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Sunday, July 07, 2013 

Indiana Gazette sugarcoats the Smurfs

The Indiana Gazette's taken to fawning over the Smurfs, and even opportunistically attacks conservatives. The article begins by saying:
Let’s talk about the Smurfs.

Wait, wait, come back! If, like me, all you knew about the little blue creatures was the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, or “Smurfs 2” (the animated movie currently out from Sony), you have the wrong idea about them.
Oh, I don't think so. I've been aware for some time of the political subtexts and subtleties - namely, the marxist allegories - tainting the edge of Pierre Culliford's vastly overrated comics, and I'm not the least bit amused today.
...why were they so popular? Well, not to indoctrinate our children into being communists, as some right-wing, conspiracy-theorist websites have charged. But they were a lot more sophisticated than the dumbed-down U.S. cartoon would indicate, and at least one of their early graphic novels was anti-fascist — or, at the very least, anti-authoritarian.
Spoken by somebody who's probably never taken issue with all the 9-11 conspiracy nuts clogging society for the past 12 years. And I fail to see the point of claiming one of the early stories was "anti-authoritarian" as though fascism and authoritarianism go together. The sugarcoated, confused defenses of the Smurfs continue with the following:
The first solo Smurfs story should make today’s audiences sit bolt upright. In “The Purple Smurfs,” a dreaded Bzzz Fly stings a Smurf, who becomes purple, mindless and aggressive. That Smurf bites another Smurf, who also turns purple, and who goes about biting other Smurfs. Before long, most of the village has been transformed, as Papa Smurf searches desperately for a cure.

Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a zombie story in blue drag. In 1959! (One historical note: The original story was titled “Les Schtroumphs Noir,” and the affected Smurfs turned black. That is now considered racially insensitive, and the zombie Smurfs were bestowed a new color.)

Another story, “Le Schtroumpfissime” (“The Smurf King”), parodies the rise of Adolf Hitler, or perhaps Benito Mussolini, as Papa Smurf leaves town for a few days and the Smurfs hold an election for an interim leader, resulting in a democratically elected chief who quickly becomes a despot. Unlike real life, the Smurfs realize the error of their ways, and return to the benign tyranny of Papa Smurf. OK, that last part is me editorializing, but it does seem odd that a society ruled unquestioningly by a single person would find fascism so awful. I guess it was the throne, robes and castle that threw them off.
It makes no difference, and he sabotages his whole defense by failing to look at his own description of an older story under a microscope: the Smurf story he refers to is apparently built on a falsehood that Hitler and the National Socialists were "democratically elected". Something that can be refuted thanks to Yad Vashem, on their FAQ list, under the question of When and How did the Nazis come to power:
Contrary to a common misconception, Hitler did not come to power through a terrorist coup against a democratically elected government. Although the Nazis had the support of many millions of German voters, owing largely to the continuing social, economic, and political crisis that had struck Germany especially after 1929, Hitler was never elected by a clear-cut decision of the absolute majority of the German electorate. Nor did such a majority ever give him a clear mandate to become the dictatorial ruler of Germany. In the last democratic elections – on November 6, 1932 – the Nazi Party, though the strongest, actually declined from the 37.3 percent of the total vote that it had earned in the previous elections – on July 31, 1932 – to 33.1 percent. Hitler attained power when President Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor on January 30, 1933.

Once in power, Hitler and his accomplices lost no time in broadening their base of power and dismantling the democratic constitution piece by piece. A crucial landmark was the so-called Law of Empowerment, which authorized the government to enact laws without recourse either to the parliament or to the president. The autonomy of the individual German States (Länder) was abolished in a bylaw passed on March 31, 1933. The Nazi seizure of power was completed, in a sense, with the Law against the Establishment of New Parties on July 14, 1933, by dint of which the Nazi Party became the only legal political party in Germany.
So while German society at the time was flooded with horrific bigotry, it wasn't by ways of a majority vote that the socialists seized power, but rather, by backroom deals. That aside, I don't see how such abominable moments in history can be "parodied". The Smurfs is eye-opening for all the wrong reasons.

