By Esben Bjerre & Peter Falktoft, Monte Carlo på P3
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
With an untraditional approach to journalism, Danish radio show Monte Carlo have made topics such as the U.S. Presidential election, the Israel-Gaza conflict and global politics interesting to the younger generations of Denmark. We recently had a chat with the two minds behind the show, Esben Bjerre and Peter Falktoft, to discuss the things that have caused the most commotion, their depiction of the news and their opinion on the world of media today.
Needless to say, you’ve gotten quite a lot of exposure during the past couple of years. Do you think this has had a particular impact on your radio show?
We try to steer clear of all the commotion that follows the exposure of what we do in order to focus on the important stuff. We're aware that by this point, some of the stuff we do gets attention from tabloids and whatnot, but if we let that affect the way we do things, it'll get boring. Besides, red carpet premieres and celebrity-cooking-contests on TV is not really our thing. We try to keep the things we do relevant.
♦ Photo by Daniel Hjort for Politiken, 2013
As always, success also casts off a healthy amount of criticism. You’ve experienced this in relation to your way of presenting global issues such as the Gaza-conflict. Why do you think some don’t agree with the way you depict news to the public?
Obviously it's a delicate subject, so you're always going to deal with different opinions, and that's great – but the thing is that what we're doing has pretty much never been done before. We're mixing information with entertainment in order to attract a certain type of audience's attention. Whatever business you're in, you're bound to face criticism when you come in and do things differently. Especially in journalism. You got people who've been studying – and dealing with the conflict in the middle east for decades – and we wanted to bring the whole issue down to a level, where ordinary people can get a relaxed insight to the whole thing, without their heads exploding. We're bringing the whole issue back to earth. Back to a place where everybody is allowed to make up their own minds – without some biased expert telling them what's right or wrong.
The generation of today is bombarded on a daily basis with information from a variety of media outlets. What influence do you think this has on the younger generations?
Until recently we actually thought, that it only posed a danger to younger people. But we've learned, that the whole 40+ segment are just as likely, if not more, to buy into what the media tells them. So it's a general problem for a lot of people. It seems that people far and wide believe that if it's being said in the media by people in grey blazers it the truth. People should remember, that the media business is exactly that, a business. They're competing. Competing for your attention. And the easiest way to get that, is by creating problems and by blowing them way out of proportion. Danger and fear gets people's attention. Every 5 minutes, there's a deadline for a Danish media outlet to come up with something. It's not as if they're going to cancel TV-Avisen on a slow news day and just broadcast a re-run of Matador. We wish they would though. The bottom-line is, that is becoming incredibly easy for everybody not to make up their own minds – which can be hard, granted.
Do you find that elements such as sarcasm, irony and humor is the best way to present sensitive subjects such as war, political crises and religious conflicts in a sober tone?
It's damn good way to do so, let's put it that way. With the way that pretty much everything is being depicted, it's hard sometimes to talk about the important things. But when you bring topics down to earth and deal with them the way you would with your friends in private, it makes people calmer. It de-escalates things, which is nice, since everything seems to be of equal importance these days in modern journalism.
You’ve often included the likes of Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin in your show combined with a great deal of irony. However, are there any aspects of their flamboyant or extravagant character that you actually find fascinating in some way?
Putin is really hard to like these days with the whole homophobia-issue and breaches of several human rights and all, but people like Berlusconi and others of more or less political incorrectness are a dying breed. It seems that everything has to be done by the book these days. Lawyers are going to inherit the earth, which is efficient, but boring. So yeah, we're fascinated by the free spirits with an appetite for life.
Some might say, that you guys often balance on a double-edged sword, where some people, justified or not, become quite angry with you. When has this happened, where you expected it the least?
We often get quite surprised by the things that cause the most commotion. It seems that the Danes, or at least our listeners, are more likely to get upset, when you talk about very trivial stuff such as "people who are using a HTC phone are the same people that buys cheap juice and watches crappy TV”, where on the other hand, no one raises an eyebrow when we say that Chinese people aren't really humans. It's the same when a very important political matter is up for debate. You can say almost anything, because most people think, that it's too complex to go into the discussion. But it has come to a point, where it is straight out ridiculous, when the single topic we've ever gotten the most complaints about revolves around a former footballer, who made it through the semifinals in the Danish version of Dancing With The Stars, regardless his lack of dancing skills, and die-hard fans of the program accused us of being the ones to blame for it.
If you could each pick one topic from the Danish society to do a TV-show on, which would it be and why?
Esben: It's hard to choose one topic but I think the whole debate about "udkantsdanmark*" is still very interesting. We've recently visited seven different cities in Denmark during the local elections and I continue to be amazed by the vast differences there are in such a small country as our own. Even though it's just a two-hour drive down to Nakskov, it's more like you're driving 40 years back in time.
Peter: What Esben said. This country is so radically different in terms of culture and values depending on where you live, it’s awesome and a bit scary at the same time.
Why is it, according to you, so crucial to have a positive outlook on the world today and, as you say, always remember the good mood?
Sometimes when you see today’s newspaper, you’re left with a feeling of "We are all going to die tomorrow" and it is our mission to remind people, that for most of them, this is not the case. Regardless what the news tells them. There is also the psychological thing, that whenever you remind people to remember the good mood, it hopefully spreads to their surroundings as well. At least we've heard people use the phrase as sort of an updated version of "Don't worry, be happy."
Can you describe each other’s personal style?
Peter: Esben is hands down the most flawless man in a suit you’ll ever see. He is probably the only person I know, who can honestly say that he feels more comfortable in a suit and tie than in a t-shirt. We’re pretty different that way. He is elegant. Not a lot of people are, especially not at his age. I really envy him, because he sticks to his style no matter what. He knows what works and keeps is that way. He’s settled, whereas I am running around trying out all sorts of stuff to see if it works.
Esben: When it comes to style, I'm very limited in what I can wear, whereas Peter can wear almost anything and make it look natural, even if it's leather jogging pants or poncho. Peter has a style that is just as bold as it is expensive.
*Udkantsdanmark: The outskirts and suburbian parts of Denmark