22ndJun2018

Popcorn epics, modern nationalism

Roel Reiné is a filmmaker with a penchant for heroic-historical action movies with heavy overlays of special effects. His popular action movie Michiel de Ruyter (2015; distributed internationally under the English title Admiral) already contained a remarkably anachronistic, flag-waving speech extolling the character and greatness of the Dutch nation (online here). In interviews, Roelé testifies to his appreciation of patriotic flag-saluting ceremonial in the USA. He would like to see a similar ethos in his native Netherlands, and is candid about this as the motivation for the bombastic flag-waving in Michiel de Ruyter.

Roelé, again teamed up with producer Klaas de Jong, has now turned his attention to an earlier hero: The Frisian King Redbad (†719), known for his resistance against Christianization and Frankish hegemony. Advance notices (the film is due out this month) indicate that this is, again, an unabashedly nationalistic production and that its script (again by Alex van Galen) involves a similar mixture of anachronistic distortions of historical fact and manipulative xenophobic ethnotyping.

This time the ethnotypes are not just self-serving glorifications of the Dutch character, but also carry a heavy xenophobic overtone. Stalwart pagan traditionalists are pitted against imperialist southern foreigners. The pagan Frisians are characterized as “liberal, with freedom of trade and freedom of thought, based on the notion of «I will decide for myself what I say or do» – something very deeply embedded in our culture.” Against them, we see the “Catholic Franks encroaching from the South”. Roelé uncharacteristically invokes historical veracity to justify his decision to only cast fair-skinned, blond actors for the Frisians parts; he does allow darker hair and skin-tones for the Frankish characters (“there is, after all, something Southern in them”). The filmmakers see “many points of comparison with the present: freedom against extremism (that is to say: Christianity as it was at that time)”. Producer De Jong, in a thinly-veiled allusion to present-day migration problems, notes that “If as a nation you are open to all and everything, you open the geates for the wrong type of people. That’s what this film is about. The Frisians said: come on, do as you please - until they were overrun”.

Source: De Volkskrant, 29 December 2016. A recent publication attempts to salvage the historical facts from the film’s distortions: Sven Meeder & Erik Goosmann, Redbad: Koning in de marge van de geschiedenis.

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02ndApr2018

The neoliberal genome of the Dutch nation

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was interviewed by Mehreen Khan in the Financial Times, (“Dutch leader ready to be EU champion on free trade", (FT, 27-03-2018, p. 7), as part of his publicity campaign to position himself as the go-to free-market Conservative Liberal after Brexit. He went on record as saying that "The Netherlands, since the 16th century, has always been trying to maintain the balance between the great powers - France, Germany, and the UK" and that free trade is "part of the Dutch DNA".

Whatever the Free-trade DNA (has this taken over from the equally fabled Dutch moralism and tolerance?), Rutte, who has studied history, should know that he is off by at least a century with his 16th-cetury flourish. it is arguably wrong to date a balance-of-power policy to the pre-1670. But ethnotyping is just that: bad history dressed up as a timeless national characteristic.

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