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        Monday, June 05, 2006
        History is in the eyes of the beholder

        The tile of the BBC article reads Dalai Lama honours Tutu and Tintin. "Hah?!" That was my initial reaction. Besides, because of the photo showing the Dalai Lama whispering something in Archbishop Tutu's ear – both smiling boyishly – I thought the title was meant to be cynical. No cynicism there – it is what it says. Both received the Light of Truth award, which is presented to those "who have made a significant contribution in the public understanding of and the fight for human rights and democratic freedoms for the Tibetan people."

        My hah?! was because of the racist ideology of Tintin, particularly Tintin in Congo. I remember back in the late 90’s being grilled by my friends in Brussels for not knowing that Tintin was racist after I proudly announced that it used to be my favourite cartoon magazine growing up in Ethiopia and my brother was a fanatic collector of everything Tintin – he even had an annoying dog named Tintin which hated me (and the feeling was mutual.) And, I was a Captain Haddcock fan anyway. I still am.

        It is understandable that Tintin is a hero in Tibet. In 2001, the Hergé Foundation "blocked Chinese attempts to rewrite Tintin's and Tibet's history by demanding the recall of the Chinese-language book, which had been published using the title 'Tintin in China's Tibet'."

        Tintin shows his soft side for the first time in Tintin in Tibet, he respects the Chinese culture – he even had a go at Buddhist-monk type meditation and he literally raised the tent… His creator, Hergé, had deep respect for China's culture and he didn't hesitate to bash Western imperialist expansion in and racism towards China.

        In contrast, Tintin has been a pig in Africa. The cartoons depicting Africans are just hideous and the plot is purely racist. And there is a justification for it…

        Tintin in the Congo reflected the dominant colonialist ideology at that time. "This was in 1930. All I knew about the Congo was what people were saying about it at the time: 'The Negroes are big children, it's fortunate for them that we're there, etc.'"

        Fair enough, Mr. Herge (RIP), but you stood up, only six years later, against the same racist ideas towards the Chinese. What changed?

        Later, for the 1946 color edition of the album, Hergé toned down or removed some of the worst excesses: for instance, the Belgian history class given by Tintin to black students was changed into a mathematics class.

        Change of heart in this case good. I'll take that. But it would have been even better if he came up with an album that shows Tintin's change of heart about "Negroes". The first call out above Tintin would read "I’ve been standing at this very spot 16 years ago having retarded thoughts about the people of Congo. What an asshole was I then?*#!"

        But the paternalistic description of the indigenous people of Belgian Congo was more naive than racist, and Hergé developed an important theme of Tintin in this album: international trafficking.

        According to Tintinologist’s website though the sentiment of racism 'softened but not diminished.'

        I know, I know…. The cartoons were produced in the 30’s, race issues were not top priority then, Hergé at least softened his language, yadi, yadi, yada. Still it is a bit strange to see Archbishop Tutu and Tintin sharing the same praise today. Especially, after the recent (2004) parallel drawn between Tintin and the Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel de Gucht who critically accused Congolese MPs. I have no clue how corrupt Congolese MPs are and may be they deserved a harsh critisism. Still, the fact that they mentioned Tintin in this context in 2004 is telling. And, the award was given in Brussels (Belgium - the former colonizer of former Congo... get it?)

        May be I'm seeing things or may be I have a problem moving on... I still couldn't help thinking HAH?*@! As Captain Haddcock would say "Blue blistering bell-bottomed balderdash"!
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:09 AM   Digg!
        • name<="c114994309178675412" id="c114994309178675412">

          At 8:38 AM, Blogger Tobian said…


          Ditto on tennis tables with uneven surfaces :)

          And definitely ditto on the adventures of Tintin. My encounter with Titin since adulthood consisted of taking some kids to a public library and making the mistake of thinking I knew quality cartoon. When I came across a pile of Tintin books, in my excitement i couldn't even bring myself to rush and show the kids what I read as a child - I started browsing with all these fond memories of a smarter-than-human dog Snowy and a man named Calculus, and stopped when i got to Tintin in Zaire and bamboozled Africans.

          I hope kids of today are reading better material.

        • name<="c2060025455721246065" id="c2060025455721246065">

          At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

          You probably know that Tintin in Zaire wasn't written by Herge'. There are countless imitations and parodies of Tintin out there, most of them crude and all of them inferior to the
          real books. Don't let a terrible mimic keep you from enjoying Tintin! They are wonderful books, phenomenally kid-worthy. Read The Calculus Affair or The Black Island, and then decide whether or not to tell the younger generation to read Tintin.
          I hope you gain a more favorable impression of him, one way or another!

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