Fairy Tales of Resistance: The Danish Culture Canon, Lars von Trier, and the Emperor’s New Clothes

July 2, 2010

- by Iben Falconer

In January 2006, Brian Mikkelsen, the Danish Minister of Culture, proudly unveiled his ministry’s most recent major initiative: the Danish Culture Canon (Kulturkanon). Touted by the Ministry as an initiative that would reveal the “indispensable” works that “define what is characteristic and distinctive about Danish culture,” the canon brought together works from architecture, the visual arts, design, film, literature, music, drama and children’s culture. It includes both works that are well known outside of Denmark (the Lego block) and those that few non-Danes would recognize (the TV miniseries “Matador”).1 In his presentation of the final canon, Mikkelsen claimed that the Canon would establish a “coherent narrative [sammenhængende fortælling]” of artistic development in Denmark.2

Despite its claims of inclusivity, the Canon project quickly became controversial within Denmark.3 Criticism in various forms emerged from politicians, lay people and the artists themselves. The response of Lars von Trier, a film director who is well-known as an enfant terrible of film, garnered significant media attention.4 Upon learning that his film, “The Idiots” (1998), had been nominated to the canon, he created a video greeting for Mikkelsen. The film opens with a Danish flag waving in the breeze; in overlaying text, von Trier thanks him for “nationalizing our culture” and sends him a “do-it-yourself guide” for a project he calls “Kultivér Nationen” (Cultivating the Nation). Accompanied by the militaristic Danish royal anthem “Kong Christian stod ved højen mast,” von Trier carefully cuts the white cross from the Danish flag. The film ends with a shot of the reassembled and cross-less red flag being hoisted up the flagpole to the tune of “The Internationale.”5

Von Trier’s gesture was clearly intended to be a provocation, equating the Danish government’s project with the control and censorship of the arts that was prevalent under Communist regimes.6 Even the film for which he was nominated to the Culture Canon had its share of controversy. Due to its explicit depiction of un-simulated sexual intercourse, “The Idiots,” was so controversial that it was banned in Ireland and shown as an adult-only film in many other countries.7 The film committee could have easily rejected the films of von Trier as too provocative and “un-Danish.” Yet, when shown the video, Mikkelsen merely called the event “unfortunate” and insisted, “The man is an artist, and we live in a free country. He can do what he wants,” thereby defusing von Trier’s righteous stance.8

The goal of this essay is not to enter into the pro or anti-canon debates, but rather to critique von Trier’s strategy of opposition. The inclusion of his film in the canon and Mikkelsen’s response to his outburst exemplify the failure of the conventional oppositional stance taken by artists against governments. Von Trier allowed Mikkelsen to use his protest as evidence of Danish cultural tolerance and openness, thereby not only neutralizing his outrage but turning his act of resistance into one that actually affirms the canon-making project.

It is first worth placing the Culture Canon within a larger political and social context. The Culture Canon was only one manifestation of a governmental obsession with canons that began in the mid-1990s, when the Ministry of Education proposed the creation of a literary canon to address educational quality concerns in the country’s public schools.9 Released in 2004, the canon consisted of a list of authors whose work is required in schools, including H. C. Andersen and Karen Blixen.10 As a result, Danish students would share a “literary consciousness through the reading of the classics, gain appreciation for their literary heritage, and develop their understanding of the world around them.”11

The Culture Canon initiative was first publicized in December 2004, when Mikkelsen announced that the project would create “debate about Danish culture’s role in globalization.”12 There were six primary goals in creating the canon: to establish a “yardstick for quality;” to stimulate personal involvement in Danish culture through this “easy introduction;” to assemble material as cultural heritage; to increase self-awareness among Danes as to Danish cultural history; to provide “reference points” as to “what is special about Danes and Denmark” within the context of globalization; and to “strengthen the sense of community” by demonstrating shared cultural heritage.13 The Ministry of Culture’s tactics in presenting its own canon indicate its own confusion about the canon’s role in society. Would it be a canon in the authoritative, historical sense (a list of cultural works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality) or a mere prompt for discussion? Unlike the literary canon, the Culture Canon was not intended to become part of a set curriculum for schoolchildren. Instead, it would somehow become part of the daily life of citizens, “[having] a broad anchoring among the people [en bred folkelig forankring] and [providing] fuel for pleasure, afterthoughts and discussion.”14

