A travesty of an election that ignored the will of the people. A political ad where an innocent little girl was obliterated by a weapon of mass destruction. Battling alien invaders, yet again. Nuclear armageddon, yet again.
When it came to the ways we were weird, 2016 made Svalbard great again. Bigly.
Forget the weather that was off-the-charts wacky. The bewildering shift in businesses. The trippy TV “docu-soap.” And the fact lots of locals were forced to undergo three enemas (or, as the mainstream media put it, “they were evacuated”) within a year.
All that surreality and more that also happens to be a substantial significance will be brought up when Icepeople’s “10 Biggest Stories of 2016” is published next week. This list is all about weirdness for weirdness’ sake in the many ways only possible where man, giant mutant polar bears and cleverly hidden 300-meter-high trees co-exist.
So, in no particular order because that would require extra effort, here are Icepeople’s 10 strangest stories for 2016:
“What You Get When You Let the Internet Decide,” a headline in The New York Times bemoaned. Um, yeah, because if we learned anything about elections in 2016, the results are much more rational if people vote in person. The British government conducted an online election this spring to name its new £200M polar research ship, whose destinations will include Ny-Ålesund upon completion. The runaway winner was Boaty McBoatface, submitted by PR guru and former BBC employee James Hand, receiving 124,109 votes compared to 34,371 for runner-up Poppy-Mai. Bureaucrats immediately freaked, saying the name was undiginified the results weren’t binding. Plenty of researchers on the other hand, expressed delight because the name would ensure tons of ordinary folks would eagerly read about every project the vessel was involved with. Of course the ‘crats won and announced the vessel will be named the RRS Sir David Attenborough, after the polar explorer who turned 90 this year. Sure he’s done a lot of cool stuff, but he finished a mere 113,825 votes behind Boaty McBoatface and it was his narration in “Frozen Planet” that caused a minor scandal when supposed footage of a mother giving birth to cubs was from a Svalbard den was actually footage from a Dutch zoo using artificial snow. But in a small concession, the ‘crats will equip the ship with a autonomous underwater vehicle bearing Boaty McBoatface’s name.
Canada’s immigration website broke the internet the day after Wiggy Donald won the U.S. presidential election: Spooked-out snowflakes discovered moving north of the border wasn’t as easy as they hoped, but fortunately hundreds of articles were published shortly afterward listing the best places to flee to – and Svalbard was included in every one because it has by far the easiest residency requirements. But while immigration policies are anti-Trump (at least officially, but with the percentage of foreign residents rising Norwegian policians are pondering ways to discourage the trend), the articles note drawbacks such as noting the newcomers “are not entitled to social services. All residents of Svalbard must be able to provide for themselves financially and those who cannot may be ‘expelled or refused entry into Svalbard.'” There’s also the mention weapons are kinda mandatory, prompting one newspaper to muse “it might not be that different from living in Texas – at least the governments share the same values.”
The organization’s antics run the gamut from heroic to evil, but this year their most noteworthy Svalbard stuff was merely strange. The biggest attention-getter by far was Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi, performing his original composition “Elegy for the Arctic” on a floating platform near a massive glacier in the archipelago. It was neither the most novel nor most gifted of oh-so-many outdoor musical gimmicks here, but to loosely quote Time magazine’s official Personalty Cult of The Year: “what matters is he looks the part.” As of this writing there are more than 2.6 million views of the video on YouTube. Utter and pure genius.
But Greenpeace, like PETA and others who tend whack out of control at times, just couldn’t help themselves. They also teamed with the absurdly named company Don’t Panic to release a short video titled “The Little Explorer,” featuring an innocent young girl exploring the Arctic sea depths in some fantasy sub a lone child can navigate. But the video ends as subtlely as the Don making women an offer that can’t be refused as the child is snagged, tortured and carried away in a horrible death that’s supposed to make people think “cool…I need to be paying to see this stuff.” Never let it be said we’re not impartial: we mock idiocy no matter which side it comes from.
