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Disgusting image or boomer panic? Amsterdam Fringe Festival causes a stir with campaign image

Some things that used to be fun cannot be done now. Things like smoking in class, posters of David Hamilton in the dorm room, underpaying women, driving a car with a bottle of gin behind it,  you name it. This week, an interesting riot was added. The Amsterdam Fringe Festival, the mischievous sister of the Dutch Theatre Festival, chose a campaign image that, it now turns out, some people find funny, but others find offensive. On Facebook, some theatre industry insiders vented their displeasure at the chosen image: 'Disgusting!", cried a reviewer and advisor to the Culture Council. 'Miserable, cheap,' muttered another.

All this in response to a heartfelt cry from dance specialist Fransien van der Put, who posted: "Tomorrow I go to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival doing some reviews. But this poster kept me from posting about it (website of fringe doesn't allow you to repost individual pages about specific performances, instead this poster always pops up). I really don't like it. I hope the work I go see is beyond this jaw dropping sadness :>"

(In translation: tomorrow I'm going to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival to do some reviewing. But this poster keeps me from writing about it. (The website doesn't allow you to write about individual performances, instead this image always comes before it.) I really don't like it. I hope the work I am going to see offers more than this mouthy patheticness)


Amsterdam Fringe Festival campaign image (screenshot website)

What was it about? Amsterdam Fringe had chosen a close-up of a sex doll, with the tagline 'Jaw dropping performances'. The poster hangs all over Amsterdam, and the joke is also carried through to the website, where the same image forces visitors to use their mouse to touch the sex doll's open jaws, in order to enter the site.

Poster for Ballet, a show from the early 1990s by Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Design: Anton Beeke

After a lifetime of posters by Anton Beeke (including for Toneelgroep Amsterdam), I was no longer surprised by anything, but given the excitement among so many involved on Facebook, I made enquiries with the management of the Amsterdam Fringe Festival. This I got back, and I promised to quote the reply in full, as they were quite worried that something might get out of hand:

"It's about the nod to 'jaw dropping performances', states director Farnoosh Farnia: "It's also about the physical reaction the image can evoke; your jaw can drop because you think something is terrible, or great."

Super insane

"Fringe guarantees that your mouth will fall open from the performances, but not by which; so you can find it beautiful, terrible, violent or super insane."

"We also compare the connotation of the image with that you can find something terrible or shocking at first, but it can also spark your curiosity; for example, you want to know: what will the inside of that doll's mouth feel like?

It is also about how this doll was portrayed; a blow-up doll is usually associated with sad, dirty, loneliness, but the doll was photographed very lovingly by the photographer and designer; with beautiful lighting and stylistically portrayed, as if it were a real person."

"What does this mean for Fringe? If you treat even a sex doll (with these negative connotations) lovingly, you can also see its beautiful side."

"You can compare that to the sometimes raw and experimental art forms on show at Fringe."

"So, we did NOT choose the image of this doll because it represents a negative image of women. WE chose it because of the connotation on a sex doll; from dirty and disgusting and lonely to curiosity about who this doll is, how it will feel, what emotions to represent."


Nadieh Bindels, head of marketing communications at Amsterdam Fringe, adds as an afterthought: "It is also definitely relevant and important to include the difference in reactions and views of different generations. As I also told you on the phone, it is particularly the older, facebook

using generation of around 50-plus where sometimes (there aren't that many) more negative reactions come from."

"With millennials and younger, and coincidentally exactly the generations that are breaking through and opening up the taboo and conversation you were talking about on the phone, this is not there."

So is the question to you, dear reader, whether this is indeed a generational thingy. Please share your views below.

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1 thought on “Walgelijk beeld of boomerpaniek? Amsterdam Fringe Festival baart opzien met campagnebeeld”

  1. In Amsterdam, I lived near several disco houses for years. Every year, I saw a new generation of fraternity boys passing by. Swinging on bicycle rotters and wearing underpainted jackets, I saw them radiate how terribly unique these guys thought themselves to be. Quod non, of course.

    The same feeling comes over me with that image from Amsterdam Fringe with the blow-up doll. Generation after generation of upwardly mobile artists and wannabe artists try to shock the establishment by flaunting expressions of lower culture: porno moustaches, sex shop items or fake gold sjonnie-and-anita necklaces with their own names on them.

    Like those corps balls, the new generation of makers has youthful hubris in particular. And as the late R.W. Fassbinder proved: you can go a long way with that. If you have Fassbinder's talent, at least.

    Anyways: feel free to call it a generational thingy, though. After all, the over-50s, whom Amsterdam Fringe has finely pointed out for their oh-so-obsolete Facebook use, have seen this kind of adolescent expression of easy-going provocativeness before. To quote then veteran Robert Smith: and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again....

Comments are closed.

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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