The most enthusiastic response was –unsurprisingly –from other politicians.15 While the Ministry of Culture claims to have designed the canon to be exciting and accessible, the public response was lukewarm. For example, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported in February 2006 that there was no increased demand for the twelve nominated literary works at libraries around the country.16 A few newspaper editorials questioned the idea of a culture canon entirely, likening it to the actions of the Nazi government in 1930’s Germany. In one noteworthy interview in Jyllands-Posten that predated the Canon’s release, Uffe Østergård, a historian who specializes in the history of Danish national identity, was asked his opinion of the project. He questioned the notion that the Culture Canon could establish a coherent narrative, wondering how the boundaries of “Danishness” would be determined.17 Yet the majority of the editorials and reader letters tacitly accepted its legitimacy, focusing primarily on which worthy works were left out, how little work by women was included, whether or not Donald Duck should be considered “Danish,” or that ever-troublesome problem of setting high- and low-culture side-by-side.18 By limiting themselves to such particularities, these types of criticism never actually questioned the foundation of the Canon project.

Von Trier, on the other hand, aimed to do just that. His video response establishes two binaries. The first is between the government and the Danish people, which he asserts by the inclusion of the royal anthem, “Kong Christian stod ved højen mast” (“King Christian stood by lofty mast”) in place of the more commonly used national anthem, “Der er et yndigt land” (“There is a lovely country”).19 Through this choice, von Trier establishes a disjuncture between the government’s actions (militantly national and repressive) and a particular view of Denmark and the Danish people (humble, uninterested in canon-making).

The second binary –and more notable for this paper –is the one between the government and the artist-as-outsider. The desecration of the flag (arguably an artistic cliché), the use of “The Internationale” and the direct criticism of Mikkelsen are used by von Trier to place himself in opposition to the government and its actions. The assertion is that he –unlike Brian Mikkelsen –does not nationalize culture; in his hands, culture is kept pure and autonomous. In doing this, von Trier invokes a Greenbergian valorization of the artistic avant-garde. In his seminal essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939), Clement Greenberg posits the artist as an outsider who is detached from a decaying society. The avant-garde artist’s role is to resist the commodification of culture that inevitably occurs under capitalism.20 With his video, von Trier’s assumes this avant-garde mantle.

The influence of Greenberg and other like-minded critics can be found in many scholarly writings on governmental cultural policies. These writings maintain a certain fiction about the relationship between governing bodies and artists: governments have all the power, where artists are merely the recipients of funding and the objects of censorship. One representative text is Milton Cummings and Richard Katz’s book, The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan (1987). The authors provide three reasons that governments support the arts today: the defense or development of a cultural identity; the economic benefits of the cultural sector and the improvement of a country’s image. The greatest risk of governmental support, to the authors, is that governmental purchases can “distort the quality as well as the quantity of supply, as artists are led inexorably to produce more of whatever kind of art the government is buying” (emphasis added).21 In short, restrictions and censorship are unavoidable. The book’s introduction ends with a stern warning that “the injection of politics into the arts is inevitable.”22 In this world, artists who receive financial support are doomed to be merely recipients. While the tradeoff –the “freedom to experiment” 23 –is cited, the authors deny any further agency to the artists. Both Greenberg and Cummings/Katz, then, describe “separate spheres” for art and politics, as the latter can only contaminate the former.

