For starters; if any Dutch person whatsoever were to read the above statement, I would soon be inundated with shouts to go back where I came from as even the slightest criticism of Dutch culture or society elicits a defensive and seemingly autonomic response from deep in the Dutch psyche. Even criticisms from within Dutch society are often discounted as anti-Dutch pandering to non-Dutch interests; like the complaints about black-Piet that only after decades of protests have led to a reduction in the amount of black face worn seasonally but not an elimination as ¨true¨ Dutchies refuse to see any ties to their country´s slave trading past or colonialism and insist it is important for children to experience the belief that Saint Nick has a black manservant as opposed to an elf. The lack of empathy for the people that have been protesting and the refusal to listen to why blackface is racist is truly typically Dutch. Is it exclusively Dutch though? I don’t think so. There was a very marked lack of empathy for Black Lives Matter when I lived in the UK – and I remember quite a few LBC morning shows where Kaepernick´s knee taking was vociferously denounced as anti-patriotic by slavering British people with zero empathy for USA Black history or understanding of current USA social structures.
But there are many examples of the broken Dutch soul in Christmas advertising:
- Jumbo: a supermarket chain locks dad outside in the garden and the family has a peaceful dinner as no one thinks to look where he´s got to;
- BOL: a girl spends a year pretending a soccer ball is a doll because her parents didn’t get her the doll she wanted; then when they do give her a doll, she trashes the ball without any remorse. Aside from feeling overtly sexist, I find the advert disturbing. Either it was a year long psychotic manipulation of her parents, or she truly has zero feelings of attachment to the thing she visibly played with yearlong. Either way what to Dutch people apparently must be amusing is truly disturbing in the portrayal of heartless detachment the child exhibits.; and this year
- HEMA: a kid loses her toy dog at the beach (the irresponsible baggage handlers of a foreign country didn’t load her bag on the plane) so to get back to her the toy dog has to swim the Mediterranean then run past angry guards in what looks like an eastern European border control to drag itself back to holland; where luckily the girl is buying a replacement dog and can pick it out at the shop. This one is disturbing on so many levels. An off the cuff down the nose look at the countries where Dutchies spend their luxury cash; then a journey reminiscent of Syrian or African refugees followed by the thoughtless replaceability of items left behind… and despite the fact that the bloody toy dog had a hell of a struggle to get to the town where he was looking for his owner, she´s out shopping for a new one. Lucky toy dog that she buys him back.
Well; that´s a highlight of Christmas advertising, that in other cultures is meant to pull at heartstrings and inspire a longing for togetherness. The closest I saw on Dutch TV was an over-the-top number where a 20-year-old boy living with his mother is put out that his mother is dating; but breaks into tears when mom´s new boyfriend repairs a framed picture of the 20-year-old and his dad. Really… It takes a critical mass of advertisers and consumers to reach a point where all of this is considered normal for the purportedly most emotionally or religiously important holiday of the year. I don’t think even most atheists would think portraying the plight of refugees in toy dog form is particularly relevant to Christmas or positive in any way; unless the aim is to fictionalise such experiences so that Dutch children don’t think to hard about real life in other parts of the world? But it is probably fair to say that it isn’t too far off from some of the crass right-wing comedy on USA television networks; where charity is ridiculed and people in need are blamed for their situation (Last Man Standing). And of course; there was the incident where seasonal Dutch culture themed porcelain sold at the AH supermarket chain featured a carefree smiley Anne Frank. There was an apology for that; but I suppose this again falls under fictionalising the past so people don’t have to think hard about the role of the Dutch in Anne´s plight? People all over Europe were responsible for the plight of millions like Anne through omission or silence; but the key to it never happening again is making sure the truth is remembered not glossed over. Don’t you think?
There was also the other advert for the world cup football that featured happy construction workers doing a conga despite the reports of slavery conditions for the world cup construction workers over the past years and in the months leading up to the period when the Jumbo advert was launched. So, is all of this just a crass nature? Is it representative of a people that just don’t want to have to think too hard about the part they play in the hardship of others? Or is it just a bunch of stupid Douglas Adams worthy marketeers that are oblivious to the world around them? To be fair; most of the world glossed over the world cup construction workers and chose to put it to one side in their minds so they could enjoy the footie. Or maybe no one in the world who really loves football cares about anything but the game…
But there are the occasional beacons of light that can make you think there is intelligence in the Netherlands – it just hasn’t reached critical mass yet to pull the rest of the Dutchies along. Example NYE fireworks: every year a vast number of people are maimed; quite a lot of them children, or otherwise injured by the use of uncontrolled massive fireworks displays on every town corner. It starts in late november with nightly bangs; leading up to a warzone like frenzy on December 31st. The first year I was here for NYE – after a night worrying my dogs literally might die from their fright as the noise was continual for over ten hours and myself, I was afraid to go outside lest I be targeted – when I opened my front door in the morning there was a wake in a two-inch-high blanket of ash. My back garden was actually carpeted in spent cartridges despite the fact that I had not set off a single firework. Every year since then has been worse than the last. Despite what the authorities say about bans during corona – where I live the ban inspired larger and larger fireworks brought in from abroad. Putting a sign in the window that I had animals who are afraid of fireworks made the house a target for more. A national charity that cares for abandoned animals published photos of animals harmed by fireworks and reported children had shoved them up cats’ bums before lighting. Is that particularly Dutch? Psychopaths exist in all nations I am sure; but in other countries such behaviour is criminal or would at least lead to a ban on owning animals.
Last year the house actually shook on its foundations and then the neighbourhood electricity was cut for several hours after something was blown up. Blowing up bins, post boxes, bus stops, and anything else blow-uppable is part of their fun. So this year I spent NYE in another country as is apparently a common custom for many. And this despite calls from emergency services and hospitals to control the fireworks; despite police arresting people who bring in ¨banned¨ too large charges. Maybe the critical mass will be achieved in coming years; but in the meantime, children continue to lose their eyes, fingers, hands… I suppose at least this isn’t the USA – I mean at least this isn’t an argument about banning deadly firearms or in some way controlling the use of them. The entire globe knows that the USA is a lost cause when it comes to common sense about guns. But in the Netherlands there is at least a possibility that at some point fireworks may be controlled. Exhibit A for the initiation of the move toward building the required critical mass: