Week 7 Response

What issues do Herge’s albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?

Herge was a Belgian cartoonist who created the character whose name is ‘Tintin’ (Assouline, 2009). When it comes to one of his albums called ‘Blue Lotus’, it is delicately and realistically describing the era of Japanese invasion of Manchuria which was occurred in 1931. For instance, there is a scene that Mitsuhirato is offering Chinese people the opium, and those who addicted by the opium suddenly become very aggressive. This scene represents that the era when Chinese people were under Japanese influences.

The reason why Herge played an important role to both Asian countries and Western countries is that most of Western people had prejudice like Asian people dump their children into the river, eat rotten eggs, and other negative prejudices toward them. However, by precisely researching and demonstrating what is actually happened at that time in China and their relationship between Japan – thanks to his best friend, ‘Zhang Chongren’ – the Western audiences or readers of Tintin could adjust their prejudice towards Asian people and could actually learn what was happened there as well as the geography of some part of China (e.g. Shanghai, Yangtze river) (Assouline, 2009).

Nevertheless, with regard to depict Asian people’s appearance, Herge drew them as the people who have squinted eyes and the combed-dark black hair (Laser-Robinson, 2019). It is lessened while describing Chinese people, but still exaggerated while describing Japanese people. Moreover, by describing Tintin as the saviour of drowning Chinese boy, it leads to another prejudice that Western people should have sympathy about poor Asians (Mountfort, 2012). Thus, Herge could be considered as the racist although he tried to demolish the Western people’s prejudice towards Asian people by doing the researches, somehow he still biased towards Asian since he depicted Japanese character’s appearance as ridiculous ugly face as well as described Asian people as they cannot independently act by themselves and they need Western hero to protect them from harm.

According to Mountfort (2012), “in a pivotal set of panels (43 f1−13) where Tintin rescues a drowning Chang from the Yangtze River, the bewildered boy asks Tintin, ‘But … why did you save my life?’ The pair then go on to trade their respective cultural stereotypes” (p.40). As can be seen, not only Western people have prejudice towards Asian people, but Asian people themselves also biased towards Western people that Westerners will deny them even though they are in danger.

In conclusion, although Herge encourage other Western people to get away from the Asian stereotype through releasing his album, still it is biased. In terms of race, by drawing Western people as predominant characters whereas Chinese people depend on them, and by describing Japanese people as typical, exaggerated Asian face of what Westerners was thinking, it represented that Herge was not threw away his stereotype towards Asian people at all. Since there is neither predominant race nor inferior race on Earth, Western people should respect Asian people as independent race with their unique culture, not having sympathy on them. Also, Asian people should be proud of themselves – neither overwhelmed by the Western people nor aggressive towards them, but embrace them and attempt to communicate with them as the same ‘human’ to ‘human’ as well as respect Western culture.

References:

Assouline, P. (2009). Herge: The man who created Tintin. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Laser-Robinson, A. (2019). An analysis of Hergé’s portrayal of various racial groups in the adventures of Tintin: The blue lotus. [online] Tintinologist.org. Available at: https://www.tintinologist.org/articles/analysis-bluelotus.pdf [Accessed 16 Sep. 2019].

Mountfort, P. (2012). ‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1(1), pp.33-49.

WEEK 7: TINTIN

  1. In what specific ways is Tintin a forerunner of late 20th – 21st century transmedia storytelling franchises?

From its inception in the early 20th century, Hergé’s Tintin has continually stood as a forerunner of transmedia storytelling. This would continue into the later part of the 20th and into the 21st century. 