Yet Mikkelsen’s unfazed response exemplifies the more nuanced and far slyer approach taken by the Danish government today. Since the 1950’s, Danish cultural policy has been based on five central values: the arms-length principle; freedom of speech; quality; decentralization and cultural democracy. In this case, the most important principle is the first one, whereby funding is granted to artists through councils and other self-governing institutions who serve as mediators. These measures are in place to “ensure freedom of expression” and to support artists “with no political strings attached.” And, we are reassured, “criticism of ‘the establishment’ [e.g. the government] is permissible.”24 This structure is called the “Danish Model of Cultural Policy,” implying that to have it any other way would be downright un-Danish. Through this policy, Denmark is affirmed as a democratic and open society. The Danish government’s public image, then, is not only dependent on its continued support of the arts, but reliant on the fact that the artists it supports are seen as independent and autonomous. “But I am the avant-garde!” protests von Trier; “Yes, yes, but that is allowed and we love you for it,” Mikkelsen responds, thus transforming von Trier from enfant terrible into the caged lion who roars on cue. The resisting artist, then, is not a threat to the cultural policy, but its affirmation.

These observations are not intended to convince the reader that the artist is necessarily relegated, by this cultural policy, to a position of dependence. On the contrary, serving to represent a government’s attitude of openness and tolerance gives the artist a peculiar type of agency. While there is indubitably a power structure at work here, it is unhelpful and inaccurate to describe the power as unidirectional. If the “independent artist” is an essential component of Danish cultural policy, then the artist is hardly helpless.

After this critique of von Trier, it would only be appropriate to recommend an alternative to his stance of artistic piousness. Instead of relying on a Greenbergian strategy of resistance-from-the-outside, the writings of Jacques Rancière, and Simon Critchley provide an opening into other, potentially more potent forms. The two writers share a rejection of the traditional oppositional stance and propose a sneakier resistance through engagement.25

Most useful for this argument are the ideas on anarchy and dissensus put forth by Critchley and Rancière. In his book, Infinitely Demanding (2007), Critchley challenges the idea that opposition can only be expressed through an outsider position.26 Instead, he argues that the resistance is most effective if it comes from “within the state territory.” He calls this resistance the creation of an “interstitial distance” and declares it the ultimate democratic act.27 To establish this distance, he offers a new definition of anarchy, one that differs from the traditional understanding of the word, calling it “an anarchism of infinite responsibility rather than unlimited freedom […].”28 Unlike the revolutionary crowds of earlier decades, this new form is no longer dependent on overwhelming numbers:

[…] resistance begins by occupying and controlling the terrain upon which one stands, where one lives, works, acts and thinks. This needn’t involve millions of people. It needn’t even involve thousands. It could involve just a few at first. Resistance can be intimate and can begin in small affinity groups.29

Basing his definition in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, he defines anarchy as a force that prevents the state from “[setting] up or [erecting] itself into a whole (s’ériger en Tout).”30 The act of creating a canon –of establishing a complete list of the best works of Danish culture –is nothing more than the establishment of a Whole. Von Trier’s response would have been more successful if he had attempted to undermine this establishment of the Whole.

For Critchley, the undermining emerges from the establishment of a “space of dissensus”31 which “works against the consensual horizon of the state.”32 Here, his writings rub up against those of Rancière, who argues that consensus –defined as “inscription within given roles, possibilities and competences” –is the “main enemy of artistic creativity as well as of political creativity.”33 Rancière also uses the term dissensus, which he defines as “a modification of the coordinates of the sensible, a spectacle or a tonality that replaces another.”34 He encourages artists and activists to avoid the “shopworn affect of indignation” and to instead “[explore] the political resources of a more discreet affect –curiosity.” He argues that the goal of art should be emancipation, which only occurs when the art piece does not dictate the reaction of the spectator but engages the spectator’s “interpretive and emotional capability.”35 Dissensus, then, is the presentation of information that does not imitate what is currently being presented, nor does it actively oppose it; instead it presents opportunities for an alternate reading.

The question then remains, what is the best tactic for dissensus? What models could von Trier have followed? Critchley proposes humor as the best strategy, as it “uses its position of weakness to expose those in power through forms of self-aware ridicule.”36 He describes the latent opportunities for activism inherent in humor: humor as “a form of liberation or elevation” that has the potential to “[change] the situation.”37 It cannot be said that von Trier’s response does not already contain an element of humor; the sight of this director, seated on a table, hand-stitching the Danish flag so as to create an all-red flag is, in many ways, humorous. Yet it is so because it asserts separate spheres for the artist and the politician –an act, I have argued, that, in the end, reified the canon-making project. A more constructive use of humor would be to appropriate humor’s ability to present the incongruous: “how those practices might be transformed or perfected, how things might be otherwise.”38

