Under fire

De Snijtafel has taken on the verdict on Zwarte Piets image in Amsterdam. What? Okay, let me explain this…

Kasper Jansen and Michiel Lieuwma have recently emerged as a YouTube hit called De Snijtafel (The Cutting Table). They take fragments of tv programs and verbally cut them into pieces by pointing at their errors and stupidities. If a song text says: “I love you not because you give me your hand, but your fingers that point towards me”, you will see them speak about an unknown number of fingers hovering in the air in front of you. Lately, they have also criticized several popular TV programs, sometimes painfully revealing how they manipulate us into main stream thought patterns. Some episodes are very interesting to watch if you get the language.

Their latest video touches on the theme of Zwarte Piet. That story in a nutshell: Dutch kids believe in Sinterklaas. That’s a tall bisshop with a red dress and a white beard who navigates from Spain every year with his steamboat and deals out presents with help of his clowns who look like black slaves without chains who are called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). One year ago, if you would have asked a dutch person why black pete is black, the answer would have been: “Because he goes through the chimney to deliver the presents in children’s shoes.” Don’t ask.

There has long been hidden frustration about this tradition, but it has also been celebrated as an innocent, joyfull event. Recently, UN discrimination specialist Verena Shepherd has declared this tradion racist, meaning it will probably change.  The jurisdiction set in motion here are means to induce the changes. It seems puppet play to me, but I don’t know the details.

In their video, Kasper and Michiel analyse the verdict of a case against the municipality of Amsterdam. The city has given authorisation for the public celebration of the Sinterklaas event in 2014. The verdict now calls that a racist act. Without necessarily disagreeing, Kasper and Michiel expose that in the verdict itself, black people are framed as opposers of the white people’s tradition. They note that while the court claims to counter stigmatizing cultural expressions, they in fact are guilty of it themselves. With that, it loses yet another bit of its credibility.

It seems to be a trend. In the past year, politicians as well as other influential dutch personalities have publically expressed critique on the dutch court. Don’t get me wrong, I think it will remain an established entity, but its reputation is becoming flawed. It seems that authority is trusted less than before.

Will this lead to consessions of the juridical system? Will its members become increasingly carefull? Will there be a democratization of law in general? Or will the gap between juridical positions and their trustworthiness increase? If so, what follows? Interesting times indeed.

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