What makes Stieg Larsson’s trilogy so valuable to the cause of journalism are the things it gets right…
From The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Yellow Bird, 2009
For a profession whose entire raison d’être is communication, American journalists sure have done a lousy job of explaining why the slow-motion disintegration of the business model upon which their livelihoods have depended for the past three hundred years might have significant negative consequences for the country. The arguments one hears tend to sound like high-school civics lessons that people automatically tune out. And those are from the serious journalists. The unserious ones—the ones whose ranks are booming—present a daily argument for saying good riddance to newspapers and the like—with the Murdoch empire’s recent phone-hacking scandal being only the most gruesome.
Ironically—and apparently somehow below the radar of most journalists in America—the profession was recently blessed with what could have been, and still might be, the most effective propaganda vehicle for the societal significance of journalism I could imagine. His name is Mikael Blomkvist, and the paunchy, forty-year-old, lady-killing, black-coffee-and-bourbon swizzling, cigarette-smoking, crusading, feminist, Swedish journalist just happens to be the hero of perhaps the best-selling book series in the world. The late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—have already sold upward of fifty million copies worldwide, and spawned three pretty decent Swedish films. MGM’s release, over Christmas, of David Fincher’s $100 million Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with yes, James Bond (Daniel Craig) playing Blomkvist, is no doubt driving those numbers even higher.
True, just like Mr. “Shaken, Not Stirred,” Blomkvist is too good to be true. He works for Millennium, a profitable, do-good, investigative business magazine of which he is part owner and editor that has no imaginable analog in American journalism. (It is modeled after the tiny anti-racist magazine, Expo, that Larsson helped found in 1995 and for which he continued to labor until his fatal heart attack in November 2004 at age fifty, just before the publication of Dragon Tattoo.)