One other main reasons for this was the artistic style of Hergé. As a comic book, Tintin from the outset is a mixture of visuals and texts. However, more specifically to Hergé’s style is how this mixture was used and applied to storytelling. As quoted by Mountford (2016), Hergé (1945) calls his work films, as there is need for description or narration. The picture itself is important for telling the story. This can be seen through Hergé’s use of panels in ways that replicate the dynamic nature of film. This includes using various angles and shots, as well as using movement, action and scene splicing to tell the story rather than omniscient text. Similar to the cultural elevation of visual media in the early 20th century, the colourization of visual media in the second half of the century established them as a premium products. The was paralleled in Tintin as Hergé had the majority of his black and white albums reworked into colour. The addition of colour also created new aesthetic elements for Hergé to consider. The value of the visual is a key feature of Hergé’s work that generates Tintin’s transmedia success as it allowed for easy adaptation across other forms of media, especially television and film.     

The creation of Studio Hergé in 1950 was a pivotal moment for cementing Tintin as a transmedia forerunner of the century. Prior to the studios creation Tintin had already gone from “From a strip cartoon, to albums, first black and white then color, multiple translations, adaptations, across media, film animation” (Mountford, 2016, p. 44). However, it was the studio’s commercial utilization of a cultural product that more truly pushed Tintin as a global transmedia success. Tintin, which had already undergone many transformations since its creation, allowed it to seamlessly present itself as a commercial product. The artistic style of Tintin also made this transition smoother. Lechner (2009) states the comic series had a “no-frills storytelling style” and that the stories are very “plot-driven adventures”. By having a standardized style Tintin made an ideal commercial product. This also made it easier to rework in order to appeal to new audiences. The studio’s industrial style production and adaptation allowed Tintin to maintain its position in popular culture and generate significant revenue for years to come.

One of the major ways Tintin stood out as a forerunner of transmedia storytelling was  its translation of Tintin into English. This opened Tintin up to a much larger worldwide audience without having to produce an entirely new catalogue. However, the translation to English was not straightforward, especially in order to penetrate the North American method. The United States of America was not a place of equally huge Tintin success. Jokes that are funny to a European audience did not necessarily have the same humourous impact on an American audience, especially involving things like alcohol in a children’s show (Mountford, 2016). Therefore in order to gain access, Tintin as a series needed to accommodate the American point of view on certain things. 

The strategic self-censorship was also applied to the animated television series The Adventures of Tintin created in 1991. Although such edits were made it is revered as one of the most faithful adaptations of the series to date (Mountford, 2016). Two politically charged albums from Hergé’s catalogue, Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets were omitted from the series altogether. Other censor-like adjustments such as removing several scenes of violence as well as gun and opium related scenes. Strategic and specific changes like this, demonstrated the forerunner attitude of Tintin. As a result there have been many attempts to bring other Non-North-American series to the English speaking market. Near the turn of the century many Japanese anime series were dubbed into English by American companies that achieved success such as Pokémon and Dragonball Z. However, similar to Tintin’s North American reworking, shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! had several elements including character motives and word choices changed as well as removing items deemed too adult for North American children (Meza, 2017). 

The style and awareness of Tintin allowed its effective transition into an industrial-like product, as well as its translation and editing into English. This adaptable nature of Tintin has perpetually defined it as a forerunner for transmedia storytelling from its origin as comicstrip through to comic albums and full on television and film. 

References:

Lechner, J. (2009). The Genius of Tintin. Retrieved from http://johnlechner.com/the-genius-of-tintin/

Meza, M. (2017, August 25). Censored: 15 Ways Yu-Gi-Oh Needed To Be Changed Outside Of Japan. Retrieved from https://www.thegamer.com/censored-yu-gi-oh-changed-outside-japan/

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

Week 7. You tried.

Well, that was a depressing read.

So what were Hergé’s political beliefs? Well even for the thirties he was fairly right-wing. Mostly in terms of his depictions of race. in particular, many of his early depictions of African peoples are very cringe-worthy by modern standards. I believe that is an important caveat that at the time these kinds of depictions ethnic minorities were not only common but almost universally accepted as fairly accurate (Mountfort, 2010). More on that later.