And how peculiar that somebody so determined to defend the Smurfs by arguing that Culliford's viewpoint wasn't proto-communist acknowledges its concept of a society ruled without question by a single person, with no economy either, yet remains so forgiving of it. Is that not the same thing as nazism? I do believe I've detected a double-standard there. One that fails to recognize the story's dishonest smear of democratic systems as enabling fascism (but not communism?). In fact, how facinating that the writer is lenient on Culliford for writing up such a racially insulting story as "The Black Smurf", the original name for that early dud, one that color alteration is not going to excuse in such a hurry. If Culliford were a conservative, chances are he'd be less forgiving. The Gazette article goes on to say:
Still, the story demonstrates that, as originally presented, the Smurfs were more than the throwaway kiddie cartoon they have been in America. Another upscale aspect of the Smurfs is the art. I don’t know much about Peyo, but somehow or other he managed to learn to draw in a very Disneyesque manner. America’s comics were blessed for decades with a great many such artists, guys who worked at Disney during the Depression and emerged to draw humor comics like “Richie Rich,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and “Hot Stuff the Little Devil.” While I was never into kids’ comics — even as a kid — I did admire the artistry on display. Artists who got their training at Disney knew how to draw a cartoon shape consistently from any angle, and how to give it weight when it moved. They also knew how to draw a coherent world, where everything from cars to flowers showed a consistency of rendering. Peyo also does this, so “The Smurfs Anthology” is a beautifully drawn book as well.
After all these years, coming to realize what I couldn't possibly have succeeded in doing when I was a tot, I throughly disagree with the notion that it's a beautifully drawn book. Certainly not when there's communist metaphors lurking beneath the surface. I actually think the art is...well, stupid.

It's weird how they're saying the cartoon is throwaway when it still followed a lot of Culliford's visions perfectly, including his idea of what the Smurfette embodies. Back at the time Hanna-Barbera was beginning to produce it, and Culliford was negotiating with a translator, he described her "embodiment" of female characteristics like this:
"She seduces, she uses trickery rather than force to get results. She is incapable of telling a joke without blowing the punch line. She is a blabbermouth but only makes superficial comments. She is constantly creating enormous problems for the Smurfs but always manages to blame it on someone else."
That's what the Smurfette was like when she originally appeared in the mid-1960s, and was Culliford's idea of what women were like. While she wasn't a big presence in the comic strips, the cartoon's rendition still retained considerable negativity. I find it odd that Culliford spoke no English when negotiating, because his father was British, and I'd assume he'd know at least a modicum of the English language.

The paper's also oblivious to what alleged inspirations Culliford used for the bungling alchemist Gargamel:
Another story introduces the Smurfs’ archenemy, the incompetent wizard Gargamel, and his cat, Azrael, whose thought balloons indicate he considers Smurfs a tasty snack. The book also includes the “Johan” story where the Smurfs first appeared; Papercutz plans to reprint all the “Johan” stories with Smurfs in future volumes. Plus, there are essays and introductions, many of which are Smurftastic.

Oops, sorry — that just slipped out. Despite their sophistication, these stories are definitely for kids, and the Smurfs’ tendency to substitute the word “Smurf” randomly in their sentences may be amusing to children but can be irritating for adults. You’ve been warned.
And I've already learned, too. The hard way. What's omitted here is how Gargamel's design - and characteristics - drew from anti-semitic stereotypes like Fagin in the original Oliver Twist, with the bald pate, shabby clothes, and, he was a stand-in for capitalists. If it were done today, Culliford would probably have made him a stand-in for the Tea Party.

And what's so sophisticated about a comic strip whose leads' lifestyles were built on reprehensible ideologies? I fail to see the logic here.

So today, we've learned that mainstream press has no interest in crediting anybody concerned with subtle messages of communism in literature for children, while not realizing they've acknowledged the messages and structures at the same time they seek to downplay them. As repulsive as nazism was during WW2, communism cost more lives and is just as negative a concept. Nazism was an extension of that same ideology. Yet some leftists today don't have the courage to admit that, and can only think to become increasingly lenient on one of the worst belief systems this world's ever been plagued with.

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Good thing I never liked the Smurfs, even as a kid... so I wasn't exposed to this putrid spew. I'd heard that Peyo was a communist and based the Smurf society off Marxism, but I didn't realize that Gargamel was an anti-Semitic caricature until now. Yeesh.

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