From single male guest worker to Muslim: An archaeology of iterating archival footage on Dutch television

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by Andrea Meuzelaar


Over the course of more than 50 years Dutch television has generated an enormous amount of stories about Islamic immigration and has produced a collection of images that is still rapidly expanding. These stories and images are collected and preserved in the Institute of Sound and Vision, the Dutch national audiovisual archive, where they are constantly available for reuse. One of the earliest television items that featured Muslim immigrants, an episode of the Dutch current affairs magazine show Televizier that was broadcast in 1969, depicts the recruitment of cheap labour forces in Morocco by a Dutch official. It shows young Moroccan men queuing up all night, waiting eagerly for the moment that they will be called in for an interview, the apparently arbitrary selection procedure that followed, and the medical examinations that the men were subjected to. Made by well-known Dutch reporter Jaap van Meekren the item shows the practice of this recruiting in an unsettling way. The footage is very haunting and reminds one of the practices of slavery and cattle-trade. Not surprisingly, these grainy black-and-white images have been frequently recycled by television. The footage has constantly been employed to mark the beginning of immigration in all sorts of archival compilations, and also to mark the moment to which all problematic consequences of  immigration can be traced retrospectively. It still appears on television today, expressing the very much contested issues of immigration, Muslims, and Islam. Through television’s persistent repetition the footage has taken on iconic qualities; it has entered the cultural canon and come to represent a pivotal moment in the Dutch televisual narrative of Islamic immigration.

This essay traces the iterations of the Televizier footage through 50 decades of Dutch television history and demonstrates how the televisual discourses of Muslim immigrants have changed over time. In recent decades a large body of academic work on Western media coverage of Muslims has developed. Already before the 9/11 terrorist attacks scholarship has scrutinised hegemonic portrayals of Muslims in Western media.[1] These debates over the politics of representation have enormously intensified since, and several studies of media representations of Muslim minorities in the West have shown that Muslims and Islam tend to be associated with a ‘clash-of civilisations’ and with Islamic extremism and terrorism.[2] Despite the wide range of existing studies hardly any research has been done on media coverage of Muslims in the Netherlands.[3] The literature on the representations of Muslim minorities in the West has not included systematic historical analysis that covers such a large time frame. Therefore the iterations of the Televizier footage become a relevant case to study how the different phases of immigration and the settlement of Muslims in the Netherlands correspond to specific televisual narratives and visual repertoires. Due to the continuous emergence of new televisual discourses on Muslim immigrants, the meaning of the footage has constantly shifted and the new meanings that these images have accumulated during their travel through television history have retrospectively reframed the past.

By analysing the stories and images to which the footage is re-attached this essay demonstrates how the characteristics that Dutch television has assigned to the typical Muslim immigrant have changed over time. This essay provides insight into television’s symbiotic relationship with its own archive and demonstrates how television’s constant recycling has canonised certain sequences of the Televizier footage. Television is a recursive medium that is constantly mixing together images from the past to frame the present. According to media scholars Hoskins and O’Loughlin the capacity of television to instantly draw upon its own archives and to reshape past events, to direct those unfolding through its own archival prism, is unmatched by other media.[4] Because the archive of Sound and Vision that holds the Televizier footage supports this recursive logic of television and actively facilitates the reuse of its holdings for television professionals, this study departs from the idea that Sound and Vision is an active player in media culture that operates not only as a site where cultural memory is kept but also as a site where it is produced. In the following sections I first briefly sketch the constructivist paradigm of archives and cultural memory that I draw on and I provide information about the method that I have used to map the history of the iterations of the Televizier footage. The essay proceeds with an analysis of the original footage that shows that its vitality lies in its evocative nature and its capacity to deconstruct the hegemonic discourse of Dutch hospitality. The study then traces the reiterations of the footage through five decades of television history and demonstrates how the footage has adopted, absorbed, and added new meaning through time and has appropriated the dominant themes of the televisual narrative of Islamic immigration at various historical moments. The essay concludes by arguing that television’s obsession for the Televizier footage has obscured alternative narratives of the initial years of labour immigration.

Archives, cultural memory, and ‘Audiovisual Lieux de Mémoire

For more than two decades now scholarship has challenged the classical view on archives as neutral custodians of cultural heritage and as transparent repositories of cultural memory. Since what Ann Laura Stoler has coined ‘the archival turn’, the archive has been stripped of its positivist certainties and has become a leading concept in many disciplines in the humanities.[5] In the current paradigm the archive is conceptualised as a spokesman of the language of discursive formations, as a monument to configurations of power, as a site of knowledge production, and as a place where cultural memory is manufactured.[6] One of the works that instigated the paradigm shift in archival theory was Derrida’s book Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. I find the vocabulary of Derrida apt for understanding how the archive of Sound and Vision produces cultural memory and acts in today’s Dutch media culture. The archive, in Derrida’s philosophy, is shaped by selective forces that consign to oblivion that what is left outside the archive. Therefore, ‘the archivization produces as much as it records the event’.[7] In Derrida’s thinking the archive is not ‘a question of the past’ but ‘a token of the future’, an anticipation of the future.[8] Derrida points out, by applying the Freudian concept of retrospective causality, that the future constantly acts upon the meaning of documents in the archive. Since there is no ‘meta-archive’ that authorises interpretation the archive is radically open to the future.[9]

In this study I contend that it is the Sound and Vision ‘pact with the future’ that turns the archive into an active player in Dutch media culture.[10] I take the archive of Sound and Vision to be the result of a judgment of what was considered worth keeping and disclosing for the future, and I consider its acts of selection and description as acts that anticipate future use. Since the mission of this archive is not only to preserve Dutch television heritage but also to facilitate the reuse of this heritage for the various Dutch broadcasting organisations, the archiving practices are to a large extent the result of this task.[11] For the broadcasters the archive is first and foremost a collection of available archival footage. Therefore the cataloguing approach of Sound and Vision is one in which each television program is considered as an aggregation of separate parts and elements, as a collection of items and clips.[12] In this shot-based catalogue Sound and Vision has highlighted certain visual units, both generic images (‘shots’) and specific archival footage (‘dupes’), as having a potential for reuse and makes them easily retrievable. So Sound and Vision not only places broadcast material, in Tom Nesmith’s sharp phrasing, on a ‘pedestal’ by simply preserving material but also by actively marking it as reusable.[13] Therefore, this analysis of the iterations of the Televizier footage takes the archival descriptions that are involved in its circulation into account.

To further conceptualise my archaeological approach to the iterations of the Televizier footage I draw on Ann Rigney’s constructivist notion of cultural memory.[14] Ann Rigney maintains that cultural memory should be conceptualised as something dynamic, as the result of recursive acts of remembrance, and as a product of mediation and representation. In her view memories of the past are constantly constructed and reconstructed in the present. To understand the cultural processes by which shared memories are produced and kept in circulation Rigney turns to Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowlegde and his idea that culture is characterised by ‘scarcity’: ‘[b]y this he means the fact that everything that in theory might be written or said about the world does not actually get to be said in practice’.[15] Rigney translates this notion of scarcity to the field of cultural memory and points out that memories are always scarce in relation to everything that might have been remembered. To further clarify she resorts to Aleida Asmann’s distinction between ‘archival memory’ and ‘working memory’. ‘Archival memory’ is a latent form of memory: the storehouse of information about the past ‘that does not circulate as common knowledge’ and lingers in a state of ‘latency’, while ‘working memory’ is the result of selective acts of remembrance of a society that provides it with a common frame of reference and is validated by social institutions and the media.[16] Rigney uses the principle of scarcity to emphasise the discursive mechanisms of selection that underlie the cultural processes that cause only certain memories to circulate as part of working memory. I contend that this constructivist model of cultural memory is a useful conceptual tool to describe the oscillations of the Televizier footage between ‘archival memory’ and ‘working memory’ and to understand the discursive processes that have eventually canonised the Televizier images at the exclusion of others.

Furthermore, it is helpful to briefly think through Rigney’s notion of ‘the convergence of memories’, which can be used here to understand the effects of television constantly repeating the Televizier footage.[17] By invoking Pierre Nora’s concept of ‘lieux de mémoire’ Rigney points out that through recursive acts of remembrance certain sites (actual or virtual) become the focus of remembrance. These sites are constantly reinvested with new meanings as new events and new narratives are superimposed onto earlier ones to form ‘memorial layers’.[18] In these sites memories tend to converge; here scarcity reduces the creation of contrasting memories and instead provides society with common frameworks to understand the past. Bearing in mind this paradigm of cultural memory I find Thomas Elsaesser’s conceptualisation of constantly-repeated iconic images as ‘audiovisual lieux de mémoire’ – as virtual anchor sites of cultural memory – particularly useful to characterise the Televizier footage.[19] Television’s persistent activation of the footage as visual frame of reference to interpret new events has transformed the footage into dynamic sites of memory that are constantly reinvested with new symbolic meanings and that capture, in Nora’s words, ‘a maximum amount of meaning in a minimum amount of signs’.[20]

Finally, since tracing the iterations of the Televizier footage is not a straightforward process in terms of methodology, I end this section by clarifying how I have carried out the historical research in the archive of Sound and Vision and how I have constructed and analysed the corpus of this research. First, this research was part of a larger project in which I studied the history of Dutch television coverage of Muslims through what I have called ‘the prism of the archive of Sound and Vision’, and in which I have developed a method for television historiography (inspired by the Foucauldian method of archaeology) that was based on the very collection and archiving practices of Sound and Vision.[21] I have taken the iMMix catalogue of Sound and Vision as the starting point of my research and I have let the metadata that Sound and Vision has used to disclose its collection – keywords such as Muslims and Islam, and the descriptions of the material – guide me through television history.

