The shallow man, healed from a nagging ankle injury sustained during the last Amsterdam Marathon, has finally recovered and is happy to be out running along the Amstel river again three to four times a week. Yesterday while on one such run, I narrowly avoided being hit by a cyclist that was helpfully riding along the pavement. Then, while running across a zebra crossing was almost hit by a car driver, who was too impatient to wait the few seconds I needed to cross the bloody road.
While out running in Amsterdam, I often come across irresponsible, selfish people. There are some geniuses that believe it’s ok to allow a pit bull terrier to trot along without a leash. People on bikes who believe that they have a right to cycle anywhere they please, even if it means going along at high speed on a pavement while simultaneously texting. The shallow man despairs sometimes at the selfishness displayed by so many people today, and has often wondered what it would be like to live in a more Utopian society, which brings me to the subject of today’s post.
The shallow man, in his guide to provide his multi culti flock of followers with up to date information on the latest or not so new trends in Dutch pop culture, and advise expats on good shows to watch which use simple Dutch, has in the past written posts about Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden, and Achter Gesloten Dueren, cheap Dutch soaps whose recruitment criteria is based solely on how people look.
The lovely Nadia Novakova sent me the following message. “shallow man, every time I turn on Dutch TV, I keep seeing adverts for something called Utopia, is this some kind of Big Brother type show and is it good for someone like me who is learning Dutch and would like to know more about Dutch culture?”
The shallow man, as ever, keen to answer the requests of my followers, spent 0.99 cents (yes they charge) to catch up with the first episode of this programme, and has also recorded and watched several others. I will now provide the first in my reviews of Utopia, the latest piece of reality junk tv from the Mcdonalds of the TV world, Endemol. I’ll be open and honest in my review, and if as a result, I’m locked in a room, with only herring to eat, and forced to watch nothing but TV programmes featuring Linda de Mol, who curiously, like Benjamin Button appears to be aging in reverse, I’ll look my critics in the eyes and shout out “Hou op je zoon van een hoerige kameel” the things I do for my readers!
Imagine fifteen people, dumb enough to spend a year, living on a secluded farm, that has the most basic of amenities, filmed by hundreds of cameras 24×7. Welcome to the latest reality TV show from the makers of Big Brother, Utopia.
The idea is that as in the book by Thomas More the fifteen sukkels, sorry participants, need to work together to develop the ideal society. The shallow man believes they have already done general society a favor by removing themselves from it, albeit for only a year.
So, these folks have all volunteered to take part. They arrive on a farm and gather together in a kind aircraft hangar type space. The shallow man is from the city so has no idea what the correct term for this is, anyway, it’s all taken deadly seriously. They are there to see if they can come up with a model of society that works, bla, bla bloody bla. On the farm are some cows, which they’ll have to milk themselves and probably kill it they want meat. There are also some chickens and that’s about it.
In typical reality show style, we get quick bios on each character. There’s the winner, embodied in the shape of Aike, a 33 year old management consultant, that annoyingly has a habit of throwing in English management phrases during conversation, often leading to confused looks from her fellow Utopians.
There’s the loser, embodied by Peter, who is described as a former cafe owner. He explains how he lost everything, business, home, wife and one of two dogs. The loss of the dog appears to have upset him. There’s a wrestler, a housewife, a “paravet” a kind of nurse vet that give hamsters mouth to mouth resuscitation if required, and so on. There is even a poor chap, who has been homeless for some time, and walks around everywhere barefooted. The programme makers, sensitively refer to him as a zwerver, in other words a tramp.
The fifteen people chosen are supposed to be a cross section of Dutch society. The shallow man is sad to point out that there are no Makelaars, Ecstasy dealers or self employed ondernemers from the leisure branch (prostitutes) taking part. Nor is the expat community represented. Interestingly enough, the natural leader of the group isn’t some management type, but an aannemer, (handyman) a 53 year old very likable chap called Paul. More about him later.
If you had 15 minutes to take essentials you need for a year…
The first episode takes place on new years eve. The participants are told, not long after having arrived that they will be taken home and each given a crate. They will have fifteen minutes to take whatever essential items they need for a year. Upon arriving home, Giorgio, a twenty year old student, who, like the rest of the candidates has only spent a few hours in Utopia, is greeted by his sister, who bursts into tears and cries her eyes out. Is he really that annoying? Did she believe she’d got shot of him for a year and was then traumatised to see him return home so soon? We then learn that amongst his priorities are cans of coca cola. Some of the other Utopians counted such essential items as nail varnish, shower gel, and of course as there are Dutch women taking part, enough cigarettes to stock a supermarket were taken. There was also lots of booze packed away as well.
This is where Paul, the handymans natural leadership abilities rose to the fore. He wisely took lots of practical building materials including fuse boxes and a tap. Both of which came in handy as in Utopia, only the basic electric cabling and water pipes are provided. Everything else must be put together by the inhabitants.
Young love and optimism
Lindy, the hamster kisser, was shown tearfully saying goodbye to her boyfriend. If she thinks that he’ll be around in a years time, then I’m Lady Gaga’s greatest fan. You could almost see him reaching for his smartphone the moment she turned her back to start swiping through tinder.
It was your choice to go on Utopia stop whining!!
The only negative thing I’ll say about Paul, the smart handyman, is that he wandered out to the cow stall, and started crying like a Dutch man asked to pay for a meal on the first date. He was upset about leaving his four children and his wife. Well Paul, I have no sympathy for you, it was your choice. To make matters worse two of the female participants came over to console him, one of whom, put her hand on his forehead and started praying!
The sparks will fly
Even on the first day, it’s clear that some lines of battle are already being formed. The “zwerver” wants a ban on alcohol as it makes people loud when they’ve been drinking. The Dutch (well ok the women) are incredibly loud and require no booze to help them get louder. Of course, his suggestion was not taken seriously. There were already several discussions and I look forward to seeing some fireworks amongst the Utopians in the near future.
The shallow man verdict of Utopia so far
Sadly, the shallow man has to admit that he thoroughly loves this programme, it’s addictive in a strange and compelling way and belly laugh funny as well. If you’re Dutch, you’re probably watching this already. Expats who are looking to learn the language and more about the Dutch should watch this show.
I’d like to thank Dave, a Brit who has lived in the Netherlands for over thirty years for also recommending this show. He’s been here so long that he gives Dutch lessons to expats in Amsterdam and can be found under the twitter tag @rochejagu
No zwervers were hurt during the writing of this article.
For more shallow wisdom, acquire the Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man from Amazon and just to prove that the shallow man is integrated into Dutch society it’s also available from BOL.com and at the ABC book stores in Amsterdam and Den Haag.