As is covered in the article I am responding to these caricatures are very racist. However, I generally air on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt with something like this, these racist depictions are as much a product of the world around Herge as they are a product of the man himself. When he says he was a product of the circles he ran in I believe him. That being said, Hergé should absolutely not be given a free pass for it. The criticisms he received were absolutely warranted for his work to be considered racist even in the 30’s it needed to go pretty far.

All of this being said I think that Hergé is an excellent example of giving second chances. While his racial depictions never reached any level that would be considered progressive by today’s standards, he did show a continuing desire and effort to improve in these areas. In my opinion that should be commended despite the fact that he often stumbled, or even failed outright.

Comparing his first depictions of Chinese people as pigtailed torturers, to his later depictions as a rich culture that had been stepped on by both imperialism and Imperial Japan. Which unfortunately makes his depiction of the Japanese people even more unacceptable. How on earth he could have simultaneously drawn The Blue Lotus and written Japan the way he did is inconceivable to me. How did he not wonder if the same divide between stereotypes and reality also existed for Japan as it did/does for China? I wonder what he would have thought of the Nanking massacre or Unit 731.

What I do wonder about are the parts of his earlier work that were later censored, it is obviously important to look back at them historically and understand why they are wrong. But I do wonder if their alteration was at his order and if so why. Was it to cover his former mistakes> Was it out of embarrassment? Was it to fight back against his former self? This is a question that sadly we will likely never known the answer to. But I’d like to think it was on his orders and he had it done in an attempt at self-improvement and another try and doing better, where previously he had failed.

Mountfort, P. (2010). ‘Yellow skin, black hair …careful, Tintin’: Hergé and orientalism. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4917942-dt-content-rid-10258696_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/AJPC_Herge%20and%20Orientalism.pdf

week 7

How would you characterize Hergé’s politics, and how did they apparently change over time?

In my opinion Hergé’s politics has two stage, one is the original stereotype of himself, the other is he has been attacked by Chinese culture.

First step:

Tintin on Soviet Land, the first book of Tintin, was elaborately compiled according to the orders of Hergay’s superiors and was a limited perspective of anti-Soviet propaganda.

Still, Hutch worked willingly: “I’m sure I’m on the right track,” he said later. His only source was Moscou Sans voiles, written by Joseph douillet, a former Belgian consul in the Soviet Union in 1928. In this book, Dudley, less than a decade after the October Revolution, condemns the Communist system for causing poverty, famine and terror. The secret police maintain order and spread deception to foreigners. However, the anti-totalitarian theme of the first book will run through the series. Here the author is also a cartoonist who obeys the orders of his superiors to publish (“Herge: the man who created Tintin”, 2010) . [I think Tintin here is also wonderful, but he has no soul of his own, nor reflects the real human design. In my opinion, Tintin is a heroic person.]

Tintin’s presence in Congo reflected the dominant colonial ideology at that time. As Herg said in subsequent interviews, “It was 1930. My understanding of Congo was what people thought of it at that time: “Black people are big children, and we are lucky to be there to support them, and so on.”

Belgium’s paternalistic description of Congolese indigenous peoples is more childish than racism. In this book, Herg develops an important theme of Tintin: international trafficking. Later stories were also influenced by the threat of World War II, followed by the war itself and the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

The Blue Lotus in the later works is a work which is different from others and has the author’s own ideas in my opinion. From a Chinese perspective, looking at that period of history, I am also curious why the author described China so much [Tintin’s description of China is particularly mild compared to other works of the same period]

Second step:

