« Home | Surely it's too soon to conclude video game film a... » | James Tynion believes capitalism caused decay » | North Korean animators said to have worked on anim... » | Pennsylvania specialty store does little to differ... » | Don't be fooled by this supposed satire of corpora... » | Adding Marvel movie originals to the comics univer... » | Jonathan Hickman turns out a crossover between Ave... » | Jason Aaron returns to Marvel to turn Sub-Mariner ... » | DC still won't stop with company wide crossovers » | More about Roy Thomas' oversight on Wolverine's cr... » 

Sunday, April 28, 2024 

What does Tintin teach about imperialism?

A writer at Current Affairs takes a look at the history of Herge's adventuring reporter with a mascot dog named Snowy (sometimes, I wonder if the whole career of the star was downplayed as it went along), and what kind of characteristics occurred during its run, including themes of imperialism. One of the writer's beliefs in why it's great is because:
Part of the appeal is that Tintin’s adventures are fairly realistic, at least by comic-book standards. There are no superpowers or silly costumes; Tintin’s antagonists are ordinary bad guys, like drug gangs and criminals. The character is frequently compared to Indiana Jones, but with less magic and mysticism. Steven Spielberg is also a fan, and he made a CG-animated Tintin movie in 2011.
Oh, for heaven's sake. Using a realistic approach alone doesn't make it entertaining. It's the quality of writing in the finished product that does. That aside, is there anything inherently realistic about a tale where 2 twin buffoons with funny mustaches wearing bowlers named Thompson and Thomson make frequent appearances? Decidedly, no, and besides, there were a handful of moments where Tintin did veer close to fantasy themes, if not completely ventured in.
Some of the depictions didn’t age so well. On rereading, I couldn’t help noticing that the comics’ Middle East is full of intemperate Arabs and that indigenous cultures are full of exotic tortures for travelers and their pets. When Tintin meets another European—whether a colonial officer, a merchant, or a lost explorer—it is usually a moment of relief.

As I worked my way through my parents’ collection, I came across one book that I had not been allowed to touch. Hidden away at the top of the bookshelf, Tintin au Congo—the series’ second-ever installment—was only available in indecipherable French. The story was even more incomprehensible: unlike the gentle animal lover from the later books, this version of Tintin spends most of his time skinning monkeys and harvesting ivory. When a rhinoceros gives too much trouble, he subdues the beast with dynamite. The natives in the story are thick-lipped spear-throwers who grovel before the hero and make his dog their new king.

The usual explanation is that Congo represented an embarrassing prelude to an otherwise stellar career—that Hergé was a “product of his times,” to use the modern euphemism. But that feels a little dissatisfying. While the racism in Congo is truly breathtaking, it’s hardly alone: imperialism is woven into the fabric of Tintin’s adventures, although it isn’t always so direct. Later stories replace pith-helmeted colonialism with cold-war logic as the hero gets entangled in the politics of now-independent countries. If Congo was a “product of the times,” it feels more authentic to say that the Tintin comics all were.

Most of the stories have been revised over the years, but you can still make out the contours of the 1930s peeking through modern editions. I don’t mean that the stories are meant as political commentary, although that was sometimes the case. More often, they simply show a world that Europeans expect to see: one where foreigners are cruel or helpless—and sometimes incapable of governing themselves, depending on the appropriate stereotype.
Well depending how you view it, some cultures are capable of leading to an inability to maintain stability, like how the Islamic religion led to disaster in middle eastern and other countries, and Herge didn't seem to have the courage to do any research on that in his time. And maybe that's one of the biggest problems not only with writers of the past century, but also today's - they don't seem to do any research, and worse, don't have the courage to confront these issues regardless. But surely just as bizarre is the values Tintin was said to be built upon:
Tintin was created by Georges Remi (better known by his pen name Hergé) for Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Siècle was a Catholic newspaper, and it “was hostile to Communists, Jews, and Freemasons,” according to Hergé’s biographer Pierre Assouline, as well as “politics, the money-is-king outlook, the advent of mechanization, and modernism in general.”

As a monarchist, Hergé did not hesitate to lend his pen to conservative causes. Assouline describes a poster by Hergé, submitted for the 1932 elections, showing “a little girl praying at the foot of her bed while being stabbed by a Socialist in rags.” Another editor at the Siècle, Léon Degrelle, would go on to lead the fascist Rex party.

This gives you some sense of the character that will eventually emerge. Tintin is an upright stalwart for Christian values: he does not smoke or swear, shows no interest in women or alcohol, and spends a lot of his free time looking for the owners of lost wallets. His nemesis, the drug kingpin Rastapopoulos, is originally introduced as a movie director: a Hollywood elite if ever there was one.
Seriously, this is what Tintin was said to have stood for? Funny thing about all the perceptions one could have about Remi's creation is that there's also people who claim the young reporter was homosexual. That's not exactly considered values favorable to Christianity, is it? No mention is made of how at the time Tintin was created, there were also problematic restriction on how interactions between men and women could be portrayed, if at all; only in the late 1950s did this slowly begin to change. All these "moral" restrictions did more harm than good, and today we're sadly seeing comebacks in some ways that's making things worse.

