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Dear Hans Teeuwen, art has nothing to fear from boring men.

It is a great thing that there are comedians who keep a finger on the pulse of society. Hans Teeuwen, for instance, has once again made himself angry. He has joined the small chorus of (mostly) men who see the end of the world coming because of a rebuttal. That is the rebuttal that now comes via social media from groups about whom they could previously make nice hard jokes without contradiction. Then those former victims say, for example, that they don't like those jokes, or that they are hurtful because they come from a culture that apparently thinks it's top to ridicule people in a vulnerable position.

The latest subject of Teeuwen, GeenStijl and Telegraaf's 'microaggression' concerns the subsidy system. For instance, Teeuwen makes himself into a recent posting on Instagram angry at our outgoing culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, who, according to Reverend Gremdaat's cranky version, is bent on banning art from universities. Teeuwen then turns his arrows on Bero Beyer, director of the Film Fund, who argues that the fund should seek its governmental task more in promoting diversity, instead of continuing to support big names like Paul Verhoeven.

Fund tradition

According to Teeuwen, this would be because Beyer would want to ban Verhoeven's work (which indeed has a lot of quality but little diversity in it). Which Beyer does not say, in the disputed excerpt. He only says that he wants to break with the film fund tradition that the fund's subsidy now mostly always goes to the same group of recognised filmmakers. Teeuwen could only heartily agree with that. After all, subsidies are not meant to make richer those who can already farm well through the market, but to offer opportunities to those who are not yet rich, well-known, or popular enough to do so.

The only faux pas (we are in Cannes) that Beyer makes in the disputed excerpt is that, as director, he is overstepping his bounds, by making his own substantive taste judgements. That's not allowed, nor can it be: as a director, you have no say in that: that's what boring subsidy advisory committees are for. Clubs of 'peers', who abide by the subsidy guidelines that we as citizens have set through the House of Representatives. The director's opinion is irrelevant. He should, as filmmaker Martin Koolhoven rightly points out in a comment on Facebook, be more concerned about diversity and fair practice within his own organisation. After all, there are some deficiencies there. And that is also the only thing he has anything to say about.

More, not less

As with the other art funds (Performing Arts, Mondriaan Fund and Literature), the government deploys the subsidy system to create new opportunities with extra money for people who currently lack such opportunities. We ourselves, i.e. the Lower House, set the rules that this subsidy must comply with. So it is about additional money for new things, not to ban art that deals with other things. If you want to apply for subsidies for insulting less able-bodied fellow citizens, you simply have less of a chance. That's not a Dutch rule; it can also cost you commissions elsewhere, such as Cornelius noticed in Japan.

So that there are now conditions for fair practice, governance and diversity is one of the things that come with subsidy. It is not a ban on art doing its thing in a different way. The same applies to the guide from the ministry of education, culture and science: It does not say that art that might be perceived as offensive must go. The ministry refers to An example at the University of Leiden, where two statues of female professors have now been added to an honorary gallery of professors that consisted of only men. So something has been added, not taken away.

Free speech deserves protection

And again, the ministry's handbook is about providing practical tips to rules that have been followed for years, and that apply to receiving a specific European grant. Not about taking money away from those who were not entitled to it anyway.

It is bizarre that parties, who like to portray themselves as protectors of free speech, should bother about these subsidies. They should be happy that our tax money is managed by boring men, and not by flamboyant types as they themselves think they are. After all, this kind of extra money is about levelling the playing field, about giving access to people who have no chance there now. More debate, more rebuttal, more fun, less boring.

And playing less on humans. Less easy jokes, in other words. Would be nice. Because I personally like humour that is fun for more people than just the jokers who consider themselves superior, rather than easy scoring on the backs of those who cannot defend themselves. But that's my taste. And we can argue about that.

Good to know Good to know
This story came about partly on the basis of an informative Twitter thread by Jeroen de Ridder.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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