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View Full Version : Herge, Tintin, and colonial stereotypes of Africans



aruna
06-05-2012, 07:19 PM
The controversy regarding Tintin in the Congo (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/herges-racist-adventures-of-tintin-not-so-court-decides-6894770.html) seems to be pretty well known, though I only read of it today for the first time. I was researching the author Herge because of another book, which is in my possession.

...the reputation of the intrepid boy reporter and that of his creator Hergé have long been besmirched by allegations of racism over the story of his exploits in colonial Africa.

Yesterday, however, both moved a step towards rehabilitation when a Belgian court ruled that a 1946 edition of Tintin in the Congo did not break the country's anti-hate laws. It found the second of his adventures was a product of the attitudes of the day and not a deliberate attempt to incite racism.
"It is clear that neither the story, nor the fact that it has been put on sale, has a goal to... create an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment," the court said in its judgement.


The decision was a setback for Congolese campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, who since 2007 has been seeking a ban on the book claiming the portrayal of Africans was "a justification of white supremacy". His lawyer said he plans to appeal against the decision.
My own problem with Herge began when my son borrowed a library book (Die Manitoba Antwortet Nicht) many years ago, and I found the following pictures in it:

Two white kids come to a desert island where they are found by black natives, captured, and taken to a hut where they are force fed to be fattened up. (ham-ham, by the way, is German baby-talk for eat-eat.)


http://i66.photobucket.com/albums/h266/arunadasi/P1020667.jpg

The natives prepare a fire to eat the (now fat) kids.


http://i66.photobucket.com/albums/h266/arunadasi/P1020668.jpg


With the help of a troop of monkeys who pelt coconuts at the natives, the kids run to the beach, followed by spear-throwing natives. A mysterious bulldozer drives out of the sea and starts firingthe natives with mysterious rays, completely conquering the native army.



http://i66.photobucket.com/albums/h266/arunadasi/P1020669.jpg


The natives bow down and worship the bulldozwer and the kids, who are carried back to the village in triumph an dadorned with flowers.


http://i66.photobucket.com/albums/h266/arunadasi/P1020670.jpg


OK, I understand that this was the typical attitude of the day, as described in the article; and I hate censorship. But - well, I absolutely did NOT want my son reading this book. He was having enough problems as it was beingthe only dark skinned child among whites, and bullied for that reason.

I complained; the librarian told me the book wasn't racist, it was just a comic and quite harmless. Nevertheless, they removed it form the library and gave it to me.

I don't think it is in print in the USA or UK, but it IS in print in France and Germany.

What do you think?

ETA: it is indeed available in the US: http://www.amazon.com/The-Secret-Ray-Parts-One/dp/0951279955/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338910017&sr=1-11

One of the reviews on that page says:

Any book with great drawings of volcanoes, airplanes, and underwater scenes appeals to a 4 year old, but there is an unfortunate portrayal of island "natives," which will offend the sensitive. Not as bad as Tintin in the Congo, but worse than the portrayal of the Indians in "America."

aruna
06-05-2012, 07:32 PM
From Wikipedia, regarding Tintin in the Congo: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo)

Racial stereotypes and colonialism

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/36/Angry_King_in_Tintin.JPG/220px-Angry_King_in_Tintin.JPG (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Angry_King_in_Tintin.JPG) http://bits.wikimedia.org/static-1.20wmf2/skins/common/images/magnify-clip.png (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Angry_King_in_Tintin.JPG)
A frame from the 1946 version of the book, featuring the king of the M'Hatuvu angry at his failure in battle against Tintin.