In Blue Lotus, Hergre euphemistically expresses the feeling of re-understanding China: Detective Thomson Brothers came to China in the 1930s with their Ling Ting and long gowns and jackets and thought that they had to dress up like Chinese people. As a result, they were surrounded and ridiculed by people and made a fool of themselves. Of course, what’s more important is that Blue Lotus takes Zhang Chongren as its prototype and portrays a Chinese child named Zhang Zhongren. He is modest and brave, risking his life to fight with the Japanese army, helping Tintin defeat the drug traffickers and embodying the dignity and courage of the Chinese people in the face of the national crisis. In this work, there are also a lot of Chinese elements that make Chinese readers feel more cordial, such as restaurants and restaurants with Chinese plaques, rickshaw drivers, blue and white porcelain, cheongsam and so on. They are authentic Chinese goods. The Chinese characters with elegant wording or characteristics of the times, such as “lucky celebration”, “casual drinks”, “abolition of unequal treaties”, “the world is for the public” and “overthrowing Japanese imperialism”, all came from Zhang Chongren’s hands. In particular, on a notice of the Japanese army’s wanted Tintin, the Chinese character “offering a reward for the arrest of the murderer Tin” was clearly written, and “TinTin” was thus given the official Chinese translation. By actively assisting Herge, Zhang became the most famous Chinese in French-speaking countries. The name of Zhang Zhongren is known to as many as 1 billion people in Western countries (“Herge: the man who created Tintin”, 2010) .

From this process we can see a qualitative change in Tintin’s author’s thinking. One has changed from a purely racist mind to a pluralistic and inclusive one. A writer sees more of the world and has a wider horizon, which affects his thinking of painting.

Reference list:

Mountfort, P. (2011). ‘Yellow skin, black hair… Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian journal of popular culture, 1(1), 33-49.

Mountfort, P. (2016). Tintinas spectacle: The backstory of a popular franchise and late capital. Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture, 1(1), 37-56.

Herge: the man who created Tintin. (2010). Choice Reviews Online47(10), 47-5459-47-5459. doi: 10.5860/choice.47-5459

Week 7

4. What issues do his albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?

The issue what Herge’s album raise is racism. In Tintin in Congo this album, Herge appeared to be racially biased and stereotyped in the creation. At that time, his creation caused great controversy. Tintin’s attitude to the Congolese nation in Congo has been hugely controversial. As a result, Belgium, the United Nations and the United States had restricted the sale of such depictions to children. Because the content is negative (Tintin in the Congo, 2019). Between 1890 and 1920, Congo was occupied by Belgium, and men, women and children were murdered. In the comics, Herge described such racist discrimination, Belgian colonialism and the “white burden” theme. For example, in the comics, when Africans were arguing, Tintin broke the argument and divided the hats equally, to which Africans replied, “the white people master is very fair.” In the imperialist scene, Tintin introduced Belgium to African students and said it was their country (Mountfort, 2011). When Tintin became a hero, a local woman bowed and told him that the white man was amazing and in good spirits (Herge, 2005).

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, some activists and writers thought Tintin in Congo was racist because it portrayed the Congolese people as stupid. The government of the democratic republic of Congo criticized the book. In 2004, Congo’s information minister accused Herge of “racism and nostalgia for colonialism” (Cendrowicz, 2010). In 2007, British human rights lawyers complained to the British commission for racial equality (CRE) that they had seen the book in the children’s section of the bookstore. The CRE called on bookstores to remove the comic, saying it contained racial bias. The Congolese, for example, are described as looking like monkeys and fools. In response to the store’s dedication to customer demand, the book was moved to a reserved area for adult graphic novels. Another British retailer, WHSmith, was recommended for readers aged 16 and over. The publisher had also responded to the issue of racism by placing a protective band around the book, warning of its content and an introduction to writing a historical background (Bunyan, 2011).

Tintin in Congo had also been criticised by America; In October 2007, in response to customer complaints, the Brooklyn public library placed graphic novels in a locked back room in New York, allowing access only by appointment. In August 2007, Congolese student Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo filed a complaint in Brussels, claimed that the book was an insult to the Congolese people and demanded that it be banned. Prosecutors investigated and initiated criminal cases. The matter eventually moved to civil court in April 2010.Mondondo’s lawyers argued that Tintin in Congo was “a justification for colonization and white supremacy”, which Mondondo called “racism and xenophobia”. As for Herge, at the time of creation, Herge’s environment was full of conservative ideas around “patriotism, Catholicism, strict morality, discipline and innocence”. Herge provided information about the Soviet union almost entirely from a single source. In Tintin in Congo, he used limited resources to understand the country and its people (Tintin in the Congo, 2019).

