Tuesday March 27, 2012
The pitfalls of human nature
By KARIM RASLAN
Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series shines a glaring light on corruption and abuse of power. Even in the most open and democratic of societies, there are forces seeking to undermine and compromise our rights.
STIEG Larsson’s three Millennium novels are reported to have sold over 65 million copies – that’s almost seven times the size of Sweden’s population (circa 9.3 million).
The books (as well as the inevitable film adaptations) are a global cultural phenomenon. Sadly, the novelist himself passed away in 2004, just before his central character – Lisbeth Salander, the young, moody female researcher perpetually clad in punk-rock black — captured the imagination of readers across the world.
Stieg Larsson was obsessed with the dark underbelly of Scandi- navian life — the world behind the neat perfection of Ikea, Volvo and Abba.
Despite the nation’s professed social democratic and “welfare state” ideals, Larsson warned about the presence and growing influence of extreme anti-immigrant, right-wing groups.
Given last year’s appalling mass murder in Norway which left 77 dead, the novelist’s concerns seem well-placed and eerily prophetic.
Indeed, the cold, calculating gunman Andres Behring Breivik who terrorised Oslo and Utoya in 2011 seems like a villain out of Larsson’s novels.
The Millennium series consists of three novels: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.
As mentioned, the franchise has spawned three superb 2009 Swedish film adaptations (starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace), as well as the 2011 Academy Award-nominated Hollywood version with James Bond star Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.
However, the films aren’t for family viewing, so don’t watch them with your mother.
The focus of the three novels shifts constantly between our unlikely heroine Lisbeth Salander with her distant manner and the editor/journalist, Mikael Blomkvist as he probes a rogue’s gallery of arms-dealing tycoons, murderers, money-launderers and human-traffickers, all of which leads him in turn, to Lisbeth’s tragic and brutal family history.
We follow the action across Swedish society, tracking events against the bleak, frost-bitten landscape of rural Scandinavia.
The revelations from the hero’s investigations set into motion a chain of events that dredge up Salander’s traumatic childhood and reveal links to a shadowy cabal — a “state within a state” — that shakes the very foundations of the Swedish realm.
The Millennium series highlights the inherent gender biases in even the most egalitarian of societies.
Almost from birth, Salander in particular is subjected to a series of horrifying sexual, emotional and psychological abuse.
What makes it doubly worse is the way the state itself is complicit, as her enemies manipulate the provisions of the welfare state to punish and brutalise her at every turn in order to ensure their secrets remain hidden.
The Sweden Larsson paints is riddled with inconsistencies and hypocrisy – a world where neo-Nazis and other extremists appear to have free rein whilst their opponents are cowered and/or silenced.
It’s a place where lives can be destroyed if and when, unaccountable powerbrokers deem it necessary for “national security” demands.
As Sweden’s economy slows down and its welfare state crumbles much like the rest of Europe (there’s a risk of recession this year despite the Riksbanken’s forecast of a 0.7% growth whilst the OECD claims that its income disparities have grown four times those of the United States), we must wonder if Larsson’s nightmarish vision will take hold?
Still, I have to say here that Salander is no victim.
As with many loners, she seems to possess a wizard-like ability to unlock the inner secrets of anyone’s computer almost at will, navigating a maze of protocols, codes and servers.
Indeed, she is a strong and compelling character who rises above the violence and prejudice that threatens to engulf her, avenging for her sex and holding society accountable as she metes out justice like an Internet Age Dirty Harry or some vigilante avatar.
The Millennium series shines a glaring light on corruption and abuse of power.
Larsson warns us that even in the most open and democratic of societies, there are forces seeking to undermine and compromise our rights.
For Malaysians, the novels and movies must surely be eerily prophetic.
How many Salanders have we already created through institutionalised neglect and abuse? How have the most vulnerable coped in our society?
The Millennium series isn’t just entertainment. The novels are a deeply moral set of lessons of the pitfalls of human nature, power and public life.
We have been warned.