The perception of a culture from outside is important for it influences the culture itself as well as economic and political decisions: money is spent on the representation of countries abroad. For example, China is present everywhere through the Confucius Institutes, so is Germany with the Goethe Institutes and Spain with the Institutos Cervantes. However, in everyday life, the perception of a country from abroad is closer to a bundle of stereotypes usually corroborated in popular culture references: Americans eat burgers and drink coke, Brazilians dance on the beach, Japaneses work round the clock, Australians surf all the time, Spaniards are lazy, and so on. So, what about Belgians, Dutchmen and Luxemburgish? To see the perception of the Low Countries from outside, I chose the pop-culture reference full of stereotypes par excellence: The Simpsons.
This paper will therefore display the perception of the Low Countries in The Simpsons. This perception being different from one place to another and The Simpsons being broadcasted all over the globe, I will not confine myself to the original English-speaking American version. I will compare it to the French version as well as the Spanish-speaking Latin-American one. I would have loved to extend to many other versions, but I chose those three for language skills and time limitations.
I found out that not only are The Simpsons funny (this I already knew) but they are also a sort of reflection of the public opinion. You can watch them on the first level, the entertaining one and just laugh; and on the second deeper one, a sociological depiction.
The Low Countries are present in The Simpsons through different ways: the character coming from the Low Countries showing the image of the inhabitants and the mentions and travel, showing a more general idea of the Low Countries. This paper will focus first on the character and secondly on the references to the Low Countries as well as the travel made once by Homer Simpson to The Netherlands.
In the original version, the one and only character coming from the Low Countries is Kirk Van Houten. Kirk is a Dutchman. He is the father of Bart Simpson’s best friend Milhouse Van Houten. He is married (and later divorced) to Luann, an Italian-American woman (only in the original version). He is unemployed after his divorce, poor, sad, incompetent, alcoholic and even ends in jail for an unknown reason in S22E9 (Season 22 Episode 9 ).
In “Little Orphan Millie” (S19E6), Kirk and Luann go on honeymoon on a cruise to celebrate their second wedding. After his parents fall into the ocean and are considered dead, Milhouse is left on his own and thus very sad. His sadness gives him maturity and makes him look cool in school, which Bart Simpson cannot stand. Bart therefore decides to make Milhouse happy again. To do so, he calls Milhouse’s only known relative, his uncle Norbert Van Houten who lives in Solvang, CA. Solvang is a tourist attraction in Southern California...