According to my mum I used to be a proper TV junkie. Looking back I’m not surprised. The 1990s were a great time for children’s TV, especially in The Netherlands. It strikes me now how my TV habits have shaped my worldview and even my career choices. Sounds like I’m exaggerating? Not really. Here are some shows that made a huge impression on little me and have shaped my interest in literature, all things American and the more disturbing forms of popular culture.
A show about a mole and a worm sounds like a recipe for disaster. In fact, Moffel and Piertje are best friends who explore the world together. Aimed at four- to five-year-olds, Koekeloere introduces its audience to the benefits of cooperation and friendship. While the show has taught me important lessons about self-restraint – Moffel never eats Piertje, after all – it also introduced me to one of my favourite words in the Dutch language. Pronounced coo-que-loo-re, it means “peeking” or “looking around”.
This programme’s Belgian creator allegedly got the idea for his trippy toddler’s show when observing a group of children who were watching a lottery show. Noticing that they were fascinated by the sounds and colours he decided to develop a programme that was aimed specifically at them but taught them more important things than the joys of gambling. Much of Tik Tak’s attraction lies in its predictability combined with occasional moments of surprise. The toy sheep that appear during the show’s opening credits are occasionally joined by a little dog – an excellent preparation for the chaotic experience that is adult life.
Now for the serious stuff. I’m not sure whether I would be an Americanist if it wasn’t for this show. Granted, the adventures of a clown and his acrobat brother look a bit dated now, but they did function as my first introduction to the culture of the U.S. Bassie en Andriaan’s imagination of the U.S. is a tad stereotypical, especially with regards to Native American culture, and African-American people are virtually absent from the show. But this programme did introduce me to a country that was as huge as it was fascinating and made an impression I’m unlikely to ever forget.
Part of Villa Achterwerk – which translates as “Villa Ass” – an anarchist platform for boundary-pushing children’s TV, Purno was never going to be conventional. If you’ve ever wondered where my love for rude and politically incorrect art comes from, look no further. Even according to Dutch standards this show is extreme. Popular with young and adult viewers alike, it’s packed with sexual innuendo, references to drug abuse and violence. No wonder I turned out as twisted as I did.
Ask any Dutch person in their late twenties whether they know Karbonkel and they’re likely to scream at you. When finished they’ll proceed to explain that Karbonkel, Ik Mik Loreland’s main antagonist, used to haunt their dreams. A student journalist even decided to work through his childhood trauma by turning his fear into an excellent documentary (unfortunately without subtitles). Karbonkel, a magician slash monster whose talents include the ability to turn himself into a fish, is so upset by his inability to read that he decides to steal all letters and words. Mik, the show’s main character, sets out on an epic quest to get them back, helping children to learn how to read and write in the process. After all those years I still love the insane sets, ridiculous puns and fairytale-like storyline, and Mik still sets a great example as a strong female protagonist. It’s fair to say I would not love reading as much as I do were it not for this show. But I’m still a bit scared of fish.
Photo by Burak Kebapci from Pexels