The Walking Donald’, a misogynist thug dispatched by Wonder Woman, or a Bluto stand-in bragging to Popeye about his ability to build a ‘wall’. Given the increasingly recognised power of graphic novels and sequential art to reinforce and transform political culture and even impact international relations, I wanted to dig into Sikoryak’s motivations and methods, with an eye towards how such representation reinforces or challenges ideas about Trump in the U.S. and overseas.

Saunders: Could you discuss when and why you decided to embark on your now-famous project to employ classic comic-book covers to depict Donald Trump’s bid for the U.S.? How did your previous experiences adapting literary classics to comics inform your work?

Sikoryak: The idea came to me in early November 2016, just a few days before the election. I was so exhausted and distressed by Trump’s outrageous statements as a candidate that I wanted to say something. I thought it would be a perfect satirical response to take his actual quotes and put them into parodies of real comic book covers, which are so bold and graphic. But on November 2, I really didn’t want to think about him anymore!  And then, a few days later, he won the election, and I felt I had to do it.

I originally did 16 of the covers for a small, self-published black and white mini-comic, and I thought that would be it.  But then I posted the images on Tumblr, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So I was convinced to keep doing them, and I incorporated more quotes from the campaign as well as many spoken since the election. I drew a total of 48 covers over the course of about six and a half months.

This project is related in some ways to my comics that retell the classics (such as those in my book, Masterpiece Comics). For those, I also try to replicate the styles of famous comics, and I take great pleasure in remixing them with literary sources. The Unquotable Trump was an extension of that way of working.

Saunders: What is about comics – and particularly some of the more epic battles between superheroes and super-villains – that presents an attractive medium for satirizing Trump?

Sikoryak: Well, there have been many superhero parodies with presidents. Years ago, I drew one for The Daily Show with George W. Bush as The Decider.  I think part of the reason it works so well is that comics are often very stark when depicting good and evil.  And sometimes they’re very simplistic in their worldview, as are Trump’s statements. Now, I think comics can be quite subtle and nuanced, but for this series I’m definitely playing with the broad stereotypes of comics. At the same time, it was important for me to only use Trump’s real quotes, I didn’t want to exaggerate or change what he said. His actual, over-the-top speeches fit right into superhero covers.  Also, I wanted to capture his rambling, spontaneous, colloquial way of speaking (rather than his Twitter voice) and play that off of the broad comic book tropes.

Saunders: Could you discuss how you decide on the direction of a piece of art. Do you begin with the quote and then locate a representative depiction or is it more free-form?

Sikoryak: My decision process was rather freeform, but it always involved research. Certainly I remembered many of Trump’s quotes, but I went back and did internet searches to document the actual quotes and find many more. For the artwork, I know a lot of comic books history, and in some cases I knew I wanted to include a specific character before I had the quote. But there were searches for those as well. For instance, I knew I had to include a Captain America cover, but I went back to my own collection and searched online for the right issue to match the quote I chose (about war heroes who are captured).

Saunders: Do you follow Pres. Supervillain (@PresVillain) on Twitter and if so, how would you compare your respective projects?

Sikoryak: I do follow @PresVillain. Luckily for me, I discovered him long after I’d drawn my first 16 covers (in late 2016). I wouldn’t have wanted to be influenced by his choices.  It’s a similar conceit, of course, and I assume it involves the same sort of research.  But we aren’t the first people to compare a President to an evil comic-book mastermind!

Saunders: So far, which depiction has provoked the most interest (positive or negative)? What sorts of feedback have you received and from whom?

Sikoryak: I think my “Nasty Woman” cover, a Wonder Woman parody, has provoked the most positive reaction. It definitely struck a nerve. I was really happy to see that, it’s one of my favourites. Almost all of the feedback I’ve personally received has been very positive.  I actually expected I’d get more backlash, even from opponents of Trump, in that I’m giving Trump even more attention.  And I’ve read a little of that on Twitter. But for the most part, people who don’t like him have really enjoyed the humour.

Saunders: Comics have long served as a mechanism for imparting American values abroad? How do you think your work will be interpreted outside of the United States?

