I am a Viking! DNA, popular culture and the construction of geneticized identity - Daniel Strand CEMFOR
In this article, we analyze how genetic genealogy reshapes popular notions of historical identity, as it facilitates a genetically informed understanding of ethnicity and ancestry. Drawing on interviews with Swedish, British and American individuals who have employed genetic ancestry tests (GATs) to prove ancestral connections to Vikings, we explore how the desire to “be a Viking” is articulated through a convergence of pre-existing discourses around Vikings and DNA. By combining signs from genetic science and popular depictions of Vikings, our interviewees create a new discourse of geneticized Viking identity. In this new discourse, socio-historically constructed ideas about Vikings are naturalized as the innate qualities of individuals who possess a certain genetic composition. Images of “the Viking” once created for political, cultural or commercial purposes are revived in new embodied forms and can start to circulate in new social contexts, where they, by association, appear to be confirmed by genetical science.
In a 2018 video advertisement for History channel’s series Vikings, a middle-aged and slightly overweight white man opens the door to his suburban villa and hurries towards the mailbox. Finding the box empty, he gets deeply disappointed. As the process repeats itself, the man becomes increasingly exasperated. One day, however, he finds an envelope in the box. Impatiently jerking it out, he notes that his genetic ancestry test has arrived. The document provides a detailed account of his ethnic background: he is, for instance, “91.4% European,” “5% Native American” and “2% Nonspecific East Asian.” As the man skims through these figures, his eyes are suddenly opened wide. According to the test results, he is “0.012% Viking.” With tears in his eyes, he falls on his knees and yells with excitement. In the next clip, he stands outside his house dressed as a Viking warrior. To the sound of epic music, he raises his sword towards the skies and roars to the Gods (History channel 2018).