A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
You may have noticed that a great many of my posts revolve around Dutch TV. This is not only because of my impressive capacity to lock myself away in my flat for days on end with nothing except the box for company, but also because Nederlandse TV is so consistently surprising that I’m afraid to prise myself away from the screen in case I miss something mind-blowing. Remember, this is the country that broadcasted two TV presenters chomping down on chunks of each other’s flesh in front of a live audience as a stunt on the aptly named series Proefkonijnen (Guinea Pigs). Not to get side-tracked, but I feel that I must share with you what one of the aforementioned amateur cannibals, Dennis Storm, said about their little exploit:
“There’s nothing really special about human meat [although] it is weird to look into the eyes of a friend when you are chewing on his belly. It was just a few centimetres of meat – and now I have a good story about the scar”.
Wasn’t that a nice detour? I won’t taint this blog by posting a link to the video of this grim feat, but for those of you with more morbid curiosity than sense (I confess, I’m one of you), the footage is readily available online.
Anyway, in amongst all the oddities and ‘fantastic for all the wrong reasons’ programming I have found a gem, a treasure, a lady with international appeal. She doesn’t eat human flesh, she doesn’t proclaim her patriotism through the medium of nationalistic game shows – she doesn’t even indulge in that time-honoured Hollandse tradition of sexually harassing farmers. She is Wendy van Dijk, and she is a genuinely hilarious comedienne.
Wendy is most famous for secreting her golden locks under a severe black wig, camouflaging her Caucasian features beneath a veneer of white powder and pretending to be Japanese. Bear with me. In the guise of Ushi Hirosaki, Wendy poses as a Japanese journalist working for Tokyo Broadcasting, a ruse which lets her submit a glut of hapless celebrities to lines of questioning and general whackiness that it would be impossible for anyone else to achieve. The best part of all of this is that the interviews are conducted in English, frequently with British or American celebrities, which means us international types can get in on the joke possibly even before the Dutch audience the show is aimed at.
Being confronted with a barely comprehensible Japanese reporter (“Solly, my Engrish is not so very bad!”) asking bizarre and faintly inappropriate questions tends to either bring out the best or the worst in the unlucky celebrity victims.
Here’s Jamie Oliver having a whale of time…
…while will.i.am looks distinctly uncomfortable, at least so far as I can tell behind those ridiculously oversized glasses that appear to be glued to his face.
Unsurprisingly in this increasingly hypersensitive world, there’s been a bit of a ruckus over Wendy’s act, but the whole thing is done in such a cheerful and carefully-managed manner that I really think such concerns are unfounded. Much like with the kerfuffle around Zwarte Piet, it seems that some people aren’t happy unless they’re painting light-hearted entertainment with the brush of controversy.
If you remain unconvinced, look up Ushi interviewing Adele, Lionel Richie, La Toya Jackson, Geri Halliwell and Donny Osmond on Youtube. If the sight of poor Donny so bewildered by the interview that he collapses into hysterical laughter for the better part of 10 minutes doesn’t bring a smile to your face, nothing will. While the means may be unusual, even questionable, the ensuing hilarity is undeniable.
You say this is carefully managed, but imagine this for a second.
On British TV, a young white lady does a very unconvincing impression of a journalist from India, complete with semi-accurate costume (a bit of face paint or fake tan, perhaps), mannerisms that are vaguely based a stereotype of cheerful hotheadedness, and a very, very poorly executed Indian accent. She does interviews with celebrities in which she acts naive and ineloquent. Hilarious embarrassment and toilet humour ensues. The show is a big success, and many of your friends and colleagues celebrate it by imitating the poorly executed Indian accent.
If that program became controversial, would you still blame an ‘increasingly hypersensitive world’? Or would you be a bit more likely to dismiss it as banal, or poorly thought through, or insensitive to Asians, or even just plain old racist?
Thanks for the response, it’s always good to have one’s opinions challenged. However, while I can see that there is potential for the Ushi act to be offensive, I would maintain that the show is very carefully managed. Were the purpose to poke fun at the Japanese or their culture I would of course share your concerns, but the viewer is never encouraged to laugh at Ushi, only at the reactions of her guests. At least to my eyes, there is no malicious intent in the show at all and it is always the hapless celebrities who find themselves “the butt of the joke”. As such, I don’t personally see grounds for accusations of racism, and I’m sure that is the last thing that Wendy herself had in mind.