Some Damn Good Market Research

It’s Sunday, so let me take break – let me return home from Afghanistan (so-to-say: see yesterday’s entry if you don’t get what I mean) and consider what’s in the Dutch press. Ironically, the Dutch press doesn’t publish on Sunday. While in the US Sunday is the day for the often-massive Sunday newspaper editions (the New York Times tops the scales, probably at several kilograms, but many others are almost as big), and even Germany has its special Sunday papers (e.g. Welt am Sonntag), in Holland there’s still that strong Dutch Reformed Church/Calvinist tradition of no work on Sunday.

So am I pulling your leg? Certainly not! – let’s take a look at the Dutch papers, from yesterday. I promise you there are some interesting articles. (Actually, you’ll probably like best the “Saddam’s Waiter Tells All!” article, that I discuss immediately following. Click off to it now, I don’t mind – just come back here when you’re finished!) When it came to Dutch topics treated in the Dutch press, what particularly struck me this Sunday were reports about the resurgence of that ages-old threat to public order here: that’s right, swearing (i.e. uttering naughty words, in public).

Although there may not (yet) be any government watch-dog agency to keep such (mentally) unhygienic practices in check (like the public health authorities stand guard against communicable diseases), there does at least exist the Bond tegen het Vloeken (“League against Swearing”), a non-governmental organization that attends to these things.

Recently this Bond tegen het Vloeken struck again! It hired the research bureau TNS NIPO (“the market leader in the Netherlands” according to its website) to get together a bunch of TVs, tune in to all the various TV channels broadcast in the Netherlands (over the ether and over cable), and count “the amount of maledictions, curses, terms of abuse, and dirty words [that’s my translation of “het aantal vloeken, verwensingen en scheld- en schuttingwoorden“] that were uttered on TV between 8:00 AM and midnight,” according to the Algemeen Dagblad.

That a mainstream newspaper like the AD would take up this report shows that it is a mainstream news topic in the Netherlands. Naturally, for their part the religious newspapers have already been all over this story, even though the full TNS NIPO report isn’t due to be published until later on this week. The Nederlands Dagblad has all the available details: The public (state-supported) TV channel BNN (“Bart News Network” – please don’t ask where that comes from) tops the swearing league, with 6,4 occasions per hour. The NPS (Nederlandse Programma Stichting), also a public station, comes in second, with 3,2 per hour. Veronica, a private, commercial station is third with 2,9 per hour. What’s more, ten percent of the swearing caught by TNS NIPO occurred during cartoons broadcast in the middle of the day; our friends at the Bond tegen het Vloeken call that opvallend (“striking”).

Over at the Reformatorisch Dagblad the editors fume that you would expect the opposite results, i.e. that more swearing is done on the commercial stations rather than on the public channels. The implication: Why are we paying tax money to support such behavior? (Don’t try to click on the link of this latter paper if it’s Sunday; you’ll only get from them a screen reminding you that they don’t issue information on the Sabbath.)

That Nederlands Dagblad goes on further to investigate people’s reactions to this phenomenon. It seems that 20% of respondents will actually switch to another channel when the swearing on one gets too bad; almost 75% agree that it is a curse on the public airwaves (ha! that’s my formulation) which should be reined in; and 80% of parents fear that it has a bad influence on their children. 60% of respondents think that there should be a broadcasting code-of-conduct put into force.

I wrote on EuroSavant a while back (here) along the lines of “happy be the land whose greatest threats to public order are swearing, rheumatism, and the worm-like proliferation of underground cables.” Luckily, this unbridled wave of foul-mouthedness that threatens the Dutch commonweal doesn’t bother me directly, since I don’t own and therefore don’t watch TV. (I had to do a little Internet research just to be able to knowledgeably mention – or fake it, as the case may be – the Dutch TV stations listed above. Frankly, what I would like to see is a whole lot less spitting in public here!) In the US, you have your “Seven Dirty Words” prohibited by the Supreme Court (with the result that everyone knows them), and then that’s it. But here we have the conscientious guardians of the public morals in the Bond tegen het Vloeken. I really think I’m living in a very special place.

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