I have considered the metadata of the broadcast material reflections of changed televisual discourses on Muslim immigrants, also as performances that anticipate future use of the material. Unfortunately Sound and Vision has not documented the reuse of its material, and although various digital tools for doing historical research are currently being developed image recognition tools are not available yet. So for this particular research on the iterations of the Televizier footage I have yet again taken the search engine of the iMMix catalogue as a starting point. I traced the (key)words ‘guest workers’ (gastarbeiders), ‘foreign workers’ (buitenlandse werknemers), and ‘recruitment’ (werving/ronseling) through the archive and I systematically viewed all the programs that were rendered by these words. Subsequently, I made a close textual analysis of 37 programs that used the Televizier footage while not claiming that this overview of the iterations of the footage is complete. I analysed how the programs have recontextualised the footage and how these programs in their turn have been described in the catalogue. Finally, I structured my findings around the historical moments at which the footage began to accumulate new symbolic meanings.

Deconstructing the discourse of Dutch hospitality

The nine-and-a-half minute Televizier item was broadcast on 21 October 1969, a few months after the Dutch government entered into a recruitment agreement with Morocco. Since the early 1960s postwar reconstruction efforts and economic growth had led to shortages of low-skilled workers in various sectors of the Dutch industry, and the Dutch industry had started to employ ‘guest workers’ from Southern European countries and later from Turkey and Morocco. During the initial years of labour immigration (the 1960s and 1970s) the attitude of the Dutch government was determined by the idea that labour immigration was of temporary nature. The government did not implement any immigration policy and favoured the term ‘guest workers’ over ‘immigrants’ to stress the temporality of their stay.[22]







Fig. 1: A selection of stills from Televizier (1969).

The opening sequence of the Televizier item shows the reporter Jaap van Meekren, who explains the situation to the camera. This is followed by a scene of the arrival of the Dutch official of the Ministry of Social Affairs in the Moroccan town of Oujda, which ends with a long tracking shot of a queue of Moroccan men who have gathered in front of the unemployment office where they are waiting for an interview (while van Meekren comments ‘these men are Morocco’s most important export commodity’). The next sequence shows the actual recruiting, during which the Dutch official repeatedly rejects the men almost directly upon entering the room. Here the editing underlines the biting quality of these images, as a number of very insensitive rejections have been put side by side. In the following sequence van Meekren questions the official about the selection procedures (‘To an outsider your job seems very hard. It is almost like being on a slave-market’). In this scene the official is depicted as the cold-blooded calculating bureaucrat who is carefully following orders. The interview shows that for him the Moroccan men are little more than commodities, as he talks about them in terms of numbers, quality, and orders. Close-ups of his face reveal his satisfaction when he states that one of the requests for Moroccan workers by a factory was in fact a ‘reorder’. The item ends with a sequence of the recruitment of two Moroccan women, followed by an interview with a Moroccan man had passed the selection procedures, and finally with scenes of medical examinations.







Fig. 2: A selection of stills from Televizier (1969).

The broadcasting of the Televizier item immediately caused outraged reactions among Dutch audiences.[23] No doubt this impact was caused by the fact that the depiction of these guest workers and of their harsh recruitment severely clashed with the hegemonic discourse of Dutch hospitality. The item explicitly criticises the unjust Dutch system of recruitment that reduces the Moroccan men to commodities and actively deconstructs the myth of Dutch hospitality. Already in his opening statement, van Meekren reflects on the implications of the term guest worker (‘On the one hand these guest workers have not always been received in a hospitable way and on the other hand they have not always behaved according to what we think we can expect from our guests.’). Throughout the item van Meekren’s interventions constantly make explicit the hegemonic power relations that underlie the principal symbolism of hospitality.

As Mireille Rosello has argued in her work Postcolonial Hospitality, ‘the vision of the immigrant as guest is a metaphor that has forgotten that it is a metaphor’.[24] She contends that the conceptualisation of immigration in terms of hospitality – where the immigrant is the guest that eventually will return home, and the state is the host – creates apparently self-evident opposites that in fact are hegemonic constructions. She points out that the very reason why the ‘guests’ were invited in the first place had nothing to do with hospitality and had more to do with active recruiting, and she argues that the comparison of a labour immigrant with a guest blurs the boundaries between ‘a discourse of rights and a discourse of generosity, the language of social contracts and the language of excess and gift-giving’.[25]




Fig. 3: A selection of stills from Televizier (1969).

