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  • Loy Bernal Carlos

The Frugality of Death


The below intro was from a 2014 review of Icelandic journalist-turned-composer/playwright Ívar Páll Jónsson's off-Broadway musical, Revolution In The Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson, Furniture Painter. The story, set literally inside Ragnar, imagined people as representing various corporeal elements that contribute to the overall health, healing (and growth) of the painter's elbow . But the balance had become corrupted by disease and Ragmar's system had begun to turn on its "citizens."

The musical's narrative was a surrealistic take on corporate and political greed. It was a commentary on the perils of normalizing, approving, and directly and indirectly supporting morally corrupt leaders and individuals. And it forebodes of the eventual destruction of what once was a thriving and hopeful society that's complacent to unchecked, authoritarian power.

Then still playing at the Minetta Theater in New York's Greenwich Village, Ívar and I had a very long conversation (he was in Iceland, and I, in New York) about the genesis of his very bizarre and intriguing musical. (Unfortunately, much of the interview was lost when my laptop with the full text of the review and interview was stolen before it had a chance to be published in the magazine. Shortly after, the musical production closed.) The playwright wrote the story in the aftermath of the global banking crisis. I recall his shock at the fact that, unlike in Iceland, no banking high-level executive ended up in jail in the U.S.–at all! He wondered why outrage seemed to be muted. He was concerned that this was an indication of something more rotten, that there exists an invisible, inextricable, deeply rooted corrupt structure that now permanently governs everything, a system for which ordinary people are merely pawns to be directed, managed, controlled or be rid off.

It's been almost four years since, and all that's left of that review are these handful of introductory paragraphs. Something about these words, though, makes me wonder whether Ívar was on to something, that the banking crisis was perhaps just the first symptom of a system that's septic.

Ívar Páll Jónsson


Death comes cheap. At least that’s the case for everyone except the loved ones we leave behind. We now live in a world where the value of life is getting less and less measured by the good we do than what it costs institutions to cover us.

As we approach midterm elections here in the United States, we are reminded by the politicians who are vying for office that it costs the government money to keep us alive. Just name any hot-button issue and it is almost certain that an economic balance scale has been set-up, with life on one side and money on the other. And we are told, money trumps life. Always.

Healthcare, immigration, security, environmental protection, food regulation and production—no matter its importance to our own health and well being, if it’s not deemed financially practical, we are told it is simply bad policy. Profitability reigns supreme. Recently, legislators and courts have decided that a company’s profit margin is more important than our quality of life. They have decided that a company’s financial health is more important than its workers’. In politics, shareholders’ (whether foreign or not) are the voices to whom our officials listen. It’s far louder and more powerful than their constituents’.

As for governing, fiscal responsibility must be enforced even if it leads to homelessness, poor health, or even death. We now live in a twisted economic Darwinism that justifies suppressing and subjugating—if not eliminating—an entire segment of a population who are deemed lazy and unambitious.

** I include this headshot of Marrick Smith, who starred and was amazing in the aforementioned production.

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