Sikoryak: I decided early on that I should only use American comic covers, since Trump is so American. It wouldn’t have felt right to me to insert him in a Tintin or an Astro Boy cover. Since the work has appeared on Tumblr, a few European publications have interviewed me and/or reprinted selected images.  They got the humour and seemed to really enjoy it, too.  I would like the world to see that Trump doesn’t speak for all Americans.

Saunders: Has anyone tried to shut down or otherwise contest your project? (Trump’s lawyers, Marvel or DC’s legal team, etc.)?

Sikoryak: I haven’t heard from any legal departments!  I’ve been doing comics parodies professionally for almost three decades, and I didn’t expect to have any trouble with this.  Certainly MAD Magazine has sent a precedent for parodies that many cartoonists have benefited from. Not to mention other institutions like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. As far as Trump’s lawyers go, I doubt that they or Trump will ever see it!  Unless the right person talks about it on television, preferably someone on Fox News.

Saunders: What do you hope your readers take away from the series?

Sikoryak: I hope my readers will find it funny… and scary.

Saunders: What’s next for Unquotable Trump? And what’s next for R. Sikoryak?

Sikoryak: The Unquotable Trump will be published in a full colour, oversized edition from Drawn and Quarterly, available this October. And I’ll be returning to the classics with short adaptations of Emily Dickinson poems and a comic book version of Moby Dick. Generally I prefer to have a little more distance from my subject matter.

by Robert A. Saunders on September 22nd, 2017

Image Source: An American Infestation by Koren Shadmi
Note: The blog post originally appeared at E-International Relations on 24 August 2017. The original post can be found at:

This post represents the first in a series on the pop-culture presidency of Donald J. Trump. In this series, I plan to address different facets of the current American president’s imbrication with popular culture, recognising that he is – first and foremost – a product of mass media (unlike Obama and his predecessors). I have refrained from focusing too much on the Trump presidency in this blog as I feel that such analysis would be trite or simply become lost in a growing morass of similar content, which ranges from 140-character critiques to monograph-length excoriations. My change of heart results from my son’s admonition following his attendance at U2’s recent tour. As part of the band’s stage show, attendees were treated to a video from a 1958 episode of the Western Trackdown in which a charlatan named Walter Trump rides into town promising to save its denizens from the ‘end of the world’ by building a ‘wall’ around them. This Trump is quite the orator, and when confronted with his lies, threatens to ‘sue’ anyone who challenges him. While it has been reported ad nauseum that The Simpsons predicted Trump’s inevitable ascension to the presidency, this curious artefact from over a half-century ago seems to have actually birthed the real Trump into reality. Reflecting on the power of popular culture, this set of short essays aims to provide commentary on Trump and his times. And with that, I offer up five speculative/science fiction films to view as the Trumpocalypse builds, with helpful suggestions on how to watch.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo)

The consummate American superhero Steve Rogers undercovers a sinister plot by a world-wide fascist organisation Hydra to infiltrate the highest levels of state power around the globe, including the U.S. government. Nearly killed by the brainwashed turncoat Bucky Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier), now a (post)Soviet agent of destruction, Cap must go rogue to defend his homeland from the insidious forces who would rob Americans of their liberty and annihilate ‘undesirables’ capable of challenging the new world order, all in the name of promoting ‘security’. Interestingly, when the film premiered, it was read by many as an indictment of the ‘deep state’, but is now gaining a second life as condemnation of Nazism in all its forms. As filmmaker Nick Murphy pointed out in his tweet on the film, the 2014 version of himself wondered: ‘In Winter Soldier, I don’t see how Hydra/Nazis could infiltrate the government without anyone noticing’. However, his 2017 self (using the GIF of Captain American dropping his head in bewilderment), no longer finds such malfeasance surprising in the wake of Trump’s implied moral equivalency of neo-Nazis and anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.