What's really weird about movements and papers like Siecle that were anti-communist is that they apparently were not against National Socialism as conducted in Germany at the time. Something some historians may not discuss is that if such a movement were against one totalitarian ideology but okay with another, it amounts to little more than rival gangs battling each other for turf. Which would mean that, if Siecle were not against National Socialism, it was because they saw communism from Russia as little more than a competitor they didn't want getting any share of the loot they sought to conquer. And neither National Socialism nor communism were against Islam by a longshot. Exactly why nobody with common sense should have to make a choice among any of these ideologies, which all approve of socialism. Also note that in the last Tintin story from 1975-6, Tintin and Capt. Haddock help general Balthazar overthrow one autocrat just to replace with another, that being said general himself. In hindsight, it sure feels like Herge was apologizing for any anti-commie stand he'd taken with the 1st story.
Hergé’s sympathy for the Native Americans may seem surprising, given his earlier contempt for the Congolese. In this case, though, there is no contradiction: imperialism is perfectly capable of acknowledging the wrongs committed by other countries. (Keep this in mind the next time CNN condemns the Russian or Chinese governments for behavior that is routine for our own.)
Umm, I sure hope this isn't a left-wing fog-job for the sake of minimizing the seriousness of communism. But at least it alludes to a grave problem that can be found anywhere. And even today, there's a troubling issue of far-left ideologues, whether in or out of the USA, who accuse the USA of being "systemically racist", yet see virtually nothing wrong with being racist themselves. The problem with this article is that the writer doesn't have the courage to question whether liberal ideology has a dark downside. Failure to do so is exactly why the problem will never be solved.
On re-reading America, I noticed one more omission: there is not a single African American in the entire comic. Indeed, after Congo I could only find one important Black character in the entire series—or two if you count The Broken Ear, when the blond Tintin disguises himself in blackface.

This omission was not entirely Hergé’s fault. Early Tintins originally had a sprinkling of Black characters, but American publishers insisted on removing them—not because the drawings were offensive, but to protect innocent children from the dangers of race-mixing. Evidently systemic prejudices were at work, not just Hergé’s own.
In the 1950s, that was sadly plausible. But what about later in the 1970s, when a lot of USA publishers refused to sell one of the first compilations of the Smurfs, titled "The Black Smurf", because it was considered a racist metaphor? (Later, it was altered to "The Purple Smurf" to avoid such problems.) And today, you've got anti-white sentiment on the rise, and little's changed when it comes to antisemitism. And then, the article does something pretty weird that really dampens the impact:
There are a handful of unnamed Africans in The Red Sea Sharks, when the heroes rescue a shipload of Muslims being sold into slavery. This is about as close as we get to an apology for Congo, although it is a very insufficient one. Accusations of racism lingered, this time for the crude pidgin spoken by the rescued pilgrims. Once the slaves fulfill their role as victims in need of a white savior, they conveniently disappear offscreen.
The figures seen are blacks, and the writer refers to them as Moslems, just because it looks like some of them are wearing Turkish-style caps? This obscures Islam's own notorious role in slavemongering, and whether the figures in the tale are adherents themselves doesn't change anything when one considers many blacks were forced to convert to Islam from past to present, slave or not. The following is no improvement:
Earlier I noted that the earliest Tintin strips appeared alongside newspaper columns that were not exactly progressive. Fascism was in vogue among conservatives, and the Vingtième Siècle frequently ran editorials praising Mussolini or complaining about the number of Yiddish-speaking refugees in Belgium. (Nowadays, many conservative Europeans say the same about Arabic.)
And this obscures that "nazi" was acronym for National Socialism, as noted before, and perpetuates an offensive cliche that conservatives literally and inherently accept the concept of fascism, even though it's as totalitarian as communism. And, it would seem the writer of this sloppy item has no interest in Islamic antisemitism, which many Jews on the European continent have long experienced the hard way now for at least a few decades. It even obscures, again, how National Socialism pandered to Islam during the early 20th century. And lest we forget the jihad the Ottoman empire of Turkey waged against Armenians even before WW1. That's something else these modern propagandists will never research and acknowledge in their anti-conservative agendas, nor what Moslems in Europe today think of Israel/Jews. Next, comes something I'm not sure I was clearly aware of in the past, because this is another something Herge himself apparently modified in later years:
But back to 1950 for a moment. As a child, I found The Land of Black Gold difficult to follow: it starts with an oil crisis and ends in a fight between warring sheikhs with no clear distinction or motivation.

It turns out that there is a reason for this confusion. In the original serialization, Tintin does not travel to the fictional “Khemed,” but to Palestine, which was then under British control. After Tintin is arrested by the British, he is abducted by a Jewish terrorist group, who mistake him for one of their own, before he is again kidnapped by Arab rebels.

