Stockholm Syndrome: The anonymity of fame

One of the things I like about living in my patch of Stockholm is that there are famous people everywhere. But what I like even more is that I don't recognise any of them.

A couple of weeks ago Mrs Syndrome and I were trying to find the ripe avocado in our local ICA. (There’s always one – it just takes some finding.) A scruffy bloke leaned across and grabbed a box of cherry tomatoes.

“You know who that was,” said Mrs S, as he pushed his trolley towards the bread. She said it as a statement of fact, rather than as a question, but I answered anyway.

“No,” I said.

“Jacob Eklund,” she replied, with a ‘what do you think about that then?’ look on her face.

I didn’t think anything about it because I didn’t know who he was. But apparently he’s an actor who has appeared in lots of films I’ve seen and enjoyed.

As we traipsed home with our avocado and a few other items, Mrs Syndrome nudged me. Her eyes glanced left, oh, half a millimetre or so. She may even have raised an eyebrow slightly.

“Lisa Ekdahl,” she whispered, even though the last person to pass us was by now around a corner.


Maybe she said actress, I’m not sure. Because moments later someone I did recognise cycled past.

“Look!” I hissed. “Tiina Rosenberg! That feminist politician!”

I was swiftly denounced as being hysterical in the face of fame and told to keep my voice down.

I have always been impressed by Swedes’ collective attitude towards famous people. If I were famous – not that writing an anonymous column is ever likely to make me so – I can’t think of anywhere I would rather live than Sweden.

Of course, the downside is the tax. But remember that most famous people would continue to do what they do even if they received no money for it – usually because it is the only thing they know how to do. So that is a small price to pay for being able to live your life as normal, instead of being hounded, stared at and asked for an autograph every time you leave your front door.

What makes people froth like loons when confronted by a famous face in other countries is the perceived gap between the frother and the face. It is unbridgeable, except by a one-way act of worship.

But Swedish society, applauded for not letting anyone fall too far behind, criticised for not letting anyone stretch too far ahead, means that people have a little more respect for themselves – and a little less reverence for the famous.

The famous get the bus. They queue at Systembolaget. Their kids go to the municipal kindergartens. Their Swedishness prevents them from acting superior and other people’s Swedishness prevents them from being treated as superior.

Unfortunately that seems to be changing. I recently spoke to a PR expert who told me that less than ten years ago, newspapers – including the tabloids – used nothing more than news to sell themselves. Now, she pointed out gleefully, even the serious papers’ front pages are dripping with ever-more salacious news of pseudo-celebrities.

And I can’t be the only one who has noticed that any Swede over the age of 50 who watches Allsång på Skansen, the feelgood summer singalong show, complains about the cheering and the screaming from the celebrity-hungry teens packed in at the front.

“It never used to be like that,” they say. “It was never ‘them and us’ before.”

The measured attitude towards the famous is being eroded by a constant stream of frenzy in newspapers, web sites, magazines and TV programmes. It is inescapable.

But there is hope. Because the only good thing about tabloid fodder is that it is here today, gone tomorrow. And the true celebrities in Sweden, those who are famous for their real talent rather than their fake breasts, will have nothing to do with all that nonsense.

They will happily let the fame-seekers have their unearned attention while they continue doing what they do best – acting, singing and, like the ripe avocados in ICA, just being part of the crowd.

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