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Column: The Noughties9 January 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
In English there is a name for the first decade of the new millennium: the Noughties. Did you know that in The Netherlands this poor decade goes nameless?
At the start of the Noughties I had only a handful of friends. At the end of this decade hundreds of people claim to be my friend, courtesy of the social networking sites. By the way, this development has not made the slightest difference about who I consider my genuine friends.
At this point I would like to ask Queen Beatrix to say a few words. This is from her address to the nation at Christmas: ‘People nowadays communicate through quick brief messages; increasingly our society becomes more individualistic. Personal autonomy has been decoupled from our allegiance to society.
Without the ‘believe in us together’ our existence becomes very hollow. Virtual encounters do not fill these gaps but on the contrary they make us feel even more isolated. The ideal of the liberated individual has met a dead end.’
Actually I adhere to another point of view: you can never be too original. In any case, the people who really love you are always thin on the ground. This ‘us together’ concept causes me to break out in a rash. Anyway, the concept of ‘us’ invites the complementary concept of ‘them’.
In The Netherlands, this is mercilessly exploited by the extreme right politician Geert Wilders. I have never heard the ‘us’ concept put forward to the same extent as it is now.
Her majesty did have a point, though, regarding the increasing importance of the internet in our lives. Knowledge is now available to all but our collective frame of reference has fundamentally changed.
Recently I was speaking to a well-educated chap, who was nearly twenty years my junior. I happened to mention the name Thomas Rosenboom (a well known Dutch writer, think of someone like Sebastian Faulks) and he said: ‘Who is he?’ ‘He’s is one of our award winning writers,’ I uttered, not believing my ears. The poor chap looked at me in unmitigated amazement.
There was once a time when you could be sure that any educated person would be familiar with our well known authors. This is no longer the case, and to paraphrase Churchill: ‘Never was so little knowledge shared by so many people.’
Not that there are no people recognised by all, take for example Gordon. In The Netherlands Gordon is considerably more famous compared to Thomas Rosenboom. Gordon is a singer, often spotted in a glittering costume, who cannot actually sing. He managed, together with two other ‘top artistes’, to become one but last in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Gordon found his way to the top through reality shows. It is hard to believe, but you can now come across Gordon when watching a current affairs show. You may well find him seated next to a Secretary of State joining the discussion centred on the tricky issue about if and when our troops should leave Afghanistan.
It is quite OK to say when having a conversation: ‘I think Wietse has a creepy smile.’ In The Netherlands everyone knows exactly what you’re on about. I understand that this needs a little explanation for people outside the Low Countries.
Wietse is the farmer starring in the TV program: ‘Farmer seeks a Wife’, the most popular Dutch TV program in recent years. Women can write in and the farmer invites three ladies to stay with him for a week. Of course in the end there is one who is the favourite. The streets were empty throughout The Netherlands at the moment of choice.
Wietse had a permanent smile on his face, and who could blame him. The most adorable woman, who happened to be called Neeltje, turned out to be the chosen one. People couldn’t quite understand her because Wietse did appear to be a bit repulsive.
I have never been much attracted to the ‘us-together’ concept. Well, I should qualify this, not when this relates to a city or country. However, around the globe there are many people who share my passion for literature and for the first time in history we have an easy means of communication: the internet.
I admit you may only be making only cyberspace contacts but the matters you discuss are the real stuff. Actually, this is a lot better than the reverse, having friends you meet in the flesh without conducting any meaningful conversation. Before you know it, you've spent a whole evening discussing the ins and outs of ‘Farmer seeks a Wife’.
This prompts me to think about proposing a new TV program to the KRO, the Dutch TV company that broadcasts ‘Farmer seeks a Wife’, called: ‘Poet in search of a muse’. This kills two birds with one stone but I’m left with a little problem about how to accommodate three women at the same time in my minute abode.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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