Ovi -
we cover every issue
Poverty - Homeless  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
Join Ovi in Facebook
Ovi Language
Ovi on Facebook
WordsPlease - Inspiring the young to learn
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Lordi, Finland and 'the Sacred'
by Edward Dutton
Issue 15
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon
One friend of mine summed it up quite well, 'If Lordi wins the Eurovision Song Contest then Finland will go mad.' Some might say that she is a master of the understatement. On the night of the monster-masked, heavy metal band's success, Finnish engineering students danced naked in a famous Helsinki fountain and Lordi's home town of Rovaniemi partied all night.

Since then, Lordi have been congratulated by the Finnish President and Prime Minister, returned as conquering heroes to a Helsinki Rock Concert and have been the subject of various 'twenty page Lordi sections' in Finnish national newspapers. You'd think that Finns would want to know what their new heroes - who jealously guard their real appearances under monster masks - looked like.

But Finns have reacted with fury at the magazine Seisko publishing a ten year-old photo of the band's lead-singer Tomi Putaansuu. Newsagents have obscured the cover, the cover was blurred out in a recent TV report on the controversy, the magazine has issued a public apology and many Finns have even called for the journalists to be sacked. So why should one photograph set off such intense anger in the Finnish public?

For many Non-Finns, it's only a ten-year-old photo. The British Daily Mail, the German Bild-Zeitung and the Spanish El Semana Digital have all published, without make-up, photos of present or past Lordi members. Nobody in any of these countries really cares. So why has the publication set off such fireworks in Finland? The answer, maybe, lies somewhere deep in the Finnish psychology.

Lordi have done something amazing for Finland. By winning the Eurovision Song Contest (and particularly with such a controversial and newsworthy routine) they have put Finland on the map. They have shown that Finland exists, that it matters . . . that it has a place in the world. This is particularly important in Finland and, as one Finnish friend of mine quipped, this has meant that Lordi are now, basically, 'sacred'.

It's probably safe to say that in any other country, the reaction to winning the contest, and then to the photos, would not have been as strong. This is firstly because Finland has always lost, and generally lost badly, in the Eurovision Song Contest for forty years, but also due to something far more profound.

For many years, there has been discussion among experts on Finnish culture about how Finns, or at least the overwhelming majority that are Finnish-speakers, reflect a kind of national 'inferiority complex' which is a legacy of hundreds of years of oppression. It has been reported on in Britain's Sunday Times, in The Economist, Travel and Leisure Magazine - just 'google' the key words.

From the medieval period until 1809, Finland was ruled by Sweden. The language of the Finnish elite was Swedish while Finnish was mainly the language of peasantry. Being a Finnish speaker carried a sense of stigma and even now there remains the phrase 'Swedish Folk, Better Folk.' It was then ruled by Russia until 1917 and effectively controlled by the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. Even after independence from Russia in 1917, and a gradual rise in status for the Finnish language, the people that ran the country were mainly Swedish-speakers and almost all of Finland's significant historical figures were Swedish-speakers.

In the nineteenth century, according to Finnish historian Nina af Enhjelm, Finnish-speakers were widely considered to be a different race from the Swedish-speakers. Swedish-speakers were 'white' while Finnish-speakers were seen as 'mongol'. There is a legacy of oppression which has resulted in the kind of low self-esteem which tolerates ninety-five percent of the country (Finnish speakers) having to learn Swedish at school, the language of five percent, when it is not even the country's native language.

This is perhaps why the reaction has been so strong. When there's low national self-esteem an achievement like Eurovision becomes even more important. Enehjelm argues that the victory of a Finnish-speaking Finn in a 1934 competition to find the 'Most Beautiful Woman in Europe' did a huge amount to give Finland, and specifically the majority language group, self confidence and a feeling that their country mattered in the world. It also did a great deal in their battle, at a time in which race was a big issue, to be seen as 'white'.

The Lordi win has done a great deal in Finland's battle to be recognised when, as Monty Python put it, the country is 'So sadly neglected/ And often ignored.' And this is why Lordi are now 'sacred.' According to German theologian Rudolf Otto (1869 - 1937), the 'sacred' is a feeling of intense awe. French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917) takes this further and argues that God, the ultimate sacred, is the feeling of power and awe that a tribe has when it comes together, usually to make a sacrifice. It is a feeling of something more powerful than themselves, the feeling of the power of their own society - the feeling of everything making sense.

For British anthropologist Mary Douglas, the holy is the thing that makes complete sense of everything and makes people feel awe. Lordi, therefore, have achieved a kind of holiness. By winning Eurovision, they have brought Finnish society together in rejoicing and have, thus, made it experience the power of itself and shown Finland to have power. They have shown that Finland exists and is important and, as such, have kind of come to embody Finland, just as the sacrificed animal does with a tribe.

According to French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908), the animal or the God allows society to think about itself, through a symbol so that symbol is revered. Lordi might even be seen to embody how Finns see themselves: the underdog, a bit different, not as beautiful as Swedes. So insulting Mr Lordi by publishing his photo is kind of an insult to Finland. Sacrilege!

Also, unmasking Lordi is significant in itself. It shows that Mr Lordi is just an ordinary person, not the hero that he has become. According to Mary Douglas' theory, this causes offence just as publishing a picture of the Queen of England on the toilet would cause offence to the English. At the moment, Lordi are at the centre of Finnish society. They are a certain kind of hero and are expected to act in a certain kind of way. They represent the society itself, so cannot simply be 'ordinary.' Of course, many other nations have their 'sacred cows' and even things they feel inferior about. If Scotland won the World Cup beating England in the final, there might be a similar reaction to upsetting a team member.

My friend is convinced that this will all die down when Finland 'inevitably loses' Eurovision next year. (Perhaps this remark itself reflects the in-grained 'inferiority complex') But whether they lose or, like Ireland, start a winning streak, Lordi will always remain important as they are the band that brought the country together and made it feel a sense of something profound. And for this reason, journalists will have to be very careful in the way that they treat the now 'sacred' heavy metal band.


Edward Dutton has a PhD in the Anthropology of Religion from Aberdeen University in Scotland.

Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

miss killjoy2008-02-05 13:27:00
get a life if you had bin workin for years and some one destroyed ur work yoo wud be gutted LORDI RULE

Svensson2008-02-22 03:28:31
QUOTE: There is a legacy of oppression which has resulted in the kind of low self-esteem which tolerates ninety-five percent of the country (Finnish speakers) having to learn Swedish at school, the language of five percent, when it is not even the country's native language.
It's no more or less the native language than Finnish is. You probably wrote this article sitting in Helsinki or elsewhere in Uusimaa. This particular area of the land now called Finland was occupied by many more Swedish speakers before any significant numbers of Finnish speakers appeared on the scene. The same can be said for areas in Österbotten.

Finnish and Swedish are both native languages in this country by any meaningful definition. (Of course, it's possible to argue that both aren't and that Sami is the "native" tongue ;))

To suggest that both national languages are compulsory because of some kind of lack of self-esteem amongst those with Finnish as their mother tongue is extraordinary. Furthermore, it doesn't make sense as surely according to that logic, Finnish would not be compulsory in Swedish-language schools (when of course it is, and teaching in it starts earlier and has many more hours devoted to it than the Finnish speakers have devoted to Swedish).

John2008-11-12 18:23:33
You are ABSOLUTELY right, Finns hide behind ridiculous nationalism to compensate for lack of self esteem.

finuit2009-02-17 21:19:45
Dear John,

Thanks. I didn't know that I had low self esteem or that I compensate for it by resorting to ridiculous nationalism. It's nice of you to enlighten me on this point.

Ailikki Mattilainen2010-11-02 05:35:31
Wow. And all this time I thought I just liked my country! Apparently all that time spent telling my non-Finnish mates that 'Finland rocks, we're the most awesome country in the world!!' was actually a front to cover my insecurities. Who knew. Does this mean that all of Spain celebrating the World Cup win was rooted in self esteem issues as well? Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas will probably be confused to hear that....

Stunned2014-05-21 10:57:51
Its funny. I had never heard of this guy before, and just read a few of his articles. He seems absolutely obsessed with this issue of Finns being "wannabe" (his term) Europeans or "whites" (also his term). He also seems so partisan and so heavily invested that he is willing engage in errors that he criticizes in others just to push his narrative. In the first article I read, “Battling to be European: Myth and the Finnish Race,” he criticizes a Finnish scholar for simply “asserting,” without citing any supporting references and without making any attempt to justify the statement, that “[the] oriental appearance does not exist in Finland.” A valid criticism. But then, in the second Dutton article I read, he commits precisely the same error, asserting, without any attempt to justify the statement, that “[t]he ‘Mongoloid look’ is widely noted in Finland today.” For the most part Dutton strikes me as sloppy, partisan, and about two steps away not being taken seriously any longer.

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi