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Kat vs. Culture
“To live is to war with trolls.”
- Henrik Ibsen
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m taking you along a little detour to fully experience it. Never has Christmas spirit felt so counterintuitive and never has a dead horse been beaten with such grace.
Part VI: The Blacker the Pete, the Hotter the Take
I found out about the Zwarte Piet tradition on a chilly September morning. Our small group of smokers wasn’t too talkative that day, but we did not know each other well enough at that point to comfortably stand in silence. A girl, who would later become my friend, asked me if I knew about ‘the whole blackface drama’. I didn’t. She pulled up a picture.
It took me a second to realize what I was looking at. The image looked surreal. The beaming blackfaces dressed in old-timey garb. The picture must have been taken before the racial debates sparked because there was an obliviousness to it that compounded the entire spectacle. It was like staring at a page in a history textbook, an image that was far better suited for a satirical cartoonist’s rendering than full digital color.
I looked up, somewhat overplaying my shock. She laughed, clearly enjoying my reaction.
“We used to dress up as Zwarte Piet all the time,” she said. “Nobody thought it was racist.”
Since then I have heard similar accounts. The story goes: everybody thought it was normal, then the wave of social justice hit a few years back, and ever since then it’s been a contentious topic. As with any hot button issue, the discourse has become impassioned, sprouting protests and drawing a definitive line in the sand.
Here’s the thing: I’m an American. I’ve had a sense of white guilt since elementary school where we spent countless hours learning about the slave trade and segregation. When I see blackface, I shudder. As such, it is easy for me to label the entire thing disgustingly racist. And it is. But what I find far more disconcerting is the insistence on the fact that nobody knew it was wrong. It speaks to a deep cultural insulation in a society that has an international reputation for its ‘progressive values’. It reveals a traditionalism that stands at the core of this country.
I am not surprised that people are having a hard time letting go of Black Pete. If somebody told me tomorrow that the Easter Bunny was being banned, I would throw a hissy fit. I love that fuzzy motherfucker.
I am far more surprised by those on the other side of the issue. Those liberal sweeties who have now become born-again crusaders for justice. They talk about the entire thing as if it is ludicrous, despite having partaken in the tradition their entire lives. It has become natural for them to sneer at the other side, retroactively absolving themselves from any past wrongdoing. The entire discourse has followed the evolution of all similar farces. It has become a showdown between those unwilling to move with the times and those who enjoy feeding their ego with a sense of self-righteousness.
At the end of the day, Zwarte Piet has to be retired. There is no question about it. The apple has been bitten, there is no more blissful ignorance left to claim. It will never be pure again. Those who are trying to salvage the tradition are fighting a futile battle against history. From now on, Pete will always be a symbol of racial tension. The tradition has lost all of its coziness and joined the ranks of ‘political statements’. But everyone knows that. It comes down to the fact that people just want to yell at each other sometimes, and this controversy has given them the perfect opportunity to do so. And they’re just not quite bored of it yet.
Part VII: A Penny for your Thoughts & a Dime for your Silence
I thought it would be easy to transition from racial politics to something more lighthearted, but it has proven to be somewhat of a dilemma.
When I moved to Amsterdam I did not envision myself commenting on social issues. I envisioned myself smoking fat blunts and listening to vaporwave. The difference between outside perception of this city and its internal conservatism has become a point of fascination for me. The Amsterdam that people talk about, the haven of drugs and prostitutes, does exist. It just exists in a different dimension of time and space. In America, Las Vegas holds a very similar place in the national imagination. But this imaginary sin city only exists in the minds of those who do not reside there. The dealer might always win at BlackJack, but the player is the only one having fun.
As a tourist destination, Amsterdam fulfills its role, it delivers on its promises. Yet, it was naive of me to think that this would extend to daily life. The infrastructure that holds up the entire tourist market has been created by sober people, and that is why it hasn’t collapsed yet. Vegas would be a mess if all its residents got drunkenly married every weekend and Amsterdam would mutate into a monster of a different kind if it was 4/20 24/7.
The truth is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Tourists live out their fantasies and the Dutch begrudgingly allow them to do so. It is an unspoken agreement of non-interference. ‘Amsterdam’ is a city just like any other but it is also an idea of itself. Like all other symbols, it exists in the eye of the beholder. The fantasy can exist until you start searching for the reality. It is the reverse of Wonderland, the rabbit hole takes you down into a civil society whilst the tea parties and mad hatters are all on the surface. It’s quite a neat trick, if you think about it.
This Month On-Screen
Amsterdam Light Festival
You might have already come across some of the artworks during the past two weeks. They are set up all around the centre of Amsterdam, and made by artists from all over the world. This year, the seventh edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival is taking place, featuring 30 original artworks that all have their own story to tell about the city. The theme this year is the famous sentence “The medium is the message” form Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan. With this phrase, the festival tries to highlight Amsterdam as a special place to tell the stories of the artworks. More than 600 artists have send in their artworks based around this theme, and 30 of them have been selected to exhibit their works in the city during 53 days. The artworks are displayed around the city centre until the 20th of January and are lit up every evening between 17 and 23 pm. They are completely free to visit. On the website of the festival you can find a map with the locations of all the artworks. Also, some interesting background information on the works and how they relate to the general theme can be found there.
Metahaven: Earth, in het Stedelijk Museum
Metahaven is a collective formed by two Dutch artists who met at the art academy in Rotterdam. In their work, they try to find and cross the boundaries between art, design and film. It mainly consists of massive video installations that combine experimental images and documentaries in order to find new relations between them. The installations touch many political and philosophical themes. With this exhibition, Metahaven displays their work for the fist time for a Dutch audience. They have had many International success, and have also screened a movie at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. But never before has there been such a complete overview of their work in just one location. The exhibition consists of four halls with video installations, one of which is the installation Eurasia (questions of happiness), which is having its premiere in the Stedelijk Museum. A fifth hall of the exhibition displays music videos and works on paper.
The exhibition can be seen until the 24th of February, and costs 9€ for students.
Cool Japan, in het Tropenmuseum
Although this exhibition will still be around for a while, it is still definitely worth a visit. It questions the worldwide fascination around Japanese culture, focussing on a broad range of aspects. The exhibition is very interactive, as visitors get to watch Japanese manga and horror movies, play old video games and even get to interact with some world famous robots. Test your knowledge by filling in an online quiz on the way, that gives you the possibility to win prices.
Students pay 8€ to enter the museum.
What to Watch?
Blockbuster of the Month: Aquaman
The next chance for DC to prove themselves as an equal of Marvel is almost here, I am talking about Aquaman ofcourse. In the comic book scene Aquaman is often seen as a lame superhero, but this movie is trying to prove the opposite. Aquaman is played by one of the most imposing actors of the moment, Jason Momoa, which gives Aquaman a complete new look. The story is about Arthur Curry who discovers that he is the heir of the mystical city of Atlantis. He needs to step forward as the rightful leader to save his people. As he steps forward to take his rightful place he is slowly formed into the superhero that he is meant to become.
Release date: 13-12-18
Surprise of the Month: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Ralph Breaks the Internet is the second movie in the Disney series of Wreck-it Ralph. Animation and voice acting combined into again a Disney masterpiece. This movies happens six years after the events of the first movie. Ralph and Vanellope, we are now friends, discover a WiFi router in their arcade which leads them into a new adventure across the internet. A nice light hearted comedy that you can watch on a lazy Sunday on the couch.
Release date: 12-12-18
Netflix Newest: Narcos: Mexico
After the success of the Narcos: Colombia series in the past few years there is Narcos: Mexico now. The first series followed the life of probably the biggest drug dealer in history Pablo Escobar, within two seasons his criminal career and his personal life is portrayed. The interesting part of the first series was that you were kinda forced to sympathize with a person who did horrible things.
The third season of Narcos follows a different protagonist in a different city. The season is about the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel in Mexico leaded by Félix Gallardo. The third is at least as good as the first two and it brings some fresh air to the series.
Release date: On Netflix right now!
Jude is here to answer your most urgent question, so if you want some advice don't hesitate just to send an email to
I, a student of twenty years old, am getting more and more anxious because of a 24/7 pressure from my social media. I can’t handle it anymore. Could you please give me some advice?
The best way to handle this pressure is by not being such a let-down to modern day society. Firstly, it is a requirement to have all the socials. How would you be able to get a job if they can’t track you down on social media? Nobody trusts a fool without Instagram in 2018. And how are you going to maintain long distance friendships without the help of daddy Zucc?
If a future without jobs and friends is a bright one in your eyes, don’t be a wuss and delete your social media. Or are you so weak that peer pressure holds you back? Either way, grow some balls, man.
I am going through a rough patch in my life because I have case of a severely empty wallet.
So my question for you is: Does money really make a person happy?
I was wondering if you could give me any advice for the coming winter. As I go through severe seasonal depressions, a good advice is very needed. Thanks
As a person that loves any season this questions really requires a strong empathic ability from me.
Luckily I do have that.
The best tip I could give you is to go on Instagram and look at all the wonderful pictures of instabae’s on a lovely warm beach with the bluest sea you could imagine. This will make you feel better about our shitty weather in an instant. Also going outside in the cold can be a really refreshing experience.