By Veijo Hietala, Ph.D. Adjunct Professor and Senior Lecturer in Cinema and Television Studies. University of Turku. Translated by Richard Foley.

In many countries, the compass directions have powerful images and fantasies associated with them.

Let us take the United States, for example. The Old West was a wild frontier that had to be civilised. Today, the West brings to mind freedom of spirit and an easy-going trendiness. The East, by contrast, has traditionally represented a rational view of life and intellectualism.

In today’s global imagination, the Arctic Circle has replaced the American frontier as the boundary between civilisation and savage nature. The popular American TV series Northern Exposure (Finnish title: Villi Pohjola, lit. ‘The Wild North’), which ran from 1990 to 1995, was an entertaining and intelligent treatment of viewers’ polar fantasies.

Young New York physician Joel, who wound up in the small Alaskan town of Cicely, was constantly reminded that his book knowledge was no match for folk tradition and ancient myths. Cicely was portrayed as an idyllic place where people lived very much in touch with nature and basic human instincts.

The show was a “green” fantasy on the reconciliation of nurture and nature and there was no taking it for real. The series underscored this in the final episode, where Joel steps out of the Alaskan wilderness right into the New York has missed so dearly! His lover, back in Cicely, gets a card saying: “New York is a state of mind.”

And that was what Cicely was too – every city-dweller’s Northern utopia.
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