In July 2007, human rights lawyer David Enright told the British Commission for Racial Equality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_for_Racial_Equality) that he came across the book in the children's section of Borders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borders_Group) while shopping with his black wife and two sons. The commission called on high-street shops to remove the book from shelves after Enright's complaint, and the shop moved the book from the children's section to the area reserved for adult graphic novels. Borders said that it was committed to let its "customers make the choice."
Another major British retailer, WHSmith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WHSmith), said that the book was sold on its website but with a label that recommended it for readers aged 16 and over.[22] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-21)[23] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-22)[24] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-23)[25] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-Beckford_2007-24) The commission's attempts at banning the book were criticised by Conservative Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Party_%28UK%29) politician Ann Widdecombe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Widdecombe), who remarked that the organisation had more important things to do than regulate the accessibility of historical children's books.[25] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-Beckford_2007-24)
In August 2007 a complaint was filed in Brussels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brussels) by a Congolese political science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_science) student named Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, who claimed that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, but the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centre_for_Equal_Opportunities_and_Opposition_to_R acism) warned against political over-correctness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_correctness).[26] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-25) Mondondo repeated his complaint in France, demanding that the comic be removed from the shelves of bookstores, and it was announced that he would go as far as the European Court of Human Rights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Court_of_Human_Rights) in order to make his case.[27] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-26)
Tintin in the Congo also came under criticism in the United States of America; in October 2007, in response to a complaint by a patron, the Brooklyn Public Library (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Public_Library) placed the book in its Hunt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Whitehill_Hunt) Collection for Children's Literature, a special collection of 7,000 rare children's books that can only be accessed by appointment.[28] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-27)[29] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#cite_note-28)

Perks
06-05-2012, 07:39 PM
God, that's hard. My first inclination is to say that the book is a necessity now. Many more people than ever before (though not enough) know better. We know to be appalled. I don't want to see the book banned, because I think it's important to try to understand the complex chemistry that has led to the residue of racism that is so hard to rub out - an ink stain, to be sure.

But I also don't want to see it considered harmless. It isn't and it wasn't. It is no longer entertainment, but it can be a tool for understanding where we were and why we're still tethered to elements of ignorance.

aruna
06-05-2012, 07:48 PM
I that adults can process it, but I don't want to see this in the hands of children...

aruna
06-05-2012, 07:49 PM
(BTW Perks, rmember eating mussels in that Belgian Tintin restaurant?) :)

Perks
06-05-2012, 07:50 PM
I that adults can process it, but I don't want to see this in the hands of children...Ah yes. I definitely see your point, there.

Perks
06-05-2012, 07:54 PM
(BTW Perks, rmember eating mussels in that Belgian Tintin restaurant?) :)I certainly remember the day, but not Tintin. Was that the theme of the place?

I remember my husband drinking Devil Beer - http://i148.photobucket.com/albums/s40/Perks_album/Untitled-24.jpg

And my best friend asking for a different way to serve the mussels from a menu that boasted fifty recipes. Lol!

aruna
06-05-2012, 07:56 PM
Yes! There were Tintin posters all over the place.

Perks
06-05-2012, 08:05 PM
Is that one in the background of this photo? I didn't notice them at all. Nice and observant, ain't I?

Tex_Maam
06-05-2012, 08:25 PM
I that adults can process it, but I don't want to see this in the hands of children...

Exactly. As a kid, I loved Hergé's Tintin books (the appallingly racist ones weren't made available here, so I had no clue).

As an adult, I've learned a lot about the uglier side of his work, and while I was glad to read that he apologized for them and made an effort to correct himself afterwards, the fact remains that works like this one are more in need of the black shrink-wrap treatment than Playboy magazines ever have been.

aruna
06-05-2012, 08:38 PM
Perks, I can't make one out in that photo...nut maybe that bluish head thing in the background is a cardboard cut-out? they have those too!

backslashbaby
06-06-2012, 12:38 AM
Yeah, there is a difference between making it accessible for historical research -- which is important -- and having it in the kid's section at Borders! WTF?

I always think of European pictures like these when folks say that they have no experience with US racist portrayals like blackface, too. The pictures and drawings always look similar enough to me. When folks say 'but that's US history; we never had that here' I think of this sort of thing.