Seriously…Russia in June fired a repurposed Cold-War-era ballistic missile that accidentally(?) jettisoned boosters containing highly toxic fuel into the water south of Svalbard and Norway blew it off because, well, Russia announced the launch in advance. The rocket was fueled by hydrazine, which is so toxic Russia is one of only two countries still using it, and was only supposed to jettison the boosters in Canadian waters (plenty of folks there were a bit upset about the idea), but something went awry – which Russia of course didn’t mention in its initial press release after the launch. But no worries. “(The fuel components) are compounds that mix well with water,” according to Øyvind Voie, a research manager with the Norwegian Defense Establishment. And, hey, if there’s catastrophic damage those affected are allowed to send a bill to Russia to cover the expenses.
It’s always a good time for a nuclear holocaust in Svalbard and that was the case again in 2016 in a big way. The latest of many A-release video games featuring the theme was “Code Name Svalbard,” a single- and multi-player RPG that challenges “what’s left of humanity…to rise again to rebuild civilization.” It seems the secret to do so lies beneath the local ice, reuqiring players to “investigate a barren, hostile Arctic landscape. Find the clues to the location of the biological ark of humanity. Select the treasures you will reintroduce into the world. Travel to exotic places, fighting off the milling mutant masses set on satiating themselves on your loot. Oh, and the giant mutant polar bear.” But it wasn’t just gaming geeks getting into the ghastly role playing. Government grunts with the Norwegian Armed Forces let us know we should be afraid – be very afraid – in a report titled “Battle for Svalbard 2030” that basically states we’re at Russia’s mercy if they stage an all-out invasion because they have far more impressive toys. Of course, like the video game promo, the report’s objective was to put money in the pockets of those authorizing it since one of the recommendations was obviously a big boost in defense spending.
Then there’s the war at home that’s already going on. We feel dirty even mentioning the campaign known as Pokémon Go and its corporately commercialized creatures we’d like to cremate since 100 percent* of all media publications did as well in 2016. But while those “mainstream” publications were mentioning problems such as hunters going into high crime areas and cemeteries, catching critters in Svalbard means unique problems ranging from wandering into the zone where a bunch of homes were destroyed by an avalanche to glacier crevassses (not mention you’ll need more than a cell phone as a weapon if you wander into the hills and valleys). The militia fought using illegally smuggled stuff for a few weeks before the New World Order Online officially recognized this place as a battle station. We’re guessing somebody with a lot of money and a satellite phone will see if it’s possible to catch anything on an expedition to the North Pole this spring.
First the bureaucrats declared his workshop a condemned area. Then they decided he was a deplorable for having a mailbox. Anybody who’s lived here any amount of time knows Santa’s real workshop in the allegedly abandoned Mine 2B, but Store Norske declared earlier this year the place was condemned due to rot damage. That was followed by the city government denying an extension of a permit to keep the “world biggest Santa’s mailbox” in an industrial area near the beach. It seems his agent, Po Lee Lin, didn’t do all the necessary paperwork or ask the neighbors for their blessing, so the city ordered it removed by Oct. 1 or a fine of 500 kroner would be imposed. But Santa apparently is a rich rebel, since the mailbox was still there at the end of the year.
Look, we get climate change is screwing everything up, but this might be the black-is-white story of the year. The geeks at comicsalliance.com dug out this back issue from 1961 where Aquaman has to reach the snowline here to survive since he’s a completely clueless idiot who obviously can’t see there’s no ice in the sea for the first time in living memory (we’d say it’s complicted, but we are after all talking about a comic book). Also, it’s hard to understand why the bad guys trying to kill him didn’t just shoot him instead of relaying on their snow scheme. Anyhow, as we noted, it doesn’t matter if he succeeds or not because his corporate masters have more power than God if the superhero’s existence is good for the bottom line.
Also known as “Svalbard: Life on the Urge,” this series follows Swiss miss Viky Viktoria’s adventures and misadventures after her husband stands her here. Her idea of proper survival clothing to get around the archipelago, so to speak, is a tight white t-shirt. Will she be reconciled or will things be a big bust? For answers, the online series is in the video section of her Facebook page, along with what appear to be many, many spinoffs.