4. Dune (1984, dir. David Lynch)

A baroque adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 masterpiece of political science fiction, Dune offers up a celluloid roadmap for understanding the machinations of IR in the Trump era. With his orange hair, unquenchable thirst for power, and taste for exotic pleasures, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen represents a grotesque manifestation of the U.S. head of state. The analogy gains steam when one looks at the coterie that surrounds him – from his relatives Raban and Feyd-Rautha to the twisted Mentat Piter De Vries to the obsequious Captain of the Guard Nefud – one is tempted to draw parallels with Jared and Ivanka, recently-ousted advisor Steve Bannon, and jettisoned Chief-of-Staff Priebus.  Likewise, it is not difficult to expand the allegory of the Dune universe, as the Padishah Emperor is the one controlling the intrigue (read Vladimir Putin), while the dutiful advocates of good governance, House Atreides (read Angela Merkel), are enveloped in a web a danger in which the only way out is to play the game. Let us hope that the foresight of the Kwisatz Haderach is realised, and that these dastardly ‘plans within plans’ can be thwarted before it is too late for us all. 

3. Reign of Fire (2002, dir. Rob Bowman)

If you are curious to see what the world view of the alt-right looks like, I recommend a critical viewing of Christian Bale-Matthew McConaughey fantasy film, Reign of Fire. Following a mining accident in subterranean London, a swarm of hibernating dragons are unleashed upon the world. Witness to the origins of the catastrophe, Quinn (played by Bale) has gathered a band of survivors in a Northumberland castle, eking out a proud but meagre existence that smacks of neo-mediaeval privation. When a lost troop of American military personnel arrive, accompanied by a tank, helicopter, and big guns all under the brash leadership of the heavily-tattooed commander of the ‘Kentucky Irregulars’ (McConaughey), the combined Anglo-American – and almost entirely white – force retake the Earth from their reptilian overlords. The subtly racialised end-of-the-world sensibilities of the film are chilling when cast against Weltanschauung of those angry, khaki-clad young white men who filled the streets of Charlottesville, VA on 11 August 2017, chanting ‘Blood and Soil’ and ‘You [or ‘Jews’] will not replace us’. 

2. The Dead Zone (1983, dir. David Cronenberg)

Screening the eponymous novel (1979) by horror writer Stephen King, the plot centres on a small-town schoolteacher, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), who is blessed with the ability to see into people’s pasts and futures following his recovery from a coma. The gift quickly sours when he meets a third-party candidate for the U.S. Senate, Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen). Upon shaking the hand of this charismatic politician, Smith is witness to a horrific vision in which paranoid Stillson, now president and surrounded only by a single advisor, decides to bring about nuclear Armageddon. Sacrificing himself for humanity, Smith makes a failed attempt to assassinate the demagogue, who – in a craven fit of self-preservation – grabs a baby from a political supporter to block the killing bullet therein ending his political career. Stillson, a former door-to-door salesman who is never without his trusty broom which he plans to use to ‘sweep out the trash’ in Washington, D.C., is strikingly similar to Trump and his (false) claims to ‘drain the swamp’, a fact not lost on King, who has called out the billionaire-turned-politician on more than one occasion.

1. Monsters (2010, dir. Gareth Edwards)

Playing on the popular notion of the developing world as a place contagion threatening the global North, Monsters postulates that NASA unwittingly causes the spread of alien life near the southern U.S. border, resulting in the quarantine of northern Mexico and the erection of massive wall to protect the American population. Personalising the plight of actual migrants who brave the perilous journey every day, the film follows an American photojournalist and a wealthy young woman who attempt to make their way back to El Norte, combating thieves, security forces, and extra-terrestrial threats along the way. The climax reveals that the aliens are drawn to electrical signals, particularly television broadcasts, and when these cease, so does the interest of the creatures. Perhaps we can all learn something about Trump by watching this, perhaps even Trump himself.

by Robert A. Saunders on May 19th, 2017

Note: The blog post originally appeared at E-International Relations on 9 May 2017. The original post can be found at:

In early May 2017, Bloomberg Financial reported that the Icelandic krona was the world’s best performing currency, outpacing all others against the euro and the US dollar over the previous year. Moreover, it shows no signs of slowing down and is on track to continue its growth. The reason: Game of Thrones. Obviously, the gritty HBO series is not the only or even the main reason for the krona’s dramatic ascent; instead, GoT serves a synecdoche for Iceland’s pivotal role in producing contemporary popular culture and a concomitant rise in tourism. According to Newsweek, the island nation attracted approximately seven-times its total population in tourists during 2016. The driver for much of this tourism is rooted in the country’s depiction in movies and television series; in fact, a recent study shows that more than a quarter of US tourists select their destination based on what they have seen on film or TV, and Iceland seems to be everywhere right now.