Certainly the vitality of the Televizier footage lies in its evocative nature and its capacity to deconstruct the myth of Dutch hospitality. In particular, the images of the waiting men in the queue, of the rude rejections by the official, and of his phrase ‘it’s a reorder’ have been reused extensively. These are clearly the scenes that are most confronting and that are most capable of inviting projections and associations. The tracking shots of the faces of the waiting Moroccan men looking hopefully into the camera frame them as victims of both the poverty in Morocco and of the unjust Dutch system of recruitment that reduces them to commodities. They have the capacity to operate, in Kitzinger’s words, as ‘nuggets of condensed drama’.[26]

The images of the official’s rude rejections and blunt statements, in their turn, are extremely disturbing and seem to instantly accuse the Dutch government of dehumanising and exploiting labour immigrants. While the archival descriptions of the original item have not earmarked any shots for reuse, in the descriptions of the programs that have recycled excerpts from the Televizier footage the images of the recruiting have repeatedly been highlighted as shots for reuse and placed on a pedestal by the archive of Sound and Vision.

The guest worker as victim of exploitation and economic recession

After ‘lingering in a state of latency’ in archival memory for 12 years the Televizier footage reappeared for the first time on television in 1981 and began to circulate through ‘living memory’ at the very moment that the collective symbolism of the immigrant as guest was abandoned. In the beginning of the 1980s the Dutch government started to formulate a national immigration policy (‘minority policy’), which was the official recognition that the guest workers who had settled in the Netherlands in the 1960s and the 1970s were to stay.[27] The label ‘guest workers’ was replaced by the label ‘ethnic minorities’, whose presence was now rearticulated as permanent. In this period, that was marked by severe economic depression and mass unemployment, the predominant themes that ran through the television coverage of ethnic minorities were their deprived socio-economic position, their unemployment, re-migration, and the arrival of the second generation.[28] In fact, these are precisely the themes of the television programs that have repeated the Televizier images and have transported them into ‘working memory’.[29]

In this period the television programs that reused the Televizier footage revolved around the unemployment of the former guest workers and other problems related to the economic recession. The footage was recycled in historical compilations about the initial years of immigration, in which it marked the ‘moment it all began’, and in which it was constantly employed to stress the fact that the guest workers had come to the Netherlands as a result of active policy, that they were economically exploited during the period of prosperity, and that they were now being swept aside without any future prospects. The Televizier footage of the faces of the waiting men and of their harsh recruitment was juxtaposed with archival footage of the rebuilding of Dutch industry, of scenes of farewells and arrivals, of guest workers in factories, and of their miserable housing situations; it often operated as an accusation of the treatment of foreign workers as redundant commodities. These kinds of historical compilations effectively victimised the guest worker as the poor labourer who was forced to leave his family to do dirty work in harsh circumstances and was now treated like a cast-off. According to the principle of retrospective causality the Moroccan men waiting in line have now symbolically transformed into victims of the Dutch endeavour for wealth and dupes of the severe economic recession.

Most of the television programs that featured the Televizier footage have disregarded the historical specificity of the footage and reused it in a generic manner, without explicit temporal reference or verbal explanation. In these typical televisual sequences that reassemble the past in a montage of memorable archival images the men of the Televizier footage have not been explicitly labelled as Moroccan, and they rather symbolised the generic identity of the anonymous guest worker who was now made redundant. Often music and editing strategies have been used to amplify the bitter tone of the footage and to intensify the victimisation of the guest workers. Some programs have employed the inherent emblematic quality of the Televizier images to illustrate stories about Turkish immigration. For example, the current affairs magazine Kenmerk (1984) dedicated an episode to the portrayal of a second-generation Turkish girl and featured the Televizier footage (the sequence of the waiting men in the queue) in an archival compilation that narrated the history of Turkish immigration.[30] In this compilation the Televizier footage has been seamlessly mixed together with archival footage of the Turkish context, while a voice-over recounted the story of Turkish immigration to contextualise current problems. Similarly, an episode of Ruim Baan (1985) that revolved around the unemployment of second-generation Turkish youth reused the Televizier footage in an archival compilation that visualised the history of Turkish immigration.[31] The compilation was announced as ‘archival film from 1965’ and showed footage of recruiting in Turkey combined with the scene from the Televizier item in which the official makes his ‘reorder’ remark.

