What issues do Herge’s albums raise in terms of representation of race and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?
Hergé was historically very racist in his albums. Not only in The Blue Lotus, but in others before it as well. In Tintin in the Congo (1931), there are several racist charicatures of black people. The black skin, flat noses, overdrawn and exaggerated lips as well as their “simple” way of talking speak volumes of what Hergé thought of black people. These views weren’t signature to Hergé, however. Several of Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix comics showed equally racist perceptions of racial minorities. In the 1987 Asterix and the Magic Carpet, the character of fakir Watziznehm is extremely offensive; his turban could be seen as representation however there’s no getting past his enormous nose, similar to that of Ramacharma, the fakir from Blue Lotus. Both characters, although drawn in very different styles, perpetuate hugely racist stereotypes. Watziznehm flies a magic carpet and fasts for weeks at a time without getting hungry, and Ramacharma performs stunts such as walking on broken glass, stabbing himself through his torso with knives and balancing on his nose. Also in The Magic Carpet, is a drawing of a black pirate that mimics Hergé’s Congo characters, with exaggerated red lips and a round, flat nose. The list goes on; Asterix and Cleopatra has racist drawings of Egyptian slaves with dark skin whereas Cleopatra is drawn as more “desirable” with paler skin; Asterix in Spain could be viewed as racist in the way it represents the Spanish people – in fact, any volume that shows Asterix and his band of friends sailing is bound to have a racist drawing of a black pirate.
In any case, it’s easy to see how racism is rife in western Europe. Just last year in February, while visiting Madrid I saw a display for costumes where the mannequins wearing animal costumes were white whereas the caveman was given a black mask, red lips, an afro and even black gloves and socks just to show how “barbaric” black people are.
The racism in Blue Lotus was easily born from a culture of hate and xenophobia, however that doesn’t dismiss Hergé’s views. Although he was trying to show how “tolerant” he was of Chinese people, in doing so he completely dehumanised and antagonist the Japanese; something that they would be subject to for years to come. No doubt the anti-Japanese propaganda in post-World War II America came from Blue Lotus. With the upturned noses, large teeth, beady eyes, it’s easy to see where the Americans got the inspiration to compare Japanese people to rats in their posters, warning the people of the “infestation” they had on their hands. The further stereotyping of Japanese people as money hungry, ambitious, villainous people is something that has been continued for a very long time and has been hugely damaging to Japanese immigrants to any country as they face discrimination every way they turn.
Goscinny, R., and Uderzo, A. (1969). Asterix and Cleopatra. France: Pilote.
Goscinny, R., and Uderzo, A. (1971). Asterix in Spain. France: Pilote.
Goscinny, R., and Uderzo, A. (1988). Asterix and the magic carpet.
Hergé. (1931). Tintin in the Congo. Belgium: Le Petit Vingtiéme.
Hergé. (1936). Tintin and the blue lotus. Brussels: Casterman.