By Mark van Engeland


The problem I currently have with Dutch television is that I don't yet speak the language well enough to appreciate fully the well-made, creative programs that are on -- but even a Gibraltarian rock-ape (which, of course, can only speak Gibberish) could not fail to understand more than he would ever possibly want to know about Dutch trash TV.
This, naturally, does not apply to the Dutch detective series, featuring a detective named de Cock.
This is a very well-made show.  I watch it on a Belgian TV station, with Flemish subtitles.
I'm thinking of writing to the managers of the Belgian TV station to thank them for the subtitles; which really are a great help to me; and also to point out to them the minor little detail that Dutch and Flemish are the same language.
I don't know how they managed to miss that tiny fact; but seeing the words subtitled on the screen, at the same time as they are spoken, is doing wonders for my pronunciation.

When people ask me why I suddenly upped anchor and moved to Holland, I sometimes tell them it's because the British Channel Four television station had started airing a program called 'Big Brother', and that I point-blank refuse to live in a country where the standard of TV is so low as to produce programs like that!
This statement causes confusion to some -- until they realise that they were born with a chain, at which I am merrily yanking!
Just in case you, dear reader, are one of the three people in the entire world who doesn't know it:  The first ever 'Big Brother' series, anywhere, was produced and aired in the Netherlands.
It's a Dutch invention.
The Dutch -- who once conquered and/or colonised half the planet -- who produced immortal artists like van Gogh (pron: vun *cough-hack*-o-*cough-hack*) -- whose great minds, like van de Graaff, led the world in the sciences (that's pronounced vun de *cough-hack*-raff, by the way.  I was tickled pink when I discovered I've been pronouncing his name wrongly, all these years) -- Anyway, these same mighty, noble Dutch have reached a new, great pinnacle in entertainment!
Quick!  Break out your history books, and update them!  (with a crayon!)
I'll keep you up-to-date on the day's events as we go.

<Big Brother website mode on>

    *Nothing even remotely interesting happening*

<Big Brother website mode off>

Have we all gone mad?
What the hell is the attraction to watching a bunch of total strangers wandering around a house, eating, sleeping, and generally being incredibly boring?  'Total idiots' would be the best definition of the 'subjects' of the show, because what other class of person would go along with such a stunt?
Think about it seriously, for a moment.
Would you go there?
Would any of your family?
Would anyone you know?
If you do happen to know someone who would be a willing subject, I have the money ready in my hand to bet that you thought something along the lines of: "Oh, yeah.  So-an-so would do it, because he's a complete bleeding idiot!"

<Big Brother website mode back on>

    *Still nothing interesting going on; but someone is laughing really, really loudly at his own jokes -- if the drivel he is spouting can be so generously described.  One of the girls is hanging on his every word (obviously and embarrassingly smitten), and the others are trying hard to ignore him, whilst picking their teeth, toes, noses, etc..*

<Big Brother website mode thankfully off again>

I dread to think what the 'etc.' was that they were picking, there!
I jokingly advised another writer, recently, who was looking to break into other fields:
"If you just want to make money, without doing any creative work, but want people to think of you as an experimenter in psychology/sociology, pick up a vidcam and film a bunch of braindead individuals whom you have 'locked in' to a house, island, bus, cardboard box, etc.."

It wasn't even a very creative leap, to come up with the show.  You can hardly move for webcams on the Net, these days; where people are adding a sort of perverse spice to their lives by never knowing if they are being watched; so it didn't exactly take a genius to arrive at the idea of feeding the same kind of thing into the TV.
I've been tempted to get a webcam, myself, and point it exclusively at a piece of paper bearing the words: 'If you want to look at an idiot, go try the mirror in the bathroom!'; but I have better things on which to spend my system resources (Duke Nukem, Command & Conquer, etc. -- you know, the important stuff) (Well, somebody has to save the world!).