This typical televisual generic reuse of archival material is also reflected in the descriptions of the programs, in which the Televizier footage now began to be explicitly earmarked. In some cases the archival descriptions do refer to the original Televizier item and mention ‘dupes’ of the recruitment of Moroccans in 1969 (Fig. 4). In other cases the descriptions have highlighted ‘dupes’ that label the footage in more generic terms, such as ‘recruitment of guest workers in the sixties’ (Fig. 5). The descriptions of the program Ruim Baan (1985) highlighted the shot ‘Turkish workers in front of recruitment office’ (Fig. 6). So as the Televizier footage began to appear in Sound and Vision descriptions as a repeatable visual unit, the meaning of the footage was sometimes generalised or completely cut loose from its original semantic context.


Fig. 4: Archival description of Achter het Nieuws (17-11-1984): ‘Official S.E Jongejan from Utrecht recruits Moroccans (1969/AVRO)’.



Fig. 5: Archival description of Achter het Nieuws (11-12-1985): ‘Recruitment of guest workers in the sixties’.



Fig. 6: Archival description of Ruim Baan (18-11-1985): ‘Turkish workers in recruitment office’.

The guest worker as victim of the lack of integration policy and as having brought Islam to the Netherlands

In the 1990s, as new televisual narratives on immigrants and minorities emerged, and as the Televizier footage moved forward in history, the footage began to accumulate new symbolic meanings. In this period the attitude of the Dutch government towards minorities changed as the result of the publication of a report in 1989 by the Advisory Council on Government Policy (‘Allochtonenbeleid’), which stated that the integration of minorities was bound to fail. The publication of this report ushered in the era of what Boukje Prins has qualified a ‘new realism’.[32] The government implemented a new policy and started to demand more participation and integration from minorities. The Rushdie affair (1989) aroused anti-Islam sentiments, and the public debate on immigration, the multicultural society, and Islam hardened in these years. In this new discursive regime, in which the ‘allochtoon’ who should integrate had replaced the ‘ethnic minorities’, television privileged stories about young Moroccan criminals, segregation in impoverished city neighbourhoods, and other integration issues, such as the emergence of Islamic schools, language problems, and the continuing deprived socio-economic position of minorities.[33]

In the 1990s the Televizier images were mainly brought into circulation by programs that revolved around the issue of integration of the allochtoon.[34] In the many archival compilations in which the footage was reused, it marked not only the beginning of immigration but also the origin of all sorts of societal problems, such as criminality, black schools, and segregation. The footage now no longer circulated in televisual narratives about the personal (mainly economic) problems of the guest workers like in the 1980s, but in narratives about the problems that Dutch society was facing as a consequence of their arrival and permanent settlement. In most of these compilations the accusatory tone of the footage was still directed towards the Dutch government that was criticised not only for the economic exploitation of the guest workers but also for its indifferent attitude, its miscalculation to hold on to the idea that the labour immigrants were not to stay, and its failure to come up with an effective integration policy. In many of these archival compilations the footage was reused in a generic manner and the waiting Moroccan men now stood for allochtonen in general, whose integration was bound to fail. Often music was added to underline the humiliation that the guest workers had to undergo and to amplify their victimisation. Strikingly, the Sound and Vision descriptions continued to earmark the footage, but hardly any of these descriptions mentioned the original source anymore and marked the footage in very general (and sometimes historically incorrect) terms, such as ‘selection of future guest workers in Morocco (?)’,[35] ‘recruitment of foreign workers’,[36] ‘recruitment of Moroccans’,[37] and ‘official in Turkey recruits guest workers’.[38] As the meaning of the footage became increasingly generalised by television’s reuse the archival descriptions continued to place the footage on a pedestal for further generic recycling.

Furthermore, in the course of the 1990s, the Televizier footage began to operate as an illustration of the arrival of Islam to the Netherlands. In 1993 sequences of the Televizier footage appeared in the educational series Islam in the Netherlands.[39] In an archival compilation about the history of Islam in the Netherlands the Televizier footage now marked the arrival of Muslims. For the first time the Moroccan men waiting in the queue were explicitly labelled with a religious identity and retrospectively transformed into Muslims. In this televisual narrative they were depicted not only as victims of poverty and Dutch economic policies but also as dupes of a lack of possibilities to properly profess their faith in the past and of the current Dutch prejudice towards Islam; they were attached to generic images of communal prayers and  veiled women walking on the street. Again, this reuse of the Televizier footage shows how every activation of the footage not only adds new symbolic meaning but also how this new meaning (according to the principle of retrospective causality) has the effect of reframing the past. In other programs the Televizier images have been connected to stories about Islam.[40] In the program Moslims in Europa (1998) the Televizier footage was even used to illustrate the arrival of Islam to Belgium.[41] Again, this shows how television has employed the iconic and biting quality of the Televizier images and often denied the specific and original meaning of the material.

