The Little Dutch Boy

The trope that I decided to pick was the Little Dutch Boy. This trope is more American than Dutch, since the book that popularized this symbol was written by an American author. Despite this, this trope is used often to establish trust in a brand, and show it as a brand that “saves the day” or show how things should not be handled. This also goes in the vein of “American Exceptionalism”, even though he’s not typically thought of as American. I think The Little Dutch Boy is thought to run with this idea because it really began to pick up speed in a time where Americana art was really popular, around the 1950’s.

Bertknot, Flickr

The first example I decided to pick was an image of the statue of The Little Dutch Boy in Madurodam in Netherlands. His clothes are these muted tones of blue and gray, showing that he really was just a normal boy doing something great. Depicting him leaning up against a dike, pointing his finger to hole where water spills out, this statue was erected more to please tourists than for anyone in the Netherlands, really. My first impression of this statue led me to believe that he was real and very significant to Netherlands, since they put up a whole statue. I also originally believed that the way he was shown was without much care. He sort of looks like he was just sketched really fast, and their first idea of him was the one that they went with. With the idea of statues, they’re normally erected in places as they show real people that left big impacts on that area, came from that area and went out and impacted the world, or to commemorate their deaths. That’s why this one could definitely lead others to believe that The Little Dutch Boy is real, well known in Netherlands and left a mark on the country.

Courtesy 4 Color Cowboy’s flickr site

This advertisement was used for the Dutch Boy paint company, and depicts the Little Dutch Boy smiling, very detailed, exaggerating the color of his hair, eyes and hat. This ad is meant to be promoting a new line of wall finish, with the words “”Dutch Boy” does it… best”. Since the Little Dutch Boy is a symbol of a child being extraordinary because he saved all of Netherlands, the words accompanied with his smiling image gives it that trust that he’ll “save the day”. In my perception, already knowing about how this company put lead in their paint, I think it’s pretty ironic how they’re using the symbol of the Little Dutch Boy as a way to say their paint is the best. I think that also using him for the whole name and brand identity for this company sort of hurt the symbol in a way, since it became a huge problem when scientists realize that lead is harmful to humans, and is causing the birth defects that people were so worried about. Maybe people weren’t tying all of these problems to the symbol itself, but the brand that used Dutch Boy as their name and symbol suffered. If you were to mention Dutch Boy today, people would most likely think of the brand and their lead issues than the symbol itself.

Marshall Ramsey Cartoons

This cartoon is rather funny to me, as it portrays the Little Dutch Boy plugging a levee with his finger. “The levee board hired me.” strikes me as funny because it rings true, especially when thinking about Hurricane Katrina and how shoddily the levee system was put together and how small fixes, like patching holes, were taken care of in this way. This cartoon doesn’t ruin this symbol’s credibility, but I think it shows the reality of it. There’s no way that a small boy can put his finger in a hole in a dike, and there’s no reality in us expecting everything to be saved because he did that. Like with our levee system, care should be put into it’s maintenance, and not thrown to the side.

In the end, I do believe this is one of the more under-the-radar tropes in modern America, as no one really talks about the Little Dutch Boy as being a symbol of exceptionalism anymore. As times changed, the idea of American exceptionalism has been criticized and molded, not so much thinking that we are the best in the world from birth, but we’re okay with flaws, or just entirely awful, depending on your personal experience in the country. With that, the art that really pushed that idea/ideal was phased out, and now the new and trending art styles do not focus on America itself without the artist focusing on that themselves.This ties in with the prevalence of this symbol and what he’s shown to represent. The most recent things that I see written about him are showing that he’s mainly portraying a “what not to do” situation, in showing how small problems should not be fixed with temporary solutions unless you want to see a larger, more serious problem arise.