The bitter irony of a fictitious casting show in the context of the Norwegian asylum policy.


The video “So You Think You Can Stay” is part of a campaign by the “Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers” (NOAS) and is directed against the Norwegian government’s restrictive asylum policy. NOAS is an independent organisation advocating the rights of asylum seekers in Norway. Its aim is to contribute to the Norwegian asylum policy and to maintain the principles of humanity, justice and international obligations. Its video draws the attention to the fates of individual, rejected asylum seekers. By means of this video, NOAS criticizes primarily the immorality, arbitrariness and injustice of the Norwegian asylum policy. Its comparison with a casting show reinforces the core message.

At the beginning of the video Amir Najjer, a refugee from Gaza, is shown in a show office’s waiting room. On his way to the jury, the female host tries to encourage him. After introducing himself to the jury, Amir’s performance of 90 seconds is already about to start. Amir describes the situation in his home country; he talks about his family, the Hamas and the terror. The picture is interrupted and the host asks if Amir will stay in Norway in a dramatic tone. After that, the performances of eleven further contestants are announced in a trailer. Subsequently, the full attention returns to Amir. After being rejected by two of the jurors, Amir realizes the seriousness of his situation and shows his family photo in supplication. The picture turns black and the end remains open. Again, the question is posed if Amir will stay. Following, the casting show’s web address is displayed. In the end, the NOAS logo reappears, finally blurring and fading away.

The video must be considered within the political context of the refugee crisis. The focus is on Norway’s reaction to and handling of refugees. With regard to rising numbers of refugees, the conservative government aims at imposing a restrictive asylum policy. The video associates this with a casting show format, dealing with self-staging, competition and judgement. The entertainment format lends the incident a bitter-sarcastic aftertaste: Which person is able to recount his/ her life story the most dramatically? Who of them has endured the greatest suffering?

The title of the fictitious casting show “So You Think You Can Stay” refers to the talent show “So You Think You Can Dance”. Here, the contestants display their dancing skills. The video parodies the original programme (e.g. Jacy Jordan So You Think You Can Dance Audition 2015). There are several stage situations, whereby exclusively the audience is able to perceive all perspectives at once: the jury’s, Amir’s, the contestants’ as well as those of the TV cameras. In general, these entertainment formats depict a staged authenticity (Pörksen 2010, 26), as the borders between authenticity and staging blur. However, the staged authenticity portrayed in the video proves to be more complex. Although the casting show is fictitious and the appearing characters are actors, the contestants’ life stories are real. Consequently, a double-staged authenticity, so to speak, emerges.

The video’s underlying structure corresponds to the strategies of political storytelling. In the exposition, Amir is introduced as the main character and the motif of waiting is being established. By the time Amir meets the jury, the main part of the storyline begins. Typical forms of emotionalisation and stereotyping are embedded here. When two of the jurors vote ‘no’, the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Eventually, the conflict remains unresolved. On the image and sound level various moods are conveyed. For instance, there is a tone sequence in the opening scene underlining the tense atmosphere in the waiting area and a gloomy, threatening sound setting in when Amir meets the jury. The integrated trailer is accompanied by a dramatic melody, conveying tragedy and a fighting spirit at the same time and reiterating in the climax of suspense, until bass notes with the heart rate set in (one beat per second). The predominant colours reflect the jury’s callousness. The video rhetorically uses metaphors, symbols, comparisons, parallelisms and generalization. Thus, its central message becomes reinforced: The Norwegian asylum policy must be overhauled, so that vulnerable refugees will not be unjustly deported.

Being a NGO, NOAS runs its own YouTube channel and makes use of modern production as well as distribution processes. Its video campaign “So You Think You Can Stay” was produced pro bono by a professional advertising company. At the end of the video, there is a link leading to the web site of the fictitious casting show. One can also find the campaign on the official NOAS website. NOAS aims at contributing to the Norwegian asylum policy and helping asylum seekers, e.g. by offering free legal aid. On the website, more detailed information about the real refugees’ stories is provided, underlying the fictional ones of Amir and the other contestants. Furthermore, one can engage in the organisation’s activities, become a member and support NOAS with 40 NOK per month. In addition, a concrete call to action is being made: “Give your vote – Support the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS)”.

How this has been achieved remains difficult to assess. Considering the target audience of casting shows in general and the distribution channels of the video, one can assume that the video encourages primarily younger people in Norway to critically reflect this issue. Given a Norwegian video, the relatively high number of clicks on YouTube of more than 118.000 indicates the success of the campaign. The comments range from approval through confusion to outrage. The applied format of a casting show seems perverse to some people. The ambivalent reaction becomes apparent in a YouTube user’s comment: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry”.

Being a political campaign, the video does not only criticize, dramatize and mobilize, but it also promotes the political discourse within society. The comparison of the Norwegian asylum policy with a casting show is certainly a satirical culmination, and yet there are real reasons for the criticism offered by NOAS. At present, the Norwegian government continues to tighten asylum law.


written and translated by Judith Overbeck