Cultural philosopher Walter Weyns on FC De Kampioenen: ‘Forbidding something is always a sign of weakness’

‘The discussion about the canceled episodes of ‘FC De Kampioenen’ seems trivial, but for many people it is about a battle of values,’ says cultural philosopher Walter Weyns. ‘It doesn’t help that some awakened adepts act like moral knights.’

More than ten years after the last episode of the series was canned, ‘FC De Kampioenen’ remains an institution that no one should touch for many Flemish people. There were furious reactions when it was announced this week that VRT has deleted 19 episodes from the series’ eternal rebroadcasts because they would be offensive or downright racist. Politicians from left to right spoke of censorship and condemned the ‘vigilante police’ who wanted to destroy Flemish cultural heritage.

It’s easy to dismiss the fuss as a cucumber in news-poor times. But according to cultural sociologist Walter Weyns of the University of Antwerp, who published a book on the subject with ‘Wie Wat Woke’ at the end of last year, there is more going on. “Such an episode is apparently trivial. Even so, a culture war immediately ignites if it is deleted. For many people, this is a symptom of something bigger: a struggle of values ​​that involves much more than the apparent superficiality.’

Was it a good idea for VRT to delete these episodes?

Walter Weyns: ‘The decision is part of the spirit of the times. Like many other Western media companies, VRT goes through its archive and looks at what can be preserved and what cannot. One believes that our culture and archives must be cleaned very quickly of anything that smacks of discrimination and racism, while the other does not see the problem and does not understand why the self-knowledge from his childhood is being questioned. Both groups see the debate as an attack on who they are. Identity is difficult to discuss, because it is about whether you can still be who you are. It leads to misunderstandings, as we noted last week.’

When you talk about the zeitgeist, you are referring to the influence of the awakening movement. Much is said and written about it, while it is unclear to many what it stands for.

weyns: “Woke is difficult to call a real movement because there is no program, no leaders or spokespeople. But it connects many people fighting for social justice. For a long time, everyone did it for themselves: the LGBTQ movement stood up for its rights, so do the anti-racism movement and climate activists. These organizations gain in strength if they can connect with each other. The easiest way to do that is to find a common enemy. It’s the white man now.’

“It’s not about the white man as a concrete person, but as a figure. He is considered to be responsible for everything that goes wrong: as macho, he is overrepresented in all scenes of power, and he is the one behind sexism, colonialism and racism. The idea is that if you want to change the world, you must take responsibility for those who prevent change. And then everything must believe in it: our culture, our language and even the grammar, because they all convey the omnipotence of the white man.’

As a white man, if you consider that certain groups have been oppressed for centuries, you might be a little more lenient with certain questions.

The interests of those who fight for women’s rights, who fight against racism or for the climate, are not always the same. How is the awakened coalition holding up?

weyns: “It’s a tightrope walk, because it’s clear that Black Lives Matter activists are not always feminists, and not all feminists think the same way about gender. There are many paradoxes and many contradictions, but they are erased. This is done in the movement by leveling the fight. It’s good to fight for women’s rights, but white women need to realize that black women have it much harder. If accents are to be placed, they take precedence. Anyone who doesn’t follow that logic will be kicked out Think of author JK Rowling who mocked the term ‘persons who menstruate’.

For a long time our goal was to make society colorblind, but awakened focuses on color. What’s up with that?

weyns: ‘For a long time in the West we only looked at the individual, not at individuals as part of an identitarian group. Gender, orientation and color should no longer matter to us. Awake people see it as a fallacy. According to them, if you do not go beyond the individual, you cannot see the structural power imbalance between the groups in society. They believe that the battle should not be fought in the name of the individual, but in the name of the group. The debate is narrowed in the way that it is only about color or gender and other elements – such as socio-economic aspects – are put aside.’

A lot of white men don’t get it. Actor Marijn Devalck, Balthazar Boma in ‘FC De Kampioenen’ wondered in ‘Terzake’ why he is no longer allowed to use the problematic word ‘negro’ – which he says has only positive connotations.

weyns: “It’s not up to me to give him good advice, but people have to realize that the meaning of words changes. 50 years ago, the n-word – I don’t use it myself anymore – was a word that didn’t offend anyone. It has changed under the influence of the American context.’

“The younger generation certainly finds it completely incomprehensible that that word is still used. You can argue that things are historically different for us, but it won’t get very far if many people, especially people of color, feel it as an insult’.

The creators behind ‘FC De Kampioenen’ claim that they wanted to expose racism at the time. Do you understand that argument?

weyns: “I think so, and it would be good if the critics also had that in mind. In a fragment, Pascale (the cafe owner in FC De Kampioenen, ed.) dances around with a ridiculous headdress with fruit on it. Is it racism, or is it just a parody behind which an anti-racist message hides? Monty Python’s John Cleese says that all the time. By putting it on the line, they exposed racism, but now they are almost dismissed as racists. The key is accused of telling the truth, and that really shouldn’t be allowed’.

In your book, you point out that it is almost inherent in the waking movement that she goes overboard. White men often hear the argument that nothing is allowed today. Do they have a point?

Weyns:No one is against social justice, but you quickly see dogmatism creeping into the awakened movement. Who can translate the black poet Amanda Gorman? Can only a black woman do it as it has been suggested? Can only a gay person play a gay role in a movie? The same with words. We no longer use the n-word, but how far do we go in deleting words that are seen as controversial? In the end you censor yourself.’

“It does not help that some awakened adepts behave like moral knights who want to decide what others may do or what words and customs are acceptable. On the other hand, you have the self-proclaimed freedom fighters who don’t want to change anything. Then the game is quickly on the wagon. This is why I encourage you to be pragmatic. Think how we in Flanders have succeeded in demining the discussion about Zwarte Piet by replacing it with soot.’

Wake activists gain strength when they band together. This is easiest with a common enemy. It is now the figure of the white man.

How do we arrive at such solutions more often?

weyns: ‘I try to teach my students that in a debate they should not immediately cramp and defend their views, but that they should try to empathize with the others. If you think the discussion around ‘FC De Kampioenen’ is nonsense, you should try to understand why some people are offended by the jokes being made. More so, try to reinforce the other’s arguments. If we state in the broadcasts in question that fragments may be offensive for this reason or another, will we do so for every statue, for every street name, for every book that has something to criticize? It won’t work.’

‘Through that exercise, people learn that many things have different sides. If you, as a white man, think about the fact that certain groups have been oppressed for centuries and that such things bring sensitivities, you might be a little more lenient on certain issues. It won’t be easy, because it may mean that we have to speak differently and behave differently’.

The opening question has yet to be answered: was it a good idea to delete these episodes?

weyns: ‘It is very hard. I’m pretty liberal, or at least in the sense that I think as little as possible of what humans have ever thought and done should be censored. Forbidding something is always a sign of weakness. I therefore do not think that the sections should be offline or that there should be warnings. You may ask yourself how long you can reuse a program in the broadcast schedule. Can’t you expect a little more vitality from a public broadcaster than constant use of old successes?’

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