As an (anonymous) backdrop to fantastical shows like Game of Thrones and blockbuster science fiction films including Prometheus (2012), Interstellar (2014), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), the otherworldly geography of Iceland’s glaciers, fjords, and waterfalls makes an excellent tableau for showrunners and cinematographers. Seeking to cash in on film and televisual tourism, Iceland’s tour operators tend to frame their excursions and travel packages with references to easily recognisable celebrities from Christian Bale to Angelina Jolie. With its proximity to both Europe and the north-eastern United States, Iceland has also become a cinematic stand-in for other locales, from the Himalayas in Batman Begins (2005) to Siberia in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Tapping into the Nordic Noir craze, Sky TV’s thriller Fortitude (2015- ) is also filmed in Iceland, which doubles as a fictional Norwegian island (Svalbard, perhaps?), and stars some of the country’s biggest actors. However, the tiny nation at the edge of the Arctic Circle also serves as an explicit setting for other media products. In the recent remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), Ben Stiller’s character makes his way to Iceland only to be greeted by a massive volcanic explosion, evincing the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (paradoxically, the ash cloud which virtually halted air traffic in the North Atlantic actually put Iceland on the map for many prospective tourists). Similarly, the remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) was set in and around the extinct volcano Snæfellsjökull.

Not content to let Hollywood exploit the island’s pop-culture resources on an exclusive basis, Iceland’s cultural producers are also making good use of international interest in their homeland. The runaway hit Ófærð/Trapped (2015- ) has established Iceland as a peer among its Nordic neighbours Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, showing that an island at the top of the world can make shows as good as Borgen, The Bridge, and Occupied. Recognising the popularity of the Nordic Noir genre, Netflix has scrambled to sign deals for more Icelandic content, including The Lava Field (2014) and Case (2015). Following in the ample wake of the iconic songstress Bjork, there is also an ‘Icelandic invasion’ underway in the US and Europe, spearheaded by ethereal rockers  Sigur Rós, hipster darlings Of Monsters and Men, and up-and-coming acts like Samaris, thus expanding the allure of the island beyond its visual beauty and into the aural realm. With its unexpected defeat of England in the knockout stages of Euro 2016, the national football team has also added its might to the global image of Iceland as a country that punches above its weight in terms of popular culture.

Cognisant of Simon Anholt’s notion of nation branding and Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power, the growing puissance of Iceland popular culture-tourism partnership on the global scale bodes well for its position in International Relations (not least of which is the aforementioned buoyance of its currency, particularly in the wake a disastrous economic collapse a decade ago). However, such gains are not necessarily accidental. In fact, there is an obscure geopolitical source behind Iceland’s current rise. When I visited the country in advance of the summer solstice of 2015, I was told by locals that the ongoing boom in tourism was – at least partially – attributable to US foreign policy. In 2006, Washington informed Reykjavik that it would be ending its decades-long military presence on the island, centred in Keflavik. As the State Department web site attests, the US committed to working with ‘local officials to mitigate the impact of job losses at the Air Station, notably by encouraging U.S. investment in industry and tourism development in the Keflavik area’. During the financial crisis that lasted from 2008 until 2011, Americans started to flock to Iceland to see the northern lights, take the waters at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, and go off-roading across the country’s unique landscape.

Buttressed by countless media products touting Iceland’s harsh beauty, the country now presents a tantalising destination for Americans, Brits, and Europeans seeking something off the beaten path (though with its tiny population of 330,000, Icelanders are being swamped in a slurry of international visitors, which may not be sustainable in the long run). In 2015, the Pentagon signalled that it was interested in re-evaluating its decision to quit Iceland, recognising the rising threat posed by a resurgent Russia. Some ten years after departing, the US Navy is back on the island to counter Vladimir Putin’s more aggressive posture, and seeking funds to modernise existing facilities. While the small military presence on the island may do little to deter Moscow, what it is certain is that Iceland is now a meaningful quotient in everyday geopolitical understanding of millions of citizens in other NATO countries, thus shoring up the country’s security in ways that many foreign policy experts are liable to overlook.

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