The Danish government provided ample opportunity for a humorous response: between 2005 and 2008, the government proposed or created a canon practically every six months. In December 2005, the Ministry of Culture announced the presentation of the “Elite Sports Canon,” which highlighted twelve significant moments or people in Danish sports, including the Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis and the “new Dane” Kenya-born runner Wilson Kipketer.39 A half a year later, the Ministry of Education proposed the idea of a “history canon” to ensure all students were exposed to the major events in Danish and world history. The report then recommended 29 events, ranging from Caesar Augustus and the Reformation to 9/11 and globalization.40 In November 2006, the Ministry released the “Handicapped Culture Canon,” which featured artistic works that “[express] how it is to live with a physical or mental handicap in a nuanced and interesting way.”41 In July of the following year, a member of the Liberal Party (Venstre) proposed a “Nature Canon,”42 and two months later, the Ministry of Culture also released its “Industry Canon,” which listed the 25 most important moments in the history of Danish industry.43 In the spring of 2008, the government released its “Democracy Canon,” which featured 35 defining moments, agreements or personalities who have figured prominently in the history of democracy. Included on the list were the Magna Carta, John Locke, the American Constitution, N. F. S. Grundtvig, the Danish Constitution, the feminist movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the national referendums on the European Union.44 The haphazard and uneven nature of these canons –the placement of the domestically noteworthy next to the internationally significant –makes them unintentionally quite humorous. Can one really argue that Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s film, Mifune (1999), while critically well-received, had the same impact on the lives of the handicapped as the development of sign language? Or that the Trondholm Sun Chariot (Solvognen), a Bronze Age artifact, is as historically significant as the Peace of Westphalia, the abolition of the slave trade or globalization?

Von Trier had the perfect opportunity to point out the canon-happy nature of this administration.45 His critique needn’t have been a grand gesture either; the publication of a straightforward list of all the governmental canons (a Canon of Danish Canons?) would have been enough. On their own, each canon might not be funny, but as a group, they border on the absurd. Von Trier’s film was almost off-putting in its pomposity and self-righteousness. Rather than drawing the viewer into the fold, von Trier comes across as an elitist artist, separate from the layperson.

In fact, perhaps the best example of what von Trier could have done was already in the canons. One of the most famous stories of the 2004 Literature Canon nominee, Hans Christian Andersen, is “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (1837). In the story, it is a small child who innocently points out that, in fact, the emperor is naked and has been swindled by the false tailors. The child is immediately whisked away by his father, but the damage has already been done. While the child’s comment was not an intentionally righteous statement, its truth was multiplied throughout the crowd, establishing dissensus. The child’s words released the crowd from the imperial demand that they affirm the power of the emperor by ignoring his nakedness.46 The key to a more effective critique was right there in front of von Trier –right under his nose! –if only he had cared to look.


1 The full Culture Canon can be viewed at its website: www.kulturkanon.kum.dk/.

2 Brian Mikkelsen, quoted in Jyllands-Posten, “Kulturkanon – fra Blixen til Barks,” 24 January 2006, author’s translation.

3 The project became particularly controversial in September 2005 when Mikkelsen made a contentious statement at a party congress. “In the middle of our country,” he said to the audience, “a parallel society is developing in which minorities practice their Middle Age norms and undemocratic mindset. We cannot and will not accept this” (Copenhagen Post, “Cream of culture for some is sour milk for others,” 2 February 2006). In a later interview, Mikkelsen continued: “We hope that immigrants will take the culture canon for themselves, because it is intended to show, among other things, that we have values to offer. Not all values are equally good” (Brian Mikkelsen quoted in Stephanie Surruge, Camilla Høy-Jensen, and Jens Lenler, “Eksperter føler sig misbrugt af kulturministeren,” Politiken, 26 September 2005, author’s translation). These overt references to the Muslim minority within Denmark shocked the public and many of the committee members, and several members of the committees threatened to leave the project. Mikkelsen later said that the statement had been taken out of context; in his opinion, the “culture canon project is not a political project,” and that “the canon is a gift that all can enjoy, including immigrants” (Brian Mikkelsen quoted in Carsten Andersen, “Kanon-medlemmer truer med at gå,” Politiken, 28 September 2005, author’s translation). After a series of tense meetings and a written apology from the Minister, the project continued. This story, while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this essay.

