Cultural Artifact: Who is Mr. Walker?

Down the street from our hotel in Stockholm stands a massive, four-paneled sculpture of a running man (cue Running Man song that has erupted all over social media). However, it’s difficult to determine in which direction this fellow is running, allowing to the various degrees of perspective offered by this piece of art.

The statue sits in a little park that has been overlooked in recent years, explained one local who passes the statue every day on her way to work. She describes it as much too modern for her tastes, especially as someone who lives in the Old City, Gamlastan, a small island south of downtown Stockholm that was once the power center dating back to the 14th century.

She sat with me to uncover some additional information about this towering sculpture. Of course, any information that she found was in Swedish, and she promptly translated for me.

Jan Håfström is a very famous Swedish artist who sought to add more color to the small park. In 2014, he placed the 7-meter, 2000kg statue entitled “Who is Mr. Walker?” It is based off the American comic series “The Phantom.”

However, Håfström changed the appearance of the Phantom to reflect the nature of the park. Unlike other parks throughout Stockholm that provide green spaces and a relaxing ambience, Norrmalm is grungy due to lack of maintenance in recent years. It’s loud, dirty, and busy.

Håfström saw this park as a microcosm of Stockholm. Rather than standing guard to fight off the evil, this hero flees the city. At what point would a hero cease protecting and escape into the unknown?

My friendly local and translator has a theory.

With the Syrian refugee crisis raging, many European countries were forced to accept hundred of thousands of desperate individuals, Sweden being one. Sweden accepted roughly 240,000 Syrian refugees, whereas the United States accepted an estimated 10,000. The United States’ capitalistic economy and infrastructure was able to provide for the refugees. Sweden, on the other hand, a country of 9 million people, found immense difficulty lending assistance to a quarter-of-a-million people with no means of income in a socialistic environment.

Swedish news outlets spoke of collapse; and to many, this idea rang true. Sweden’s infrastructure faced a hurdle it had never seen before, which continues to challenge the very nature of their society today.

I had the privilege of seeing this systemic collapse firsthand. Myself and another individual had fallen ill while on our trip. We awaited the arrival of a doctor to visit us at the hotel, but no one arrived. One option remained: a trip to the hospital.

The hospital looked deserted upon entry as it loomed in the night, almost phantom-like. It resembled any other hospital in the States, but the processes and protocols were far from the same. I won’t go into much detail as I value my privacy, as opposed to the Swedes.

The nurse (an American, thank god) asked me questions in the waiting room, questions that I’m used to appearing on colored forms. The nurse warned me ahead of time that they were understaffed that night, so it would take a while for results to come in and a doctor to visit with me. Of course, my symptoms were far from life threatening, so I understood the delay.

In the end, nothing was found wrong. I essentially went to the hospital for cold-like symptoms. Now, some of you may be hysterically laughing because this is precisely the opposite of the American health system, where there is now an ER around every corner.

In Sweden, this is quite commonplace. My friendly local explained to me that their high taxes allow for free healthcare, but at what cost? It took her three months to see a doctor for her back problems. Indeed, this circles back to the Syrian refugee crisis. The hospital may have been understaffed because the medicinal personnel were dealing with the larger, aforementioned issue.

Håfström has planted an idea. It’s our duty to uncover the meaning of his message and make the appropriate changes; otherwise, we may all end up like Mr. Walker, running from our problems.


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