Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tintin Behind Bars

Since 2007, it's been hard to track down Tintin in Brooklyn: a book of Tintin comics has been moved to a vault where contested books live. Quite literally, even: the Times' image shows a bank-like vault door to protect readers from the horrors found within, as though the Necronomicon is waiting inside to peel at the brain of anyone foolish enough to attempt it. Due to accusations of racist depictions of blacks in Africa, the book Tintin au Congo was deemed "not for the public," according to a children's room librarian, and it was removed from the public shelves. It is still available to the public, if requested, but by taking it off the public shelves this does constitute censorship by restricting access.

This isn't the first suggestion of racism in Tintin comics: others have criticized Hergé's creation of a banker named Blumenstein as an anti-Semitic caricature - in fact, there's a cornucopia of archaic, cruel stereotypes in Tintin comics, but are stories from a time of Belgian colonialism, pre-World War II stereotypes appropriate to the period inappropriate today? Not necessarily, if context is provided, which is the common argument for classic works of literary art which offend modern sensibilities. In cases like Huckleberry Finn, what people are often offended by is a framework for defining and reinforcing their reason for offense, but I'm not familiar with Tintin enough to know whether that is the case for Hergé. That uncertainty is the root for the fear of a contextless racism: people don't want the book to be seen by those who do not understand it. It is a tragedy that people must only pursue what they already understand, and must be protected from the unknown, for fear they will reach the wrong conclusions.

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Anonymous Chris Tregenza said...

The racism in the early works of Tintin is very much contextual and of its time. What is significant is that Herge realised this early on and made great efforts in his later work to show a fair representation of other cultures. In many ways he was ahead of his time and demonstrated sensitivities that would not become mainstream until the 1960s and 70s.

The jewish stereotypes are also a hangover from an age when those images were seem as acceptable. Antisemitism was not a Nazi invention. It was widespread and deeply ingrained in all European cultures. Herge's use of this stereotype was occasional but real and the situation is worsen by the fact Herge worked for a German control newspaper during WWII.

In later editions of various books he removed the jewish characters and turn some black characters white. While done with good intent, such "whitewashing" could in itself be seen as racist. Such are the complexities and dangers of dealing with race issues.

3:42 AM  
Blogger Azrael Brown said...

I totally agree, Chris - and having a record of his attitudes was to Herge's detriment, because he was, even in his own time, criticized for racism due to this evidence in print, regardless that he was fitting with the attitudes of the time. I did read a bit mention of the removing of racist depictions in later issues, and I believe it was done by Herge himself - it still constitutes censorship in itself, too: too often people resort to changing or removing, than educating.

11:05 AM  

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