4 Most famously, von Trier broke with the film industry by proposing the principles of Dogme95. For more information on the movement, see Peter Schepelern, “Film according to Dogma: Ground Rules, Obstacles, and Liberations,” in Transnational Cinema in a Global North, ed. Andrew Nestingen and Trevor G. Elkington (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005) 73-107.

5 The film was originally posted on the website of Lars von Trier’s film production company, Zentropa: www.zentropa.dk/videohilsen/. It can now be seen on YouTube in an almost complete form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Ujl3FEDdc

6 It should be noted that by “government” here, I mean this particular Center-Right administration under Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (2001-2009).

7 A. O. Scott, “Colloquies on the Finer Points of Drooling,” The New York Times, 28 April 2000.

8 Copenhagen Post, “Cream of culture for some is sour milk for others,” 2006.

9 While teachers are allowed to choose which works to assign, the Ministry provides a list, however, of which works it specifically recommends.

10 The Danish government’s interest in canons may have been stimulated by the fierce debates about canons and the American educational system in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Books such as Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Alvin Kernan’s The Death of Literature (1990), Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991), and Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994).

11 Kanonudvalget (Canon Committee), “Dansk Litteraturs Kanon” (Danish Ministry of Education: Copenhagen, 2004) 9, 12 and 13, author’s translation.

12 Copenhagen Post, “Cream of culture for some is sour milk for others,” 2006.

13 Danish Ministry of Culture, “An Easy Introduction to the Danish Cultural Canon,” http://www.kum.dk/sw37439.asp, accessed 1 April 2008.

14 Brian Mikkelsen, quoted in “Kulturkanon bliver interaktiv,” Politiken, 24 August 2006, author’s translation.

15 In the city of Århus, for example, local politicians recommended that the city government somehow take advantage of the links between the canon and their city (Marc Perera Christensen, “Kulturkanon bør udnyttes,” Jyllands-Posten, 11 February 2006).

16 “If one thinks that the canon means that loan demands are streaming in, one is mistaken,” reported one librarian (Jyllands-Posten, “Kanon-bøger ikke mere efterspurgte,” 24 February 2006, author’s translation).

17 He stated “One will run into enormous problems trying to delimit who can be considered. Should one, for example, have a Danish passport? Should the artwork be located in Denmark? Should the artist be dead?” (Uffe Østergård quoted in Torben Jakobsen, “Humor kan kvæle kulturkanon,” Jyllands-Posten, 5 January 2005, author’s translation). Østergård then pointed out how many artists and artworks that are considered to be typically Danish offer more complicated stories than expected: Ludvig Holberg, for example, wrote in Latin and was born in present-day Norway and Utzon’s Opera House lies halfway around the world in Australia. The painter Emil Nolde was born in what is now Denmark but his museum is inside German borders. The Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen to an Icelandic father, but lived in Rome from 1797 until 1838, just six years before his death. But Østergård’s critique of the canon project is surprisingly circular, stating “The Culture Canon is a new departure and is un-Danish, because one wants to make a list of what is best and what one understands as Danish. This is something that Danes do not like. We do not want someone to come and tell us what is good. We want to be allowed to have our own opinions. That is part of Danish populism [folkelighed]” (ibid.).By arguing that canon-making is an un-Danish activity, he seems paradoxically confident that “Danishness” exists in the first place.

18 See Maria Schottenius, “Kulturkanon skuffer,” Politiken, 19 August 2006; Peter Kronsted, “Y-stolen burde med i kanonen,” Jyllands-Posten, 31 January 2006; and Jakob Levinsen, “Kulturkanon: Politikkens forlag,” Jyllands-Posten, 14 August 2006. One particularly misguided complaint was from a man who was offended by the committee’s choice to honor only the eastern portion of the Great Belt Bridge (Jyllands-Posten, “Læsernes kommentarer til den danske kulturkanon,” 24 January 2006).