<Big Brother/Duke Nukem mode on>

    Nukem :  Ik ga op jouw Middeleeuwse ezels rijden! (I'm gonna get mediaeval on your asses! -- more or less)
    He uses the red key to enter the Big Brother house, and mows down the bloody lot of them with his chaingun!

<Big Brother/Duke Nukem mode off>

Dutch TV couldn't possibly get any worse than Big Brother, could it?
Hey, of course it could!  Why do you think I asked?

A few months ago, whilst still in England, I watched a documentary about the American Fox network's show Who Wants to marry a Millionaire?
In case you haven't heard about it:  An anonymous millionaire humour writer (not me, honest!) agreed to hold a sort-of competition for women to enter.  The 'grand prize' was that the winning 'contestant' got to marry him, build a home with him, bear and raise his kids, darn his socks, grow old along with him -- the works.
Nobody -- not even the 'contestants' -- knew who the guy was until after his choice had been made, and the 'prize' won.
I watched this after-the-event documentary in a state of total incredulity.  I simply could not believe that people could genuinely make that kind of decision about the rest of their lives, in the atmosphere of a game-show.
Of course, the entire thing degenerated into a disaster.
It was handled with an incredible degree of tackiness.  The girls were... well, just ask yourself what kind of woman would willingly enter such a 'competition' (why do mediaeval donkeys keep springing to mind?).  The potential groom was either insane or rabidly desperate, obviously.  The girl who was eventually chosen as his blushing bride didn't want to be there in the first place (so she at least had a little sense).
...And the 'happy couple' was divorced without even consummating the marriage!
Basically, it was a Grade-A fiasco, all round.  Even Fox, who specialise in stooping as low as they can go, swore they would never run with such an insane idea again.

After seeing the damage that the show did to Fox, every TV production company in the world said:  "Bloody hell!  You'll never catch us doing anything that stupid!"

<Dutch TV executive meeting mode on>

    The Boss :  Ok, it's the last instalment of 'Girls with their boobies out', next week.  What have we got lined up for the slot?
    Program Maker 1 :  'The Slot'?  Hmmm.  Good idea!  Might even get better viewing figures than 'Boobies'!
    The Boss :  Not that kind of slot, you idiot!  The Time-slot!  What new shows have you got lined up for the Time-slot?
    {Protracted silence}
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm...
    {All eyes fall on him}
    The Boss :  Yes?  You have something?
    Program Maker 2 :  Well, er...
    The Boss :  Get on with it!
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm, well, we've had a rich nutter contact us...
    {Fearful silence}
    The Boss :  ...And?!
    Program Maker 2 :  ..And, well, erm...  He wants to get married.
    {More silence, broken only by the sound of knees, knocking together}
    The Boss :  ...He wants to get married...
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm...  Yes, Sir.
    The Boss :  {sighing} And how, precisely, does this interest us?
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm, well, he's willing to let us hold a competition to help him choose a, erm, a bride.
    {Heavy silence}
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm...  He doesn't even know any women...  He'll let us find some, for him to choose from.
    {REALLY heavy silence!}
    The Boss :  {thinking hard}  How rich is he?
    Program Maker 2 :  Erm, really rich!
    The Boss :  {Guilder signs passing before his eyes}  And no-one has ever done a show like this before?
    Program Maker 2 :  {hastily looks for support from Program maker 1, who immediately pretends to be very busy doing something vitally important with a pair of paper-clips and an elastic band}  Erm...  No...  Erm...  I don't think so...

<Dutch TV executive meeting mode off>

Yup.  You've guessed it.  The Dutch channel, RTL4, did their very own Prostitute Yourself to Marry a Millionaire show!
I managed to keep watching, right up to the point where the anonymous rich guy issued his first batch of rejections -- when, somewhat *miraculously*, all the 'contestants' who were not blonde just disappeared!

Damn!  Out of column inches again!  I shall continue this rant -- and also look at some of the slightly less trashy elements of TV here -- in a fortnight, when I get back from gallivanting around the Netherlands.



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