References

Bunyan, N. (2011). “Tintin banned from children’s shelves over ‘racism’ fears”. The Telegraph. London. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8866991/Tintin-banned-from-childrens-shelves-over-racism-fears.html

Cendrowicz, L. (2010). “Tintin: Heroic Boy Reporter or Sinister Racist?”. Time. New York City. Retrieved from: http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1986416,00.html

Hergé. (2005). Tintin in the Congo. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner (translators). London: Egmont. Retrieved from: https://books.google.co.nz/books/about/Tintin_in_the_Congo.html?id=7DsvAAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

Mountfort, P. (2011). ‘Yellow skin, black hair… Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian journal of popular culture1(1), 33-49.

Tintin in Congo. (2019). Retrieved Sept 15, 2019, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_Congo#CITEREFBunyan2011

Tintin

Prior to the Blue Lotus Tintin’s adventures were more straightforwardly propagandistic in nature as Hergé’s only exposure to the countries Tintin visited were all second-hand and influenced by the decidedly xenophobic culture surrounding him. The Land of the Soviets portrays an anti-Communist fever dream and includes a brief appearance of Chinese torturers dressed in archaic clothing with long pigtails. Even more egregiously Tintin In The Congo is an entire adventure dedicated to portraying the Belgian colonisation of the country as a positive, protective force rather than cruel exploitation of the indigenous population. Africans are drawn with stereotypical “Ju-ju lips” and they are shown to be stupid and completely dependent on their white masters (Mountford, 2014).

 

The Blue Lotus marks a turning point in Hergé’s career. Abbot Leon Gosset – a Roman Catholic chaplain who was concerned with how Hergé’s comics affected his Chinese students – introduced Hergé to Tchang Chongren (his name has been Romanized in several different ways, I have chosen to use the one in McCarthy’s The Secret of Literature because I believe it is the easiest to distinguish from the character of Chang), a Chinese art student who introduced Hergé to Chinese culture, art and most importantly their political situation (Farr, as cited by Mountfort, 2014). The two became good friends and this personal lens was instrumental in the his work moving forward. “He broke apart Hergé’s European absolutism, opening it up into a more global, relative vision… as Tintin says in The Blue Lotus… ‘different people don’t know enough about each other.’” (McCarthy, 2016) The character of Chang is an obvious stand-in for Hergé’s good friend, and in their first meeting the Tintin and Chang exchange and laugh at the stereotypes of their respective cultures. The bumbling comic relief characters Thompson and Thomson make a fool of themselves by attempting to disguise themselves in the same clothes and pigtails donned by the Chinese torturers in The Land of the Soviets, drawing the attention of a whole crowd of actual Chinese people, and European businessmen looking civilize China are portrayed as blustering bullies (Mountfort, 2014). Overall this a much more sympathetic take on Chinese culture which criticisms Western colonialism, and the extensive detail Tchang contributed to the art and setting of The Blue Lotus would drive Hergé to continue his extensive research into Tintin’s future adventures (the greatest result of this is arguably his Destination Moon/Explorers On The Moon double album adventure, which was highly prescient and surprisingly accurate in its depiction of space travel).

 

However, despite finding understand through his friend Hergé does not extend this recognition of the other to the Japanese, who are one note villains with no redeeming qualities. This in itself is nothing new – Tintin’s characters and particularly his villains are generally not complicated people, particularly at this early point in his career – the Japanese are also drawn as racist stereotypes, with the main antagonist Mitsuhirato sporting buck teeth, glasses and a snout nose which would later find itself used in anti-Japanese World War II posters. While The Blue Lotus addresses a singular mistake in Hergé’s past it also reflects a more fundamental problem with his portrayals of race that would largely remained unresolved. As a caricaturist he was prone to using exaggerated features and stereotypes as a visual shorthand, and while it may not have been conscious the Asian features of the Japanese find themselves exaggerated while the Chinese’s are downplayed and their features are Westernized, (Mountfort, 2014) resulting in Hergé simply perpetuating the same kind of stereotyping he was trying to destroy.

 

Hergé would later go onto display regret for his work on Tintin In The Congo, but would not go to the same lengths that he did for Chang and China. “The fact is that I was fed on the prejudices of the bourgeois society in which I moved […] It was 1930 […] I portrayed these Africans according to such criteria, in the purely paternalistic spirit which then existed in Belgium.” (Hergé as cited by Mountfort, 2014) Despite this the ju-ju lipped design remained present in future works (Mountfort, 2014). This ‘paternalistic spirit’ could also be seen in Hergé’s portrayal of Native Americans – as Red Indians and noble savages, but also as the victims of American colonisation who have had their land stolen from them. How he could be so critical of America and ignorant of the effect his own country had on the Congo is difficult to parse, but a key part of this contradiction may stem from his childhood experiences as a scout. “For his entire life… he was to remain fascinated by a mythical world of warpaint and feathers… For an entire generation of Belgian ex-scouts, the Red Indian World represented the only escape from the pressures and frustrations of everyday life” (Thompson, 2011,  p. 54) and goes on to describe a bizarre episode in which a Post-WWII Hergé retreated to a monastery in order to set up a Red Indian tent and live there smoking a peace pipe with friendly monks. He was sympathetic to the Native Americans, but he did not understand them as flesh and blood human beings. They were a romantic ideal, and this event illustrates just how susceptible Hergé was to his environment and circumstances. His political alignment was also known to oscillate between both sides of the political spectrum (McCarthy 2006, p. 38) but it easier to see this as him being incredibly impressionable rather than him holding any deep rooted political principles. The crucial difference between Tintin In America and The Blue Lotus is that Hergé had a Chinese friend who he considered his equal, giving him a guiding force towards a more nuanced take on race relations. Tchang contributed so much and Hergé felt strongly enough that even expressed a desire to credit his friend as co-author (Assouline, 2009). This could perhaps explain why he never went to the same lengths to make the same conciliatory moves towards African or any of the other races he had portrayed stereotypically in the past, while the Chinese who only saw one cameo appearance in The Land of The Soviets beforehand and received an entire album dedicated to them.

 

 

 

 

Why should we care today?

 

With plans to make two more films the issue of Tintin’s place in the cultural landscape has emerged once again (Mountfort, 2014) as representation in media has become an important issue. In an incredibly media saturated landscape those who are reflected in that media find a greater advantage. However, it would also be worth addressing even if these films were not to come out, particularly as the historical portrayal of Hergé has been at times grossly inaccurate or mischaracterized. One example of this is the biography Hergé & His Creation which simply deflects from any uncomfortable questions concerning race.

 

When discussing Tintin In The Congo Thompson claims that “Hergé found himself profoundly embarrassed by these drawings [of Africans]. Not that he felt guilty, conditioned as his early work was by upbringing. What did bother him, looking back, was the wholesale slaughter of African wildlife” and goes on to list the many ways Tintin murders the wildlife only to also excuse this as “cruel, but cruel in a very childlike way” (p. 47) . To Thompson everything pre-The Blue Lotus was simply a precursor and largely untouchable by criticism because Hergé had not yet begun writing for a more adult audience. However, in discussing The Blue Lotus Thompson glosses over the criticisms of the Japanese caricatures and portrays it as a simple vendetta – as if the audience today were the same ones who read Tintin In The Congo or that one could not find the portrayal of the Japanese distasteful unless they had read the former adventure. “Those who have never forgiven Hergé for Tintin in The Congo still seek to accuse him of racism towards the Japanese over The Blue Lotus, but this accusation stupidly misses the point of the story” (Thompson, p.79). No argument is offered for why he should be forgiven or what the point of the story actually is.

 

This is a highly reductive and oversimplified portrait of the artist and does little to assuage any doubts about Hergé’s character, or how to interpret these albums, in addition to being incredibly biased as a historical record. While we may never know exactly how Hergé felt his work is still alive, and it is the living who are left to interpret it. So it is important to continue reading critically, to avoid thoughtlessly recreating the same stereotypes like Hergé did. “There is no innocent reader any longer” (Apostolidès 2010b).

 

 

 

 

Reference List

 

#DayofRemembrance: 12 images of anti-Japanese xenophobia from the 1940’s (and earlier). (2014). Retrieved from http://reappropriate.co/2014/02/11-images-of-anti-japanese-xenophobia-from-the-1940s-and-earlier/

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

McCarthy, T. (2006). Tintin and the secret of literature. London, Great BritainL Granta Books. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05020a&AN=aut.b11199271&site=eds-live

Mountfort, P. (2012). “Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin”: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1(1), 33. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=79648340&site=eds-live

Thompson, H. (2011). Hergé and his creation. London, United Kingdom: John Murray (Publishers), An Hachette UK Company.

 

Dominic McAlpine

The Colonialist Imagery of Tintin

What issues do Hergé’s albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?

Congo-Cover-Poster3It is difficult for many to look upon nostalgic images of history and come to terms with their problematic qualities. This is particularly profound in Tintin comics, which many people remember fondly from childhood, yet find difficulties with as adults. But as a cultural icon of Belgium, the issue is even more difficult- as the country grows ever more cosmopolitan, the old comics, now in their 90th anniversary year, are becoming harder to look at without criticism. The imagery of white superiority is too prominent. Modern Belgium, and indeed, the modern world, is taking issue with Tintin.

 

White Superiority

 

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.28.51 pmHergé presents the famous character Tintin as a well-travelled, clever, polite fellow, and there is no doubt that Tintin is likeable. The problem is not in the titular character, it’s in the presentation of the world he inhabits. Every depiction of a non-white race prior to Blue Lotus, and many beyond, is a negative stereotype, a caricature. (Mountfort, 2012) Now, today’s multicultural world is far better at understanding the nuances of culture and race, and it has to be recognised that Hergé was caught in the crossfires of the European propaganda machine that led to WWII, (Van den Braembussche, 2002) so I prefer to hold back the judge’s hammer on the artist. However, just because a text was created in a different time does not mean that it is immune to the critiques of today. To draw a quote from Mountfort (2012), “…Hergé unthinkingly reproduces the dehumanising racist stereotypes used to justify Belgian colonialism, including the now notorious ‘white man’s Angry_King_in_Tintinburden’ 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 to each one.’ (1930; Hergé 1991: 47). The text, intended or not, is still offensive and the depiction of black people as imbecilic, intended or not, forgiven or not, is still deeply problematic to it’s audience.

Modern Belgium

C01 62 A_enHergé became aware of the “paternalistic” depictions of his art later on in his life, citing a “bourgeois prejudice” (Mountfort, 2012), and appeared to regret many of his narrative choices. His rightist beliefs were stirred by the political climate – it would be overly-simplistic to call Hergé a mouthpiece for rightist propaganda, or even a reformed racist – to quote from the text: “As Apostolidès (2007: 55) has argued, ‘Hergé placed Tintin in charge of soothing the concerns of a rightist Europe caught in the conflict between communism on one border and capitalism on the other’ and that ‘[u]nregulated capitalism was abhorred even more than communism’ (Apostolidès 2010a: 9).” (Mountfort, 