On (the absence of) historical context

28 10 2008

Following massive public outcries, VRT, the public broadcasting company of the Flemish community in Belgium, has decided not to air a controversial episode of Plat préféré, a culinary travel show hosted by professional chef and local television personality Jeroen Meus.


Show host Jeroen Meus (credit: photonews)

The show format makes for original culinary television (is that a genre yet?): the host travels to a location where he prepares the favorite meal of historical icons à la Roald Dahl, Freddie Mercury, Salvador Dali and … Adolf Hitler. You read that right. Apparently, Hitler was fond of trout in butter sauce (and genocide).

The public debate over this show has legs and cuts right to the heart of media reception. Some organizations warn against the ‘trivialization’ of Hitler’s legacy, others cry ‘censorship’ and ‘freedom of speech’. Citing the controversial nature of the episode, the VRT announced that it would not air the show and regrets that the show in question could be received as “humanizing – or worse – glorifying” (my translation) Hitler.

Screenshot from the cancelled Plat Préféré show

Screenshot from the cancelled Plat Préféré show

While this incident illustrates the importance of historical context in documentaries – a quality not lost on other WWII documentaries VRT broadcasts – I think that the decision to cancel tomorrow’s airing of Plat préféré does more harm than good. Instead of giving viewers a chance to judge for themselves (watch the trailer), the VRT seems to suggest that the episode does indeed glorify Nazism. That’s poor business communication.



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