A true hero is hard to find these days. In the past they were often fighters, freedom fighters, political leaders. Zelensky is a late example of such a classic hero, in his green soldier shirt. But violence is no longer held in high regard, and most fighters and leaders quickly get their hands dirty. Or they turn out to beat their wives at home.
A hero of our time is cleaner Tugrul Çirakoglu, featured in the series Not Normal Dirty (NPO3). With his company Frisse Kater he cleans extremely dirty houses – for example after someone has been lying dead in his home for weeks. But also dirty houses of people who are still alive.
So a very good cleaner, with a strong stomach, but does that make him a hero? It’s about the big heart he puts in his work. He has an eye for the suffering and loneliness that lie beneath the moldy layers of fat. He vlogs and writes about this, with the aim of making the public aware of how the people who are less fortunate live.
Not Normal Dirty started in 2020, this is the sequel series. Çirakoglu now has a book and a column in The Parool† Just like last time, we see unbearably filthy things, like an overgrown kitchen sink, a dead person’s mattress. When the cleaner holds up the pillow, he says matter-of-factly: “This is a combination of corpse fluid and other fluids.” Çirakoglu looks for traces of the personality of the deceased, and traces of a social life. But he can’t find anything about this dead man, only a note from his mother, which he probably wrote himself.
Okay, that was nasty and depressing. But, says Çirakoglu: “In one you erase the traces of his existence, but in the other you give him a chance at a new life.” This episode features a young man who drowns in his troop. He is not lonely, his friends have called Çirakoglu for help. Now it is becoming more reality TV: first the program extensively shows the grossness, then the neatly tidy apartment. The extreme makeover† The friends come to celebrate with beer and chips. The viewer thinks with concern: as long as they clean it up nicely.
Artists and artists are often shaky heroes: you admire them for their work, but their way of life and ideas can be disappointing. Billie Holiday is a heroine. The jazz singer is portrayed in the documentary The Hour of the Wolf: Billie Holiday’s Outspoken Voice (NPO2) † Director James Erskine builds his film around a special treasure he has unearthed: Linda Kuehl’s interview tapes. This journalist was working on a biography of Holiday in the 1970s and she spoke to many people who knew the singer well, including greats like Count Basie. Those tires turn out to be a gold mine of vivid testimonials. Kuehl did not finish her biography because she died suddenly in 1978. Suicide, police say. Murder, the family says.
Holiday is a heroine thanks to the pain she expresses in her singing, a pain she keeps light with ironic, sensual inflections. And she’s a heroine because she stood up to racism, which she suffered a lot as an African-American woman. In 1939 she sang ‘Strange Fruit’, a blatant indictment of the lynching of black people. Reason for the FBI to make her life miserable.
Her life was not exemplary, according to the documentary did not do much harm. Much harm has been done to her. Abused and mistreated by men from the age of 10, sex worker from the age of 13, all-round junkie, she was in prison. If she hadn’t been able to sing, she probably would have ended up lonely on such a drenched mattress Not Normal Dirty†
This column will be written by various authors until April 25.