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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'
Michael Lindgren (left), IFS panelist and question editor Elaf Ali, and the quiz show host Ahmed Berhan. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

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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LEARN ABOUT SWEDEN

IN PICS: The entries for Sweden’s annual gingerbread house contest

The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design (ARKDES) runs an annual competition for the best 'pepparkakshus' or gingerbread house. Here are some of this year's impressive creations.

IN PICS: The entries for Sweden's annual gingerbread house contest

The theme for this year’s contest was runt hörnet, or “around the corner”, and this year’s contestants made some references to what’s been in the news, with this one below including Sir Väs (Sir Hiss), the king cobra who escaped from his cage in Stockholm’s Skansen Akvariet last month. 

Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
Of course Pippi Longstocking also made an appearance. Here is an unusually well made gingerbread model of the beloved children’s character at her Villa Villekulla house. 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
This one came with the text: “If you are very, very quiet, sneak in and go on tip toes, and then slowly and carefully look around the corner…. then if you’re lucky you might see something truly magical.”

 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT

“Round the corner is something that can be described as the freedom of Rapunzel. Despite that, it took her 18 years to dare to go beyond the walls of the tower.” 

Photo: Tim Aro
 
This one was titled “the ultimate round-the-corner game”. 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT

We’re not quite sure that the lobster is about in this one. Is it about rich people living cheek-by-jowl with the poor? 

 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
This one’s about climate change. “A look around the corner at what’s waiting for us when the water comes up onto the land and people need to find somewhere else to live”. 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
This is something to do with going to meet “Tomten”, Sweden’s version of father Christmas. 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
This one reads “In books of fairy tales, new worlds are waiting around the corner. 
 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
This one shows Father Christmas having an accident. 
 
“On Friday evening, police were called to the corner of candy-street and St Lucia where a reindeer sleigh had hit black ice and driven into a convenience store. No one was injured and the reindeer and sleigh were permitted to drive onwards after a sleigh control”. 
Photo: Tim Aro/TT

This one is inspired by Mickey Mouse’s camping trip. 

Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This one is a little existential. “Round the corner is a staircase which is where you are in life. Every corner has become rounded  and time circular”.  
Photo: Tim Aro/TT

This one says, “Look, yet another #digitalnomad has given up all daily requirements and driven away to the horizon. Here we have a caravan which drives on black syrup and so can be driven with a good conscience. Sweet! What’s waiting around the next bend?”.

Photo: Tim Aro/TT

Another philosophical entry. “Because memories and relationships make a place special: where your best friend lived, where you learned to cycle, played your first sport and went to school. It all happened just around the corner.” 

Photo: Tim Aro/TT
 
Here’s how they all looked laid out. 

Photo: Tim Aro/TT
Photo: Tim Aro/TT

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