I'm not trying to ignite any US vs Europe conflict on the subject, btw! I think we are all guilty of too much (no doubt that the US was hideous!), and that's why it seems important to note it all.

I don't see it as censorship to not offer things like this for kids. It shouldn't even have to go to court, imho. Folks should know better themselves. Borders should have known better, for instance!

BenPanced
06-06-2012, 08:07 AM
Was Tintin every really considered a kids' book or has it always been shelved with children's material because it's a comic ergo it's for kids?

Tex_Maam
06-06-2012, 08:58 AM
Was Tintin every really considered a kids' book or has it always been shelved with children's material because it's a comic ergo it's for kids?

I'm no comicologist, but I think it's similar to what happened with cartoons here in the US. The TV networks weren't sure what to do with things like "Beavis and Butthead", and it took a little while for them to figure out how to target, market, and label animated shows for adults.

Imported/translated books like Asterix and Tintin may have hit a similar wall, and been shelved alongside Marvel and Archie for lack of any ready alternative. I'm not sure how much that's changed in recent years.

Kitty Pryde
06-06-2012, 09:15 AM
I'm no comicologist, but I think it's similar to what happened with cartoons here in the US. The TV networks weren't sure what to do with things like "Beavis and Butthead", and it took a little while for them to figure out how to target, market, and label animated shows for adults.

Imported/translated books like Asterix and Tintin may have hit a similar wall, and been shelved alongside Marvel and Archie for lack of any ready alternative. I'm not sure how much that's changed in recent years.

No, Tintin originally appeared in the children's section of the newspaper. It was created and marketed for children.

I'd also like to point out that a bookstore or library (in the US at least) has two or three different graphic novel sections. One in kids, one next to scifi/fantasy (for adults), and sometimes one in teens. Booksellers and readers are well aware of the fact that the market for graphic novels ranges from 6 year olds learning to read to sophisticated adults.

Friendly Frog
06-06-2012, 06:49 PM
I can testify that Tintin has been here in the children's section for at least twenty years.

They're called 'stripboeken' (strip books) here, because they were always first published in newspapers one band (one strip) of images at the time. So they're not entirely like American comics.

I loved these as a kid, including the Congo one. I'm not quite so convinced these days that they are as totally harmless as the way I saw them back then, but thanks to rose-tinted childhood-glasses I'm not quite convinced either these books are harmful.

I remember there were talks that instead of banning the book entirely, new printings of 'Tintin in Congo' should be prefaced with an explanation about what is offensive about the portrayal of non-white characters in this book and how it was a product of its time. Would that be an acceptable alternative?

Torgo
06-06-2012, 06:55 PM
Just chiming in as a children's publisher - Tintin au Congo shouldn't be marketed to kids. It isn't the only Tintin book with stereotypical PoC in it, but the racist depictions are shot through the whole thing. The Blue Lotus also struck me as being somewhat problematic in its depiction of the Japanese in particular, though that one gets little attention.

I still love Tintin, but on that subject, here's an article I liked: http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

Xelebes
06-06-2012, 07:23 PM
Was Tintin every really considered a kids' book or has it always been shelved with children's material because it's a comic ergo it's for kids?

We had the english and french versions in our elementary school library. Never seen the Tintin in Congo one.

Rachel Udin
06-07-2012, 08:52 PM
Racism isn't new to comic books... however, I think that it's a good idea to *not* ban these books *and* explain to kids about the history of racism occasionally using them (tastefully and thinking critically).

Examples:

http://superdickery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=858:more-racism&catid=35:propaganda-index&Itemid=35

(many of these) http://superdickery.com/index.php?view=category&id=35%3Apropaganda-index&option=com_content&Itemid=24


I'm no comicologist, but I think it's similar to what happened with cartoons here in the US. The TV networks weren't sure what to do with things like "Beavis and Butthead", and it took a little while for them to figure out how to target, market, and label animated shows for adults.

Imported/translated books like Asterix and Tintin may have hit a similar wall, and been shelved alongside Marvel and Archie for lack of any ready alternative. I'm not sure how much that's changed in recent years.

That, I can partially answer since I've been tracking it a bit.

The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Daria, Aeon Flux, Futurama all have found more than kids markets. (Adult swim, too)

Comics are also coming out in more flavors and up, probably due to the influx of manga to the US market. Though many of the ones being imported are for teens primarily, there are ones that are catered towards adults, and with some of the domestic market gearing towards adults anyway (not in the pornography way) Harvey Pikar's American Splendor, for example, there is a bit more diversity in the shelving of comic books, though I think the majority of the population and the major marketers still think cartoons are for kids, though the were originally geared towards adults historically. (Bugs Bunny cartoons has quite a few references to getting it on as propaganda cartoons) Not quite clear on when the shift was, since I didn't delve into that for my thesis (though I know one of my teachers did for his HS senior thesis--he did it on Batman and documented the shift to children.)

Anyway, should be leveling out as the new larger generation of anime/manga lovers gets jobs and the snobs of the market get old and retire. (i.e. the executives that call anime and manga not "real" animation/comics. Ethnocentricism at its finest.)

BenPanced
06-08-2012, 03:52 AM
I remember there were talks that instead of banning the book entirely, new printings of 'Tintin in Congo' should be prefaced with an explanation about what is offensive about the portrayal of non-white characters in this book and how it was a product of its time. Would that be an acceptable alternative?
Here in the US, the DVD releases of Tom & Jerry and the Warner Bros. library all have cautions on the boxes about the outmoded portrayal of race in many of the cartoons. (I remember a re-dub of the Tom & Jerry cartoons featuring the maid, Mammy Two-Shoes, had her speaking with an Irish brogue. A later re-re-dub had an African-American actress reading the lines without the "mammy" accent.)

Tocotin
06-08-2012, 06:04 AM
The creator of Tintin has been accused of being antisemitic as well:

http://forward.com/articles/148255/tintin-and-the-anti-semites/?p=all

To me he seems just incredibly opportunistic and not really interested in, how to put it, intellectual honesty or independence of thought.

BigWords
06-08-2012, 02:14 PM
Firstly, I do know quite a bit about comics history - apologies if this is a tedious reprisal of things nobody cares about, but putting everything into context is the only way to address this particular collection. Every time I look into issues such as this, I find the same things being brought up, and while I understand that there are people who are looking to Asian material or the US small-press as the herald of a more sophisticated storytelling I can't help but laugh. Nope. Sorry, but this has all been seen before, and most of it before the thirties.

For Tintin In The Congo, specifically? Yes, it is available in the UK - there are two distinct versions which have been released, one of which is a more cautious release which was sold shrink-wrapped. I'm sure there was also a paperback version, though I have yet to come across that one, but I know all about the various legal challenges which were made. Is it spectacularly offensive? Not as bad as some I can think of (from more surprising corners of the UK), but is it still problematic.

If anyone can bear to hunt through comics historically, I think you'll find that some of the most visible representations of POC are... Not good. The Beano character Hard-Nut The Nigger, anyone? And that character was meant for children. Then there is the watermelon-eating kid on the masthead of the title for the early run of the comic to contend with. The absolutely disgusting NF comic which was circulated to schools in the early 80s is the sole title in my collection which is banned from my database, so that will go some way to showing what it takes to offend me. Yes, this is all horrible (and I apologize to everyone who is only just realizing how deep this goes), but for the longest time this was "business as usual".

Comics (in Britain, at least) were originally for adults - the US comic has historically been for children, but the British origins lie in political cartooning and social commentary. Punch, Comic Cuts and the various broadsheet comics of pre-World War One were intended for more mature audiences - and Norman Pett's collections were filled with nudity and sexually-suggestive material, so saying that that is a new thing is only going to raise my fact-specific tendencies as well.