“Sinterklass is slave-driver” by Pauline de Boer.


For the final task, a pictorial or multimodal metaphor had to be created. Since there was a very heated discussion not so long ago in The Netherlands, it would be a shame not to use this for an assignment. I am talking about the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is racism discussion. All of a sudden a movement was created against Zwarte Piet. Coloured people say they feel discriminated because of this. Sinterklaas (Santa Clause) has an army of Zwarte Pieten, who help him with everything; wrapping up the gifts, writing poems, handing presents to children, handing out candy. This aspect of the Zwarte Pieten combined with the way they look (black, big red lips, frizzy hair, golden earrings) and Sinterklaas being an old, rich, but most of all, white man, reminded our black fellowmen of slavery. So, a heated discussion about this so-called child-friendly started and hell broke loose. This always happily celebrated day, travelled the world as if it was a racism support. Zwarte Piet had to disappear, according to the opponents. But a holiday tradition cannot be broken just that easy, said the rest of The Netherlands.

The entire population of The Netherlands and beyond discussed the way Zwarte Piet was meant thoroughly. Should he stay, should he go, was it created upon the slavery and did the opponents have a point, or would the sudden departure of Zwarte Pieten be too much of a shock for children? But, what was most striking about this chain of events, that nobody discussed the sincerity of the old man himself: Sinterklaas. He was the leader of this inhuman madness, he bossed all those Zielepietjes (Poor Petes) around, to get him whatever he wants to. But nobody questioned him, nobody wondered if maybe he should leave too. This fact resulted in the following metaphor: SINTERKLAAS = SLAVE DRIVER. Hopefully this will create awareness among the audience of the other side of the medal as well and make them consider how good Sinterklaas is, if you indeed think of Zwarte Piet as being a slave.

The metaphor created is clearly a pictorial metaphor; all the information is represented with the use of pictorial elements (Bounegru & Forceville, 2011). I would consider a contextual metaphor (also called MP1), since the whip and the handcuffs Sinterklaas is holding are not actually physically attached to his body. He can put them down if he wants to.  (Forceville,  1996).

The  goal  is  to understand Sinterklaas in terms of a slave driver. This view of Sinterklaas was not known before and we can now map all kinds of features and connotations onto Sinterklaas:

  • A slave driver has a number of slaves that he can command and they will do whatever he wants. Just about the same as Sinterklaas’s situation.
  • The slave driver is likely to be white and the slaves are likely to be black. Same case here for Sinterklaas.
  • The slaves are less intelligent than their slave driver, at least, that is how it is pictured. Same.
  • But!  The slave driver is  very  cruel  to  his  slaves;  he  treats  them  with  an inhuman disrespect and does not care about their health. He abuses them physically if that is what is needed to make them obey. This is not the case with Sinterklaas. We only see a nice and friendly old man. But no one knows for sure what happens in Spain…

This last point was the inspiration for the creation of this metaphor. Because we do not know what is happening in Spain, I have purposely chosen to picture Sinterklaas in an environment where he is surrounded by slaves and he has a whip and chains in his hand, instead of a wand and a book. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think it would have been even more interesting and effective if I had added the words:

 Meanwhile, in Spain…

In that way it becomes even clearer what I meant with this metaphor. Now it is a monomodal, pictorial, hybrid metaphor. Perhaps this would have influenced the way this metaphor was received too. For now, I have asked two friends of mine to take a look at this metaphor. This is what they had to say:

THOM: Haha, ik zie Sinterklaas tussen de blote vrouwen. Oh, ik zie het nu, het zij waarschijnlijk slaven, net als Zwarte Piet, als we de berichten  van  de  afgelopen  tijd  moeten  geloven.  Grappig eigenlijk dat niemand het dan ooit over het gedrag van die ouwe Sint heeft gehad.

SJOERD:  Sinterklaas met een zweep en kettingen tussen de vrouwen van onze Pieten. Dat vraagt natuurlijk niemand zich af, hoe er steeds maar zwarte pieten bij blijven komen, zonder dat er vrouwen aan te pas komen! En Sinterklaas ze maar afbeulen…

I think I can safely say that the metaphor was received correctly; the message was interpreted the way I meant it too. A nice addition was Sjoerd, who saw the depicted females as the wives of the Zwarte Pieten. I thought it would maybe be a mistake to have chosen for this painting, because you can only see women and a child on this painting. But apparently it created a whole new dimension to Sinterklaas’s story: he takes out on Zwarte Piet’s wife and child. Interesting! Even though I still think the image would be more successful when I selected a painting with male slaves. This would make another impression, which would have fit the Zwarte Pieten discussion better. Maybe an idea for December 5th 2014!


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