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Amsterdam, the Magic Center Art and counterculture 1967-1970

7 Jul 2018 until 6 Jan 2019

Longread — 3 Jul 2018 — Janna Schoenberger

Hoepla is the best-known artists’ endeavor in popular television programming of the 1960s in the Netherlands. Only three episodes of the notorious TV show were aired: on July 28, October 9, and November 23, 1967.1 Artist Wim T. Schippers, photographer Wim van der Linden, and filmmakers Hans Verhagen and Trino Flothuis organized the episodes, which were broadcast by the VPRO (Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep, or Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation). 

The program was intended for teenagers and young adults; topics included pop music, fashion, drugs, sex, and art. Reacting to the rampant consumerism of the 1950s, the creators aimed their critique at established social norms and values. The first episode was the least offensive, comprising interviews with British rock musicians Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, as well as a semi-nude woman participating in one scene. Subsequent episodes became increasingly provocative in response to harsh criticism of the relatively tame broadcast. Hoepla was most successful when employing strategies of indirect, ludic critique. The following focuses on Hoepla 2, demonstrating that the playful episode had serious aims.

Wim T. Schippers, Hoepla #1B, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Wim T. Schippers, Hoepla #1B, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

“Crazy” and “serious”

— VPRO officials about Hoepla

In the introductory sequence of Hoepla 1, during a performance by rock musician Teddy Lee J., the Dutch artist Phil Bloom is seen walking around the set, nude except for several wreaths of plastic flowers. A critical reaction to Bloom’s appearance on the first episode of Hoepla became material for the second installment, which made Hoepla infamous. Seven minutes into Hoepla 2, Bloom appears sitting in a chair, naked, reading aloud a newspaper article titled “VPRO Cuts Out Naked Phil.”2 The text reported that the episode had been recorded a week earlier and that VPRO had guaranteed that Phil Bloom would not appear naked on screen. After Bloom finishes the article, she lowers the newspaper so that her entire (unadorned) body remains on screen for thirty-eight seconds. The address to which viewers could send complaints appears in the final seconds of the segment, superimposed over Bloom’s image.3 This episode of Hoepla became notorious for showing a nude woman on Dutch television for the first time.4

Wim T. Schippers, Hoepla #2, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Wim T. Schippers, Hoepla #2, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Film still of Hoepla, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Film still of Hoepla, 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The following, seemingly unrelated (and lesser-known) clip, is an interview with members of the KNIL (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army). The KNIL was an arm of the Dutch military whose duty it was to enforce Dutch authority in what is now Indonesia. Ambonese or South Moluccan soldiers have always been an important part of the colonial army, and these native soldiers had a reputation of being intensely loyal to the Dutch.5 The Netherlands recognized Indonesia as an independent state in 1949, and the KNIL was disbanded in 1950. In 1951 about 12,500 South Moluccan soldiers and their families were evacuated to the Netherlands for their safety, but the new immigrants were abandoned by the Dutch government once they arrived.6 Hoepla brought attention to this significant issue—albeit obliquely—but the contemporary press ignored Hoepla’s endeavor, as have later scholars, preferring to focus on Bloom.

The interviewees were a small group of South Moluccan KNIL who still supported the Dutch government, but who lived in dire poverty, without electricity or gas. The South Moluccans were asked why they do not accept welfare, and why they see themselves as still working for the Dutch military. The strong allegiance of the ex-KNIL members was striking, as was the somber tone of the interview. The segment highlighted a major social ill: the recent colonial past and the government’s neglect of a large group of refugees, despite their loyalty.7

Sandwiching the KNIL interview between light and absurd performances lent an overall frivolity to the episode, when in fact the segment on the KNIL had been entirely earnest. Hoepla was not only a program that broadcasted the first naked woman on Dutch television, it also critically addressed the Netherlands’s role and responsibility towards refugees from its former colonies. Hoepla employed palatable, indirect critique: during the KNIL interview, no one explicitly laid blame on the Dutch government. After the episode aired, many viewers made calls to the VPRO and makers of Hoepla asking how to donate money or goods to the South Moluccans.8 The KNIL interview indicated the effectiveness of oblique criticism through its viewers’ active response. 

