Question Four: What issues do his albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?
Hergé was one of the most prolific and popular of twentieth century comic author, his most popular work The Adventure of Tintin holds a prolific stature in the popular culture, particularly in the non-United States anglophone and francophone worlds (Mountfort, 2012). As a cultural product, the franchise enjoys enviable market penetration, it remains a fixture of many children’s reading development as well as viewing pleasure, is frequently employed in additional language acquisition, and its iconography is so unique that it is instantly recognizable around much of the world (Mountfort, 2016). But the series has been accused of bundling racist, right-wing and reactionary focalization across his trans-media platforms it has reached today. As Apostolidès (2010) comments on Hergé’s comic work Tintin from a critical point of view, “This hypocrite, this boy feigning innocence, this ugly little monkey cannot fool us any longer. It’s time we exposed him for what he really is. Tintin is a forty-year-old dwarf, a colonialist, and a zoophile, with homosexual tendencies to boot. This is the despicable character we set up as a hero for our dear little children” (pg. 8).
Tintin in the Congo (1930), Hergé mimics the colonial prejudices, as African being “variously; credulous, untrustworthy, bloodthirsty, servile, lazy and childlike” (Mountfort, 2016, pg. 4). He is re-iterating the socially constructed stereotypes present in the Western world regarding the characteristics of African descendants. The image of ‘juju-lipped Negro’ were hitting the mainstream platforms such as Disney (Mountfort, 2012). In fact, Hergé rarely traveled, he did much of his research at the Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren in Belgium. Furthermore, Congo was colonized by Belgium in the 19 century, what followed was a period of brutal violence that would be better labeled as genocide. It is estimated that the Congolese population was halved under Belgian occupation from 1890−1920 – from twenty million to ten million – in a genocide reinforced not only by summary bloodshed but also by the routine torture and mutilation of men, women and children (Assouline, 2009). An example from Hergé’s works on dehumanizing, racist stereotypes used to justify Belgian colonialism, including the now notorious ‘white man’s burden’ motif: in one panel Tintin is attributed the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ when he breaks up a tussle between a pair of Africans who are arguing over a hat by cutting it in two, handing half to each. They respond, as the English translators have it: ‘White master very fair! Him give half-hat top each one.’ In another, blatantly imperialistic, a scene where Tintin tells African school children while pointing to a map ‘Today I’m going to talk to you about your country: Belgium! (Mountfort, 2012). As a result, rights movements came into existence just to get these controversial works censored and removed from local libraries. Nevertheless, a point must be noted that due to extensive censorship in Belgium the genocide in Congo was extensively eliminated, but to acknowledge Hergé, he does indeed demonstrate that when it came to racism, he faithfully reproduced the xenophobic mood of his time, especially in Tintin au Congo (Mountfort, 2012).
In conclusion, as an adult, we should intelligently avoid repeating historical grievance under colonization, we must be capable to distinguish the tropes of colonial propaganda and take on the responsibility to educate the younger generations that cultural prejudices cannot be escaped and justified. There is NO ONE true story rather, there are multiple points of view.
Apostolidès, J.-M., & Hoy, J. (2010). The metamorphoses of Tintin, or, Tintin for adults. Stanford University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05020a&AN=aut.b11704317&site=eds-live
Assouline, P. (2009). Hergé : the man who created Tintin. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05020a&AN=aut.b11704251&site=eds-live
Mountfort P. (2012) ‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1(1), 33-49. doi: 10.1386/ajpc.1.1.33_1
Mountfort. (2016). Tintin as Spectacle: The Backstory of a Popular Franchise and Late Capital. Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture, 1(1), 37. doi:10.5325/jasiapacipopcult.1.1.0037