How Our Crappy Musicians-Against-Trump Website Created a Dutch Controversy
It all started innocently enough, like most things do I guess. My Dutch friend and officemate Frank van Osch took a road trip with his girlfriend to America in the summer of 2019 and ended up running into a musician named Brian Kenney from Fresno. Frank is a documentary filmmaker and musician, and Brian and Frank shared a common dislike of a very polarizing figure to say the least: Donald Trump!
Frank and I are both film producers that live in a small city in the Netherlands, Den Bosch (best known as the home of painter Hieronymus Bosch). I’m American, but somewhat by accident, I’ve taken up refuge here the last five years and have no plans to leave while I ride out the world’s calamities. In the meantime, I produced a low budget action flick, KILL MODE. But Den Bosch grows on you and I’m proud to call it home.
Frank is always on the lookout for new documentary topics. Previously, he’s tackled World War II pleasure slaves, the aging process, a Dutch protest band breakup, monks dealing with their chastity vow, an old farmer refusing to call it a day, and lots more over a 30-year career.
Brian sparked Frank’s interest to do something related to what now looks like a slow moving train wreck: the 2020 presidential election, from the perspective of a foreigner. The US election process endlessly baffles outsiders (along with many Americans!), so maybe Frank could shed some light on that.
He had what I thought was a brilliant idea: let’s tour America in the weeks leading up to the election and film and interview Trump protest musicians performing in red states. I loved the idea, and for my part I came up with the name: TRUMPED BY MUSIC.
The heady brew we were foaming got more interesting when our graphic designer, Casper Herselman, created an incredible logo for our project. It’s been (controversially) featured in a design exhibition here in the Netherlands.
But then before we could get the project off the ground, Covid hit, ruining our plans for a US road trip while running and gunning with cameras. Undaunted, we pivoted the project to an online documentary, built the TRUMPED BY MUSIC website, and started a crowdfunding campaign to fund six short videos featuring protest musicians. We plan to post the videos leading up to the election. Nothing too controversial yet.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The province where we live, Noord-Brabant (North-Brabant), has a government-supported crowdfunding program, run by Kunstloc (“kunst” is Dutch for “art”), which supports crowdfunding campaigns through providing 30% of the funding goal if the other 70% is raised. In our case, this meant potentially €2,700 of support for our €9,000 campaign.
We received the Kunstloc go ahead and launched the crowdfunding campaign on July 24th. Somehow the local Dutch press got wind of it, along with Kunstloc’s support, and ran an article about it.
Little did we know that the reason for the press interest was a complaint from the PVV (Party For Freedom), which is one of the extreme rightwing parties in the Netherlands, led at the national level by Geert Wilders. Some Dutch people call him “our mini-Trump”.
A small side note. I don’t consider myself a political activist. And I don’t want to start riffing about Geert Wilders or Donald Trump. Do I hope Donald Trump loses the November election and loses big? Hell Yes! Do I think he’s bad for the country and the world in general? Another resounding Yes! But I don’t want to get too far off topic. Our documentary logo says it all. And more to the point, we want to see and hear how musicians feel about him.
Anyway, on July 29th, in an article published by Omroep Brabant (a regional broadcaster), the PVV said: “It’s a major scandal if the province is supporting interference in the US Presidential election in this way.”
Hang on. Interference in the US presidential election? Frank and I are making a documentary about Trump protest musicians. So yeah, we are profiling people that are using music as their preferred means to get their message across about the current president’s failings! That’s a long way to “interfering” in my book.
This isn’t the Deep State, Cambridge Analytics, or coordinated social media subterfuge. As of now our website has about seven songs on it, including one written and performed by Frank to stimulate submissions. And foremost on our minds is moving enough TRUMPED BY MUSIC t-shirts to make our campaign a success and make some videos. And so far we haven’t moved many!
But let’s have another PVV quote for the fun of it.
“It’s too crazy for words when anti-Trump activists are helped by the Dutch government.” (DTV News, July 29th)
There’s that “activist” word again. It does raise an interesting subject worth some discussion. Where’s the line between activism and a cultural project? Documentaries always reflect the opinions of the maker, sometimes subtly and other times more overtly. Should we be receiving Dutch government support to profile Trump protest musicians? I can’t speak for the government, but we did get it.
Would they support a documentary about musicians for Donald Trump, Viktor Orban (the Hungarian prime minister) or some other right wing figure? Who knows. (but I would like to see them!)
And I’m sure the PVV would quiet down if we didn’t have the potential to get that pesky €2,700 from the government. Ironically, it could turn out that the press coverage obliterates the need for it! Then what? Thank you PVV for making this possible?
Back to the news. In the DTV article, the PVV continued their attack, also upset that gigantic TRUMPED BY MUSIC posters were on display around town as part of a summer exhibition (further to their chagrin, supported by the city government). Full disclosure: I didn’t even know about the exhibition until a friend of mine sent me a photo. A coordinated interference campaign this is not!
Another side note. I am American. I’m entitled to vote in the upcoming US presidential election. And last I checked, free speech in the US — and in the Netherlands — was in full force and effect. Frank, as a Dutch citizen, is allowed to state his opinion on the election and Donald Trump. But again, we want to know what musicians think about it.
There’s a saying, “don’t pick a fight with people that buy ink by the barrel.” I would update that to say “don’t pick a fight with folks with cameras, a twitter account, who don’t answer to anyone but themselves.”
Two days later, the Brabants Dagblad (Daily) entered the fray. The local chairman of the PVV, Alexander van Hattem, said, “This is not art, it’s politics. Artists can do what they want, but it’s absurd if tax money goes here.”
Now something kind of surprising is starting to ensue (at least for me): a healthy debate! This is one reason I like living in the Netherlands and Dutch politics. The politicians seem like “normal” people to me, and due to the number of political parties (13 garnering at least 100,000 votes in the last election), they have to compromise and at least be somewhat civil to each other to get anything done.
It leads to things happening like putting a far right guy and a green left guy (or woman) in a room together and saying, “come back to us when you’ve worked it out.” Beautiful.
Sure there are polarized viewpoints, and I’m not saying the system is perfect by any means, but the Netherlands has a culture of respectful debate (see “polder model”) which I wish my home country had a little more of. But now I’m digressing.
To continue, Frank was given a chance to weigh in by the Brabants Dagblad. “We see (Trumped By Music) as an art project, not as activism,” although he understands that another interpretation is possible. “But to call it activism is not so simple. Yes, there is an opinion in the documentaries, but we do more. We offer a stage to musicians who have a message. I want to tell that story with music and film. ”
One thing is for sure. There’s going to be lots more discussion. The PVV has sent an official inquiry to the provincial government, the funding source for Kunstloc (the organization that granted us the subsidy), and the government is obligated to respond. You can have a further debate about the importance of art and culture in a healthy and progressive society and the government’s role in it, but that’s another topic.
We admit it can be a fine line between activism and art, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think documentaries don’t come with loaded messages. We’ve started filming the “making of” TRUMPED BY MUSIC. Maybe an interesting topic for a documentary?
To be continued. In the meantime, please take a look at our website and Kickstarter campaign and decide for yourself. Oh, and if you know any musicians that might like to be profiled, please send them our way!
The TRUMPED BY MUSIC team
Our Kickstarter campaign runs until September 4th: TRUMPED BY MUSIC