Film still of Hoepla (detail), 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Film still of Hoepla (detail), 1967-1968. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Hoepla was understood by VPRO officials, who characterized it as both “crazy” and “serious,” for its emphasis on free expression: “The most interesting question is whether you can provide some leeway to experiment with new forms, which sometimes seem formless, and with a new mentality you may sometimes, as a mature and older person, find hard to understand and appreciate.”9 Hoepla’s critique became more direct in the third episode, including a striptease as well as interviews with drunk Dutch soldiers who opposed the nation’s conscription policy at the time of the Vietnam War; VPRO chose not to air Hoepla 4. Historian Hans van den Heuvel believes that the program’s cancellation can be attributed to a divided administration within the VPRO and fear of declining membership, which put the company’s survival at risk.10 Yet it could be argued that as the third Hoepla episode began to lose its ludic approach, it was perceived as more threatening and therefore could not be tolerated. Only indirect criticism and lighthearted play was permitted—once the ludic strategy of oblique critique was abandoned, the show was canceled.

About the author

Janna Schoenberger teaches Global Modern and Contemporary Art at Amsterdam University College. She completed her PhD at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation, “Ludic Conceptualism: Art and Play in the Netherlands from 1959 to 1975,” explores the critical capacity of play. Starting August 2018, Schoenberger will join the Rijksmuseum as a fellow, with reseach focusing on the cultural atmosphere of the Netherlands in the 1960s..

All translations from Dutch are by the author.
[1] A fourth episode was scheduled to appear on January 8, 1968, but VPRO decided to cancel the show. Hoepla 2 was one hour long, whereas the other episodes were about thirty minutes each. 
[2] “VPRO zet schaar in naakt van Phil,” Het Vrije Volk, September 29, 1967. 
[3] About two thirds of the written feedback was negative, according to a report published in Het Vrije Volk, while a third was positive, although the article does not specify the total number of letters. “Blote Phil geen VPRO-boodschap,” Het Vrije Volk, October 17, 1967.
[4] Ieke van der Huijzen, “Een keuze uit taboedoorbrekende kunst,” in Ludiek sensueel en dynamisch, ed. André Kocht (Schiedam: Scriptum Art Publishers, 2002), 187.
[5] Anthony James Joes, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency, 1st edition (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 130.
[6] Fridus Steijlen, “Closing the ‘KNIL Chapter’: A Key Moment in Identity Formation of Moluccans in the Netherlands,” in Post-Colonial Immigrants and Identity Formations in the Netherlands (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013), 117.
[7] A major point of contention at the time was the status of the South Moluccans in the Netherlands and their divergent views of the future. The group did not identify with Indonesia and felt caught between their native nationality and the Dutch. They wanted to form an independent Republik Maluka Selatan (Republic of South Molucca, or RMS) at a time when the Indonesian government was striving toward a unified state. The Dutch felt responsible for the South Moluccans, as they had suggested that members of the militia migrate. The South Moluccans agreed, not realizing they would be discharged from the armed services upon their arrival in the Netherlands. They were under the impression that their stay was temporary and that they would return to an independent RMS. Dutch authorities, meanwhile, believed that the South Moluccans would remain for a few months and then return to Indonesia, not to a free Moluccan republic. Steijlen, 123.
[8] Hans Verhagen, De gekke wereld van Hoepla: Opkomst en ondergang van een televisieprogramma (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1968), 92.
[9] VPRO officials cited in A. C. Zijderveld, “Vrij zinnig eigenzinnig. De cultuur en traditie van de VPRO,” in Een vrij zinnige verhouding: De VPRO en Nederland 1926–1986, eds. Hans van den Heuvel et al. (Baarn: Ambo, 1986), 161.
[10] Hans van den Heuvel, “Gij zult geen aanstoot geven. Overheidsingrijpen in programma’s van radio en televisie na de Tweede Wereldoorlog,” in Een vrij zinnige verhouding, 266.