Pleased to see me?

16 July 2009 | Columns, Tales of a journalist

Love story

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

When the Finnish media developed a crush on the country’s foreign minister, writes Jyrki Lehtola, no one could foresee the consequences. Especially if the object of their affections might begin to believe what they say about him…

It is a generally accepted truth that the spiteful media only raise people up in order to cast them down again a moment later.

Generally accepted truths are often not the case, although the media’s amorous relationships are, as a general rule, of short duration.

The Finnish media loves its hockey coaches until they make a mistake. The media made Martti Ahtisaari a president so that it could mock him for the next four years. Reality TV shows produce disposable stars that we follow in order to ask, the next moment, why we should have to pay attention to nobodies like that.

The love story between the media and a subject usually lasts about six months, after which a period of mutual battering begins. The subject makes a small mistake, which the media blows out of all proportion, as a result of which the subject begins to sulk, as a result of which the media begins to criticise the subject for sulking, as a result of which the subject opens his mouth and criticises the media for going on a witch-hunt.

Uh-oh. Mistake. The media bears nothing so poorly as criticism aimed at itself. Luckily for the media, that criticism generally comes from such a bitter direction and in such an inflamed form that it cannot be taken very seriously, and by his criticism of the media the subject only succeeds in appearing in an even more laughable and unbalanced light.


Something odd has occurred in the past year. The media has found an enduring love, or at least a love that has lasted for a year.

The object of that love is the Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb.

Stubb is called a politician for a new age, a superman, because he is a normal person, that is, like a person is supposed to be if he has listened properly to his parents’ lectures: a man polite in manner, competent, positive, and cultured, who speaks several languages fluently and is able to engage in small talk beyond ‘it rained yesterday, the sun is shining today, a beer sure would hit the spot’.

The hero narrative built up around Stubb doesn’t really tell as much about Stubb himself as it does about Finland, which is so in the tank for its own wannabe internationality that it only requires one properly pronounced English word to convince us that we are an integral part of Europe rather than part of the stammering periphery somewhere in the north.

Alexander Stubb is also a new kind of politician in relation to the media.

The Finnish political discourse has always required keeping one’s mouth shut, with the occasional autistic grunt intended to make one seem prestigious. Stubb has, instead, voluntarily entered into a merry sort of small talk conversation with the world.

Stubb began regularly updating his diligent, some might say hysterical, blog long before other Finnish politicians. There are five Alexander Stubb Facebook groups to be found at the moment.

Stubb began his media work back in his days in the European Parliament, diligently drawing current and future opinion leaders to his office in Brussels. The groups were made up primarily of 30-40 year old media decision-makers, who have done their own part in making sure that the love story between Stubb and the media has lasted so long.

Most of these media decision-makers also assembled for Stubb’s 40th birthday party, where as the foreign minister walked by they chanted ‘Alex! Alex!’ like a flock of giddy fans; it’s possible that even Stubb found it irritating.


All would be well, but now Stubb the superman has begun to believe the worship of the media. Stubb is becoming a man for whom nothing is enough: like an ADHD child who has been pumped full of cocaine.

He has become a man who doesn’t know how to say ‘no’, because it would be rude to the Stubb fans. Stubb lends his face to advertisements and campaigns, running from one interview to the next, in his down-time writing a book that tells us how we should exercise and eat so that our body fat percentages can be in the same range as Stubb’s.

In his blog Stubb reported a normal Tuesday. It included a visit with Elizabeth Rehn, a visit to a Marimekko factory, an interview for the Swedish daily paper  Dagens Nyheter, a meeting with the executive secretary of IGAD, Mahboub Maalim, a meeting with the ambassadors from India and Pakistan, some of the regular work of a foreign minister, participating in an EU seminar and finally ‘knocking off’ a triathlon.

Stubb still had enough energy to tell about all of this at the end of the day in a long blog entry, which culminated with this information: ‘I improved my time from last year by a full 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Total time was 1:11:45 at a distance of 750 m swimming, 20 km riding and 5.5 km running. The swim went nearly three minutes faster than last year. It felt good. Training towards my main goal of the season continues.’

The love story between Stubb and the media contains a lesson.

Long-lasting love stories between the media and a subject are not necessarily good for the subject. It is healthy to receive some undeserved criticism now and then. Otherwise you start to believe the hero narrative created by the media, which can hardly be good for one’s health.

Translated by Owen Witesman

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1 comment:

  1. C. Chapman

    Very funny indeed. Having recently read books by Rosa Liksum & Christer Kihlman, I’m glad to be reminded that Finnish alcoholism, murder, and despair don’t preclude a sprightly sense of humour!

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