In this weekly column, I will put a socio-political issue into perspective. This means that I will look at both points of view of the story rationally, and hopefully come to a compromise that both parties can agree to.
How the words of one can damage the reputation of a nation
Ever since the 16th century, when William of Orange, or William the Silent, the Dutch have been known as a ‘tolerant’ nation. Under pressure from revolutionaries, he signed a law making every religion welcome within the nation’s borders. This, and many other variables, resulted in a war with Catholic Spain for independence. This resulted in a large emigration from Calvinists, Huguenots and many other forms of Christianity towards the northern Netherlands. Not only Christians, but also Jews like Baruch de Spinoza came to our country and helped contribute to what we now call the ‘Golden Age’. This has led to a reputation of tolerance towards foreigners, and some humorous jokes, for instance this one from ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’: “There are two kinds of people I can’t stand in this world: people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” And now there is Gordon, and his ‘wit’, destroying it.
A longer version of the video above was uploaded to Reddit about four days ago, accompanied by the title “How Tolerant are the Dutch?” It quickly gained traction and stayed on the frontpage of /r/videos for about a day. The comments resulting from the video surpassed 2500 (which can be seen here). In the video, as you’ve probably seen, Gordon (as a judge on the show ‘Holland’s Got Talent’) verbally attacks a Chinese student/immigrant living in Groningen. Remarks like “What are you going to sing, 39 with rice?”, “Supplies!” and “This is the best Chinese I had in weeks” were what set Reddit off. The four million subscribers to /r/videos are just a fraction of the people who visit Reddit daily, so the video might have reached about 20 million people. That’s a lot of people, hell, that’s even more than our nation has within its borders.
In the comments on Reddit, attention quickly changed from the perpetrator, Gordon, to the Netherlands as a whole. One of the top comments was this:
“No, they’re not very tolerant. They don’t realize when they are being rude or racist. Either clueless or plain inconsiderate, I don’t know. They feel comfortable criticizing others, but can’t handle receiving it. They also defend racist traditions. They know English, but want you to speak their language. They treat expats like outsiders. Don’t bike on the wrong side of the road, as you will most likely be ran off the path by a wall of teenage girls that see you coming, but refuse to even acknowledge you coming towards them.”
Now, barring the blatant disregard of our (normal) traffic laws, this guy connects the video to the larger issue of the ‘Black Pete’-controversy, which I covered in my previous ‘Into Perspective’. It became another big opportunity to bash on the Dutch and our culture. International news agencies picked it up, American-born fellow judge on the show Dan Karaty got calls from different presses to enlighten them on the issue, such as this article proves. Meanwhile, even the Dutch public news broadcaster, the NOS, felt it needed to shine light on the issue.
The Other Side of the Problem
Gordon is an asshole. That’s a fact. In 2007, while judging another talent show called ‘Idols’, he asked for a contestant to be executed by a shot through the back of the head. He was an asshole back then, and he still is one now. Fact is, throughout his career he has been encouraged to say outrageous things. In fact, his whole career is built around that. I mean, he used to sing, but who here remembers his singing? I know I don’t. Instead, he started creating this character, who would spark controversy because it would give him time on television.
Gordon is aware of this. He must be. Or else he wouldn’t be as consistent with his troubling remarks. Now, a large portion of Reddit knows who he is. He might not have calculated that variable in, but gaining attention has always been his goal. People like him don’t care about what other people think, or who he has to hurt to get the attention he desires. He is, what we call in Holland, a ‘valse nicht’, which means something like a ‘foul queer’. I’m not homophobic, and I think the LGBT-community in the Netherlands will agree on what I just called him.
Perhaps that there is some casual racism in the Netherlands that is unusual to other nationalities. We do often make racist jokes. However, racism has never been such a big deal in the Netherlands as opposed to, for instance, the United States. I don’t know what makes us any different. We makes these remarks, but we (generally) don’t act on them. This is not me saying I think this is a good thing, but trying to reconcile our receding track record when it comes to tolerance.
What to do now?
These are all the acts of an individual, which can’t be generalized to our country as a whole. However, we do need to condemn this behaviour. Kicking Gordon of the show would be a great start. Especially during this whole ‘Black Pete’-controversy, we can’t seem to approve of his abysmal behaviour. Make him a scapegoat. Drag him through the mud. Make him learn his lesson. He should’ve been barred from any media-related job ages ago, but he does bring good ratings through his controversies. I even want to go as far as to state that RTL4, the platform this was broadcasted on, was hoping for something like this to happen. Maybe even pushing the ego of Gordon to make these outrageous remarks. In which case, he might even be a victim of his own inflated ego.
All in all, I think even the Dutch people are getting rather sick of this guy. This might be a good moment for him to retire. Or, as favourable PR for the networks, cut all ties binding him to their shows.