One may say “you can get away with only so much” and not be far wrong. It’s the narrative idiom whether you’re a fabulist or a scout leader. It’s applicable to state secrecy, demagoguery, lurid pornography and all war crimes. Sex trafficking brings these matters together without fail and this is the focus of much of contemporary Scandinavian Noir as the cops become unwitting moral agents. Criminals sell girls and boys and downtrodden policemen and women appear and say: “you can get away with only so much.” For a brief time good citizens everywhere are reassured.
While there are other topics in Scandinavian Noir sex crimes are a primary feature for many reasons. Number one can be summed up with Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin: “I can see Russia from my house!” (How about Mister Rodgers? “Can you say Russia, Russia, Russia?”)
Russia has pushed a lucrative global enterprise in human trafficking for over twenty years. For Scandinavia and much of Western Europe the brutal realities of trafficking and sexual exploitation are in the news daily. (They’re also evident in the United States–think of the story of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots who was caught in a botched but utterly revealing “sting” in a Florida spa.)
According to the Borgen Report which details global poverty and its effects: “Russia only has one law that criminalizes human trafficking. Russia passed the law in 2003 under President Vladimir Putin but it does nothing other than label human trafficking illegal. Meanwhile, all the other countries previously part of the Soviet Union have passed over 100 laws against human trafficking. The lack of strong legislation makes it more difficult to arrest, incriminate and convict perpetrators of human trafficking in Russia.”
Putin’s Russia is a worldwide criminal enterprise. The export of captive refugees is an industry. Moreover it’s a mob business which means the bosses are specialists when it comes to local recruitment–pimps and pushers must be cultivated whether we’re talking about Reykjavik or Rouvanemi. Scandinavian noir is therefore often concerned with the lives of local youth and battered elders who, despite the virtues of the Nordic social safety net are almost existentially poor in spirit. In this way all northern noir partakes of some of the chief elements of medieval morality plays.
This means Scandic-noir is allegorical. Protagonists (cops) follow tangled paths (the journey for truth and salvation) while meeting temptations, sin in many guises, and death with or without costumes. The cop is Everyman who struggles to make a good accounting of himself before the eye of God and is frequently abandoned by his untrue friends (Kinship, Beauty, Strength, etc.). His only salvation lies in his Good Deeds.
This means of course that the reader or viewer of the tale must take the role of God and that’s where the intimacy happens. In the troubled 21st century the popularity of this sub-genre rests in your desire to be Yahweh or Christ and while you were thinking you wanted only to know what happened to Vanger’s daughter you were actually sweating out the Ten Commandments.
It’s what you do that counts more than what you profess. When we stand before God, the morality play tells us, the big guy will only care about your mortal deeds. In one of the best known morality plays, entitled “Everyman” we find these classic lines:
“Doctor: This moral men may have in mind;
Ye hearers, take it of worth, old and young,
And forsake pride, for he deceiveth you in the end,
And remember Beauty, Five-wits, Strength, and Discretion,
They all at last do Everyman forsake,
Save his Good-Deeds, there doth he take.
But beware, and they be small
Before God, he hath no help at all.
None excuse may be there for Everyman.”
This is why there’s often no help at all for our Scandinavian policemen and women. God knew what he was doing to them. Or we did.