From the Dutch Canon: Flodder

When I was but a nipper, say, an eight- or nine-year-old, I was first introduced to a peculiar fictional Dutch family called Flodder. They are boorish, crude, violent, criminal, antisocial, and even occasionally incestuous when brother and sister Kees and Kees engage in some choice adventures. Despite these flaws, they are lovable in all their obscenity, because they always stick together, even when they don’t, and in the end they are just a small lower class family that is despised by the Dutch bourgeois. So let me now introduce you to this abhorrent pack of misfits: Ma, Johnnie, Kees, Kees, Henkie, Toet, Opa, and Whisky.

Just a quick rundown of these characters before I get into the actual article. Ma is the tough, cigar-smoking matriarch of the family who has had children from five different men. Johnnie is the eldest son, and mostly responsible for the family’s income. Son Kees is the dim-witted second son and side-kick to his criminally entrepreneurial brother, whom he idolises. Daughter Kees (“what’s in a name?”) is Ma’s first daughter, a voluptuous, promiscuous, and occasionally superstitious beauty. Henkie and Toet are Ma’s youngest son and daughter, and are as mischievous and savvy as their older siblings, although they, despite their young age, usually display more guile in their shenanigans. Opa is the grandfather of the family, although it is neither clear whose grandfather he is, nor if he actually is related to the Flodders at all. Lastly, there is Whisky, the family’s pet, a ferocious Bouvier des Flanders.

Back in 1986, the Netherlands met the family for the first time, when film director Dick Maas brought them to the silver screen. The Flodders were an overt and crass critique on the Dutch welfare state and political correctness: they were poor and uneducated, yet cunningly managed to scrape together income by exploiting the Dutch welfare system and enterprising criminal activities such as Ma’s illegal whisky-production and Johnnie’s shady courier jobs. A crucial role in the family’s prosperity is played by the compassionate, clumsy, and socially awkward civil servant and social worker Sjakie, who cares so deeply about the family that he overlooks their wrongdoings, as well as their contempt for him, and defends them time and again against the prejudicial society the family lives in. Sjakie is a typical example of the naively optimistic Dutch welfare sentiment of the eighties.

The Flodder family’s story originates in the first film. Here Sjakie manages to convince the town council that the Flodder family, who had unknowingly been living on a toxic dump for many years, should be relocated to a villa in the luxurious suburbs of Zonnedael, as part of a social experiment. He is convinced that by letting them live in the neighbourhood for a year, they will rise above their humble and antisocial nature, and reach for a more sophisticated way of living, adhering to the community’s manners and ideals. Naturally, the people living in Zonnedael are bland, snobbish, and pompous, and consider the Flodders as a blight on their perfect little suburb.

The clash between the colourful Flodders and their practically monochrome neighbours is generally the source of much of the film’s comedy. One well-known example is when Ma enters the posh mobile supermarket, where some Stepford Wives are buying foreign delicacies, like snails, and Ma simply asks for blood sausage.

From the original Flodder movie, which was a huge success with over two million cinema visitors, there sprung Flodder in Amerika!, a series of initially three seasons that was eventually extended to five, Flodder 3, and finally a comic book that was published last year. In all of the family’s adventures, they try to get ahead in life one way or another, often hindered by either their neighbours, Johnnie’s inept fences, or simply the family’s own hubris. Ultimately, though, things work out, but not without a decent amount of underhand actions.

There is no more notorious Flodder moment than one from the first movie, where brother and sister Kees decide to swindle their neighbour, who is a car salesman, out of a new car. When the neighbour is parking his car in his garage, the irresistable sister Kees seduces him and lures him into some extramarital, lascivious conduct. Kees utters the immortal lines “Buurman, wat doet u nu?” (Neighbour, what are you doing?), as the man proceeds to undress her. Undoubtedly, the scene was the birth of many a young Dutchman’s libido.

The other films are less memorable, although letting the Statue of Liberty smoke a cigar by way of shooting a water tank filled with gasoline into its mouth, before blowing its head clean off, is rather unique. No, arguably the best Flodder adventures can be found in the television series, as there the family is less mean and performs less dangerous activities, and their actions lean more towards absurdity, which gives the comedy more of an innocent tint to it.

One example of the Flodders’ endearing farce is the episode in which Ma celebrates her birthday. What the family doesn’t seem to realise, surprisingly, is that Ma’s birthday coincides with the Queen’s birthday, which is celebrated nationally and is broadcasted on TV from a different part of the country every year. As plotwise luck would have it, this time Zonnedael will be the scene of this feast. Naturally, the people of Zonnedael and the city council want the Flodders gone for the day, so both groups scheme to get them out of their house. However, Ma wants to stay at home for her birthday, and when the family realises that they are being played by various parties, they stay put. When the royal family tours through the neighbourhood, they promptly decide to divert from the official route, and join the Flodders at their home. When Sjakie visits the family the next day, he is taken aback by, among other things, the family’s stories of Kees’ adventures with Crown Prince Willem-Alexander. The Queen even phones Ma to complain about her hangover, and to invite the family for a birthday feast at the palace next year.

All in all, the Flodder family is a peculiar, but generally good-natured family, that wonderfully serves as as a critique on aspects of Dutch culture. They have an endearing quality that goes beyond their crassness and generally devious nature. The series’ iconical theme-tune best encapsulates the family’s unusual mix of features, reminiscing the eighties’ raw hard rock, with synthesised melodies that are playful and uplifting. That is Flodder: raw, playful and uplifting.


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