All of this would have made perfect sense to a reader in 1939. The Arab revolt against the British had just been suppressed, and even a Belgian schoolboy would have known of the Zionist colonial project. But the story halted with the start of World War II. By the time Hergé picked it up again, in 1948, Palestine as a legal entity no longer existed.

That context has vanished from the modern version, or at least the editions available in English. When the story was revised in 1971, the British soldiers and Jewish partisans turned into Arabs; the warplanes flying overhead suddenly had Arab pilots, and even the Hebrew lettering in Haifa disappeared. Instead of a textured story about colonization, it became a senseless fight between Angry Arabs.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good metaphor for most Western reporting about the Middle East.
And this article's a great example of how poor western reporting can be when it comes to Israel. What this suggests is that Herge, at least early in his career, was regrettably hostile to Israel and apparently sided with Arab conquestors at the time (whom the UK was willing to appease), which explains perfectly why a Jewish group of fighters are labeled "terrorists", in sharp contrast to Islamists, whom MSM sources like these have often taken up a PC policy of never referring to that way; only as "guerillas/militants", if they're even called that at all. It's bad enough the writer insists on employing the Israel-delegitimizing name of "palestine", which was originally coined by the Roman empire. That the writer seems to be deliberately describing Jews as "terrorists", and Arabs as "rebels", only makes it worse, as does the claim of Palestine as "legal entity". I guess German soldiers during WW2 were also rebels, eh? The writer's approach practically and absurdly reduces Israelis to animals, or even non-existent. He clearly has no interest in, say, Menachem Begin as a historical figure, nor does he appreciate the hard work Israel's fighters, David Ben-Gurion's included, had to do to get the British out of the country, which was also the subject of Leon Uris' Exodus, adapted to film in 1960. And despite what the columnist says, it's not all that implausible for Muslims to fight each other. The word "jihad" in Arabic means religious war, and practically enables it even between 2 factions of the Religion of Peace (Sunnis vs. Salafists, Iran vs. Iraq, in example). And then, the article turns to the aforementioned last official story:
Hergé wrote that he was inspired by Che Guevara, and one would be excused for thinking that Picaros is a coded reference to the revolutions in Latin America. But the analogy goes the wrong way: the Taschist government gets its support from Eastern Europe, while General Alcazar and his Picaros are backed by the International Banana Company. Created two years after the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the Picaros seem to have more in common with Pinochet.

This adventure taps into new reserves of cynicism that were not present in the early comics. Ever the dutiful boy scout, Tintin insists that no one is to be shot and refuses the colossal bribes that Alcazar offers for his help. But there is no discussion of elections or anything else that would improve the country; it is simply assumed that the General will resume power.

The final panel of Picaros shows the gang flying back to Europe, while armed police patrol the wretched favelas behind them. This seems like a fitting end to the story that started with a pith-helmeted colonist who brought the gift of arithmetic to the Belgian Congo.
See, that's the problem with the whole jumbled approach used in Tintin, and making matters worse, Remi even drew "inspiration" from one of the worst communists in history, Guevara. A man responsible for the deaths of many defenseless people. Realizing this, I have even less respect for Remi than before, because here, he definitely didn't do any research, and whitewashed communism in the worst ways possible. So what's that about a cartoonist for Siecle supposedly championing "conservative" causes, again? "Conservative" my foot. All Remi did was compound a lot of embarrassing insults to the intellect, and make it all the more mystifying what anybody sees in a comic like Tintin as compared with other comics of the past century that could've had a clearer vision to offer. It's just no use; Tintin, by today's standards, is impossible for me to read and find any redeeming value in. And this article only furthers the insults to the cortex with its own bizarre biases, mainly because no objective view is taken of figures like Guevara either. What does even Steven Spielberg see in it? I'll never know.

So with this latest article found talking about one of the most awkward "products of its time", they sure know how to drain any flavor it may have once had, and in hindsight, it really didn't have any at all. Mainly because its cartoonist couldn't seem to find the ability to embrace a non-imperial vision.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
My profile



  • avigreen2002@yahoo.com
  • Fansites I Created

  • Hawkfan
  • The Greatest Thing on Earth!
  • The Outer Observatory
  • Earth's Mightiest Heroines
  • The Co-Stars Primer
  • Realtime Website Traffic

    Comic book websites (open menu)

    Comic book weblogs (open menu)

    Writers and Artists (open menu)

    Video commentators (open menu)

    Miscellanous links (open menu)

  • W3 Counter stats
  • Bio Link page
  • blog directory Bloggeries Blog Directory View My Stats Blog Directory & Search engine eXTReMe Tracker Locations of visitors to this page  
    Flag Counter

    This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

    make money online blogger templates

Older Posts Newer Posts

The Four Color Media Monitor is powered by Blogspot and Gecko & Fly.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.
Join the Google Adsense program and learn how to make money online.