19 “Kong Christian” was composed prior to 1814, when the Danish composite state lost Norway to Sweden as a result of its alliance with France in the Napoleonic Wars. The was written by the poet Johannes Ewald and the melody by D. F. R. Kulau. “Der er et yndigt land” was written after the 1814 loss with the text written by the poet Adam Oehlenschläger and the melody by Hans Ernst Krøyer. The latter, on the other hand, describes Denmark as calm and peace-loving. The natural landscape—beech trees, sandy beaches, and blue seas—feature prominently; instead of being a place of war, Denmark is the place where “the armored warriors rested / between their bloody frays” (“de harniskklædte kæmper / udhvilede fra strid,” author’s translation). The historian Tim Knudsen argues that “Kong Christian” is “felt to be too martial, too self-assertive” within populist Denmark, while “Der er et yndigt land” “has too much humility, too little pride and power.” Both anthems are used today, but international settings—the Olympics, for example—“Der er et yndigt land” is most frequently heard (Tim Knudsen, “A Portrait of Danish State-Culture: Why Denmark Needs Two National Anthems,” in European Integration and Denmark’s Participation, edited by Morten Kelstrup [Copenhagen: Copenhagen Political Studies Press, 1992] 293).

20 Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1961) 3.

21 Milton C. Cummings and Richard S. Katz, “Government and the Arts: An Overview,” in

The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan,edited Cummings and Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 9-10.

22 Ibid., 16.

23 Ibid., 4.

24 Denmark, Ministry of Culture, Danish Cultural Policy, 3rd ed., trans. Russell Dees, July 2002, 5.

25 In James Scott’s seminal work, Domination and the Arts of Resistance (1990), he argues that “most of the political life of subordinate groups is to be found neither in overt collective defiance of powerholders nor in complete hegemonic compliances, but in the vast territory between these two polar opposites” (James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990] 136). Translated into the scenario at hand, artists are not limited in their response to governmental policies just to acts of direct confrontation (like von Trier’s) or the obsequious acceptance of restrictions. Responses are not necessarily black or white; there is a far more interesting and nuanced gray zone.

26 He writes, “Anarchic political resistance should not seek to mimic and mirror the archic violent sovereignty it opposes” (Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance [New York: Verso, 2007] 124).

27 Ibid. 92.

28 Ibid. 93.

29 Ibid. 114.

30 Ibid. 122. Levinas wrote “Anarchy […] cannot be sovereign. It can only disturb, albeit in a radial way, the State, prompting isolated moments of negation without any affirmation. The State, then, cannot set itself up as a Whole” (Levinas, quoted in Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, 122).

31 Critchley and Rancière’s spatial description of resistance echoes earlier writings of Louis Althusser. In Reading Capital (1968), he provides a description of knowledge as “a closed space” that defies the inside/outside binary: “It is impossible to leave a closed space simply by taking up a position merely outside it, either in its exterior or its profundity: so long as this outside or profundity remain its outside or profundity, they still belong to that circle, to that closed space, as its ‘repetition’ in its other-than-itself” (Louis Althusser, “From ‘Capital’ to Marx’s Philosophy,” Reading Capital, ed. Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar, trans. Ben Brewster, [London: Verso, 1979] 53). Althusser might as well be commenting on the Danish cultural policy, where the outsider stance merely re-affirms the strength of the policy in its entirety. The only response he proposes, then, is “not a flight, which is always committed to what it is fleeing from, but the radical foundation of a new space […]” (ibid.) Althusser’s suggestion of non-mimesis (“the non-repetition of this space” [ibid.]) and the rejection of the traditional binaries of opposition hints at a new direction for oppositional behavior .

32 Ibid. 110 and 119. The idea of dissensus is particularly significant within the context of Denmark, whose modern political system is based on the idea of consensus. According to Uffe Østergård, a scholar of Danish history, this consensus emerged from what he calls the “peasant ideological hegemony” of the 19th century (Uffe Østergård, “The Danish Path to Modernity,” Thesis Eleven, no. 77 (May 2004): 25). When Denmark was significantly reduced in size in 1814 (loss of Norway) and 1864 (loss of Schleswig-Holstein), the population of the former composite state was also significantly reduced. As a result, the peasant-farmer class was able to gain political power. The peasant-farmers “understood themselves to be the real backbone of society” (Østergård, 36). Østergård traces the connections between these peasant-farmers, the Danish concept of folkelighed (populism) as defined by N. F. S. Grundtvig, the agrarian cooperative movement, and the rise of the Social Democratic Party in the 20th century.

33 Rancière quoted in Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey, “Art of the possible: Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey in conversation with Jacques Ranciere,” Artforum International (March 2007): 263.

34 Ibid. 259. Like Critchley and Althusser, dissensus for Rancière has a spatial definition: “breathing room” (Ibid. 261).

35 Ibid. 263. He writes: “An art is emancipated and emancipating when it renounces the authority of the imposed message, the target audience, and the univocal mode of explicating the world, when, in other words, it stops want to emancipate us” (Ibid., 258).

36 Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, 124.

37 Simon Critchley, On Humour (Thinking in Action) (New York: Routledge, 2002) 9. Critchley derides the “pious humorlessness […] of some forms of contemporary protest” (Infinitely Demanding, 124) and instead looks with admiration at a number of contemporary anarchist groups that use “carnivalesque humor […] as a political strategy,” such as Ya Basta!, the Rebel Clown Army, and Billionaires for Bush (ibid. 123).

38 Critchley, On Humour, 90. Critchley uses John Morreall’s definitions of the three categories of humor: the superiority theory; the relief theory; and the incongruity theory.

39 Team Denmark and the Danish Ministry of Culture, “Eliteidrættens Kanon,” 2005, http://www.teamdanmark.dk/cms/cmsresources.nsf/filenames/Kanon%20booklet%20www__Endeligeverdion_Til%20hjemmesiden.pdf/$file/Kanon%20booklet%20www__Endeligeverdion_Til%20hjemmesiden.pdf, accessed 7 July 2010.

40 Danish Ministry of Education, “Rapport fra Udvalget til styrkelse af historie i folkeskolen,” June 2006, 18-19, author’s translation.

41 Social Development Center, “No. 13: Handicapped Culture Canon,” 2006, 3, author’s translation.

42 Jyllands-Posten, “Venstre vil have kanon til naturperler,” 14 July 2007.

43 In the press release, Mikkelsen says: “Industry is decisive part of our culture. In the same way, our culture is crucial for industry and not least for our ability to change and renew” (Politiken, “Kulturminister udpeger Danmarks vigtiste industri,” 20 September 2007, author’s translation).

44 The canon was limited to pre-2000 events, therefore it could not have included the Mohammad cartoon crisis—certainly a significant moment in Denmark. In what can hardly be interpreted as anything but a gesture in that direction, however, the Salman Rushdie affair was included (Politiken, “Højdepunkter i demokratiets historie,” 12 March 2008). Responding to the release of the “Democracy Canon,” a member of the Socialist People’s Party announced her discontent in a press release. “Democracy is something that is to be practiced, not canonized,” she said (Pernille Vigsø Bagge, quoted in Marie Hjortdal, “Opposition undrer sig over demokratikanon,” Politiken, 12 March 2008, author’s translation).

45 In fact, when asked his opinions of the Culture Canon project, the historian Uffe Østergård said that he had “full confidence that the Danes would bury the project with their humor” (quoted in Torben Jakobsen, “Humor kan kvæle kulturkanon,” Jyllands-Posten, 5 January 2005, author’s translation).

46 As Critchley writes of the same story, “By laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realized that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor’s new clothes, and just the sort of thing that should be mocked and ridiculed” (Critchley, On Humour, 11).

Image Captions

Figure 1: “…that nationalized the culture.” (Source: Zentropa)

Figure 2: “Cultivating the Nation” (Source: Zentropa)

Figure 3: Von Trier sewing together the new red flag (Source: Zentropa)

Figure 4: “Sincerely, Lars” (Source: Zentropa)


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