The transformation of the guest worker into an Allochtoon and Muslim whose integration has ultimately failed

During the first few years of the new millennium the traumatic events of 9/11 (2001) and the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (2004) led to an extreme polarisation of the debate about integration, multiculturalism, and Islam. Throughout the decade several incidents and events, such as the rise of populist politician Geert Wilders and the controversy surrounding his anti-Islam film Fitna (2008), caused turbulence in Dutch society. Islam started to play a key role in the discussions about integration and multiculturalism. The predominant themes that ran through the television coverage of multiculturalism and Islam were the assumed failure of integration, related problems such as black schools, segregation, Moroccan criminality, the radicalisation of young Muslims, home-grown terrorism, hate-preaching imams, and repressed veiled women.[42]

In this decade the Televizier footage kept circulating in current affairs programs that addressed integration issues and that showed compilations of archival footage to provide the current problems with a historical framework.[43] The footage has frequently been repeated by programs about unemployment among allochtonen, the concentration of allochtonen in old city quarters, integration policy, the yielding of Moroccan youth to criminality, and other integration issues. In these programs the Televizier footage has been employed in archival compilations that trace back current integration problems to their supposed origin; the footage was often attached to generic images such as youth loitering in the streets, balconies with satellite dishes, veiled women at the market, and people leaving a mosque. The images attachment to these visual symbols of multiculturalism and the failure of integration transformed their meaning retrospectively into the moment in which all these societal problems are rooted. In many of the programs the Televizier footage operated to stimulate historical reflection, to evoke contradictions and tensions in the attitude of the Dutch government, and to promote an alternative interpretation to hegemonic integration discourse. In particular the footage of the official’s blunt statements has constantly been exploited for its potential to criticise the failure of the Dutch government to foresee the long-term consequences of labour immigration and to point out its accountability for the current problems. The footage has mostly been reused generically, and its reuse continued to victimise the Moroccan men waiting in line who now stood for the allochtoon whose integration had failed.

The case of the current affairs program Netwerk is exemplary for the recursive logic of the medium of television and for dealing with the archive of Sound and Vision in the process of canonisation. This program has apparently come across the historical compilation of the earlier described episode of Ruim Baan (1985), in which the Televizier footage was juxtaposed with footage of recruiting in Turkey.[44] Netwerk repeated this historical compilation in four different episodes that all revolved around the assumed failure of integration of allochtonen.[45] In these episodes the exact same compilation that figured in Ruim Baan (and that was earmarked as ‘Turkish workers in recruitment office’) was used, including the title ‘archival film from 1965’ (Fig. 7). In the descriptions of these four episodes of Netwerk the footage was also earmarked in general (and historically incorrect) terms, such as ‘archival film 1965 of medical examinations of guest workers’.[46] This shows how television’s constant generic reuse of the footage has homogenised its meaning and how with every repetition the footage multiplies in the archive’s collection and descriptions.







Fig. 7: The above described sequence of Ruim Baan and Netwerk.

After the assassination of Theo van Gogh, as the issues of Islamic extremism and ‘home-grown’ terrorism began to dominate television’s news agenda, the Televizier footage now started to circulate in current affairs programs that revolved around the ‘threat’ of Muslim immigrants to Dutch values and the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. In 2004, for example, the Televizier footage surfaced in an episode of the current affairs program Reporter that was called ‘the preservation of Dutch culture and the influx of immigrants’, and that revolved around the menace of immigration to Dutch tolerance and sexual freedom.[47] In an archival compilation the Televizier images illustrated the beginning of Islamic immigration and pinpointed the source of current problems. In this case the waiting Moroccan men in the queue have transformed into poorly-integrated Muslims who threaten Dutch values. In yet another episode of Reporter (2007) which dealt with the rise of fundamentalism within Dutch borders as a result of foreign influence on Dutch mosques, the Televizier footage was repeated in an archival compilation that told the story of how guest workers had brought Islam to the Netherlands.[48] Footage of the Moroccan men waiting in line was juxtaposed with historical footage of a communal prayer and with infographics of the map of the Netherlands that showed minarets popping up. The episode also featured footage of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, and hate-preaching imams in Dutch mosques, and it is telling that the Televizier footage was now attached to imagery that symbolises (international) terrorism. In this episode the Televizier footage once again has been employed to mark the coming of Islam to the Netherlands, and here the Moroccan guest workers in the queue have retrospectively turned into Muslims who are susceptible to fundamentalism and who form a threat to Dutch secular society.







Fig. 8: The above described sequence of Reporter (2004).


By tracing the iterations of the Televizier footage this essay has demonstrated how the characteristics that Dutch television has assigned to the typical Muslim immigrant have changed over the course of 50 years, and how the recursive logic of the medium of television, supported by the archive of Sound and Vision, has canonised the footage. As true ‘audiovisual lieux de mémoire’ the footage has constantly adopted the dominant themes of the televisual narrative of Islamic immigration. During the first few decades the Moroccan guest workers of the Televizier footage were mainly spoken of in terms of their socio-economic position in Dutch society and in terms of their integration. It was not until the 1990s that they were labelled with a religious identity, and it was only after 9/11 and the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh that they were associated with the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. During this symbolic transformation of the guest worker into a Muslim who might form a threat to Dutch values the footage continued to operate as a reminder of the responsibility of the Dutch government. A government that first dehumanised the guest worker, then economically exploited him, further failed to make proper policy once his stay turned out to be permanent, and then finally came up with a strategy of multiculturalism that led to the ultimate failure of his integration and his susceptibility to Islamic fundamentalism. All these critiques of hegemonic discourse now constitute multiple memorial layers of these ‘audiovisual lieux de mémoire’.

Furthermore, this essay has shown that television’s tendency to crystallise memory of the past around certain images that it compulsively repeats at the exclusion of others has caused only certain sequences of the Televizier footage to remain alive. The images of the faces of the Moroccan men waiting in the queue have proven to have the ability to ‘provide a maximum amount of meaning in a minimum amount of signs’ and to stand for the decisive emblematic moment of the beginning of labour immigration. They seem to be tailor-made for representing the generic identity of the victimised guest worker, and his later retrospectively-constructed generic identities of the poorly-integrated allochtoon and the Muslim who might be receptive to fundamentalism. The images of the official’s rude rejections and of his blunt statements, in their turn, have the capacity to instantly evoke outrage and to symbolise the responsibility of the Dutch government for the dehumanisation, exploitation, and the failure of integration of these generic figures of the guest worker, allochtoon, and Muslim.

Finally, while certain sequences of the Televizier reportage have been canonised others have always lingered in a state of dormancy in the archive. The sequence of the recruitment of the Moroccan women, for example, has never been reused and remains part of archival memory only. Perhaps this points to the nature of ‘audiovisual lieux de mémoire’: visibility might hide certain aspects of historical reality. Alternative stories about the initial years of immigration have been obscured by television’s obsession for (excerpts of) the Televizier footage. Not all guest workers were male; women were also employed. Not all guest workers were recruited – most of them came on their own initiative. The victimisation of the guest worker is a simplification of historical reality and maybe even a cliché that does not necessarily do justice to the experiences of the first generation of labour immigrants. Television’s fascination for these kinds of concise pieces of drama has transformed the Televizier footage into a stereotypical symbol of the past. The guest worker is once and for all single, male, and a victim of all sorts of injustice.


Andrea Meuzelaar is a lecturer at the Department Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University. In October 2014 she received her PhD from the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. Her PhD research, titled Seeing through the Archival Prism: A History of the Representation of Muslims on Dutch Television, explores the history of Dutch television coverage of Muslims in the Netherlands, from the arrival of the first Islamic guest workers in the 1960s until the recent era, in which Islam became a very contested and salient issue.


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[1] Said 1981; Hafez 2000; Karim 1997; Poole 2002.

[2] Karim 2003; Poole & Richardson 2006; Nacos & Torres-Reyna 2007; Morey & Yaqin 2011.

[3] Besides Andra Leurdijk’s study that addresses television journalism on the multicultural society in the 1990s (Leurdijk 1999), hardly any work has been done on the Dutch television representation of minorities in general and Muslims in particular. There are a few publications that do address the issue of minorities in the press (Van Dijk 1983) and in media in general (Evers & Serkei 2007; Sterk & Top 2000), and there are a few articles that draw attention to the negative portrayal of Muslims in the Dutch press and on Dutch television after the Rushdie affair (Haleber 1989) and after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh (d’Haenens & Bink 2007; Shadid 2005). Recently, a thorough study of the image of Islam in the Netherlands was published (Poorthuis & Salemink 2011), but this study does not address television representations.

[4] Hoskins & O’Loughlin 2007, pp. 114-116.

[5] Stoler 2002, 2009.

[6] Ketelaar 2002; Hamilton et al. 2002.

[7] Derrida 1995, p. 17.

[8] Ibid., p. 36, 18.

[9] Ibid., pp. 67-68.


[11] The institutional history of Sound and Vision is quite complex, since the current archive is the result of a fusion of four different institutions in 1997. During the first three decades of its existence the archive of public broadcasting was primarily a company archive for the broadcast organisations, and its selection and retention policy and its practices of cataloguing and describing were focused completely on the needs of the broadcasters. In the 1990s a growing awareness of the cultural and historical value of audiovisual material lead to a transition from passive towards active acquisition. An extended list of criteria for selection and retention was formulated and the relation beteween the archive’s task to facilitate reuse for the broadcasting companies and its public task to safeguard heritage was made explicit. Besides the reuse value of the material its cultural and historical value now became an important criteria for selection. For an overview of the history of the archive’s selection and retention policy see van Kampen en Graswinckel 2009.

[12] De Jong 2007; van Kampen en Graswinckel 2009, pp. 159-167. I have also conducted interviews with various documentalists in Sound and Vision about the practices of cataloguing and describing: Vincent Huis in t’Veld (17 May 2010), Alma Wolthuis (27 April 2011), and Irma van Kampen (3 May 2011).

[13] Nesmith 2002, p. 33.

[14] Rigney 2005.

[15] Ibid., p. 16.

[16] Assmann 2010, pp. 43-44.

[17] Rigney 2005, pp. 18-20.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Elsaesser 2000.

[20] Nora 1989, p. 19.

[21] Meuzelaar 2014.

[22] Vermeulen & Penninx 2000, pp. 6-7.

[23] The DAR, a foundation that defended the interests of Turkish and North African workers, sent a letter of protest to the ministers of Social Affairs. Also the Foundation for Foreign Workers raised its voice, whereupon questions were posed in parliament. See Cottaar et al. 2009, p. 24.

[24] Rosello 2002, p. 3.

[25] Ibid., p. 9.

[26] Kitzinger 2000, p. 75.

[27] Vermeulen & Penninx 2000, pp. 18-21.

[28] Meuzelaar 2014, pp. 96-105.

[29] I have analysed the following programs: Vragenvuur (AVRO, 1 March 1981), Achter het Nieuws (VARA, 17 November 1984), Kenmerk (IKON, 5 September 1984), Achter het Nieuws (VARA, 19 January 1985), Achter het Nieuws (VARA, 11 December 1985), Ruim Baan (Feduco, 18 November 1985).

[30] Kenmerk (IKON, 5 September 1984).

[31] Ruim Baan (Feduco, 18 November 1985).

[32] Prins 2000.

[33] Meuzelaar 2014, pp. 107-118.

[34] I have analysed the following programs: Impact (VARA, 18 May 1989),  Brandpunt (KRO, 22 March 1992), De tijd staat even stil (NCRV, 24 May 1994), Twee Vandaag (EO, 18 October 1996), Twee Vandaag (EO, 1 April 1998), Babylon (IKON, 3 December 1998), De Multiculturele Samenleving (NOT, 22 November 1995), Netwerk Extra (AVRO, 27 August 1997), Islam in Nederland (NOS, 10 October 1993), Het Andere Gezicht (IKON, 22 October 1998), Moslims in Europe (NMO, 15 November 1998).

[35] Archival description of  Islam in Nederland (NOS, 10 October 1993).

[36] Archival description of De tijd staat even stil (NCRV, 24 May 1994).

[37] Archival description of  Twee Vandaag (EO, 1 April 1998).

[38] Archival description of Brandpunt (KRO, 22 March 1992).

[39] Islam in Nederland (NOS, 10 October 1993).

[40] Het Andere Gezicht (IKON, 22 October 1998), Moslims in Europa (NMO, 15 November 1998).

[41] Moslims in Europa (NMO, 15 November 1998).

[42] Meuzelaar 2014, pp. 118- 135.

[43] I have analysed the following programs: Andere Tijden (VPRO, 4 September 2001), Netwerk (AVRO, 19 November 2002), Netwerk (NCRV, 19 January 2004), Netwerk (NCRV, 11 January 2006), Netwerk (KRO, 22 January 2006), Nova (NPS, 13 December 2002), Twee Vandaag (EO, 19 September 2003), Reporter (KRO, 31 March 2004), Reporter (KRO, 4 February 2007), Reporter (KRO, 24 June 2007), Het Allochtonen Circuit (NPS, 3 March 2001 and 25 October 2003), De Grote Geschiedenis Quiz (NPS, 12 April 2004), Het Geheime Boek Van (NOT, 13 September 2007), Profiel (IKON, 3 December 2008), Holland Doc: een beter leven (IKON, 22 January 2009), Netwerk (NCRV, 15 May 2009).

[44] Ruim Baan (Feduco, 18 November 1985).

[45] Netwerk (AVRO and NCRV, 19 November 2002, 19 January 2004, 11 January 2006, and 22 January 2006).

[46] Netwerk (NCRV, 11 January 2006).

[47] Reporter (KRO, 31 March 2004).

[48] Reporter (KRO, 4 February 2007).