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IMMIGRATION

‘My dad is in famous NY skyscraper pic’: Swede

Members of a family in western Sweden have claimed their migrant worker father is one of the men seated on a steel beam and having lunch high above the skyscrapers in the iconic picture from 1930s New York City.

'My dad is in famous NY skyscraper pic': Swede

“I remember when dad and I went for a walk in the forest in the 1970s and he mentioned this amazing picture that was taken when he was building a skyscraper, and how much he wanted to see it,” Britt-Marie Johansson Duwfa told local newspaper Hallands-Posten.

She thinks her father, John Johansson, who went to the US to work but later came home to western Sweden and married, is seated sixth from the left in the famous image “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, which has been turned into posters and post cards, adorning knickknacks across the world.

“I really wish I’d tried to find it,” said his retired librarian daughter.

DOCUMENTARY FILM MAKER SAYS SWEDISH CLAIM IS PLAUSIBLE

‘They’re the unknowns’: skyscraper pic expert

Her father smoked, as does the man about to open his lunch box in the image. A slideshow of pictures from Johansson’s life does reveal his resemblance to the man in the picture.

SEE A CLIP FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “MEN AT LUNCH”

When the family discussed the image at a recent family gathering, another relative said he was convinced that the man next to Johansson was another local resident, Albin Svensson.

Hallands-Posten notes that Svensson was slightly cross-eyed, but it is hard to tell if the man seated fifth from the left in the image suffers from the same condition as he is glancing down at his neighbour.

The image was taken by the Rockefeller Centre in midtown Manhattan. Behind the men, the rooftops of New York stretch towards Central Park. The Hudson River is visible in the far distance.

Corbis, which now owns the rights to the picture, still credits the photograph to ‘Anonymous’, although it is widely believed that Charles C. Ebbets took the picture.

There have been many attempts to identify the men, and many more claims to positive identifications than there are workers in the pictures.

Irish filmmaker Seán Ó Cualáin has tried to find out who the men are and chronicled his work in the documentary film “Men at lunch”.

“We have no idea who the two men you identified are,” he told Hallands-Posten in an email.

“Steel workers were often Irish, Native Americans, Scandinavians and Newfoundlanders, so a Swedish claim is credible”.

When contacted by The Local, Johansson Duwfa said the family was no longer granting interviews about the photograph.

TT/The Local/at

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IMMIGRATION

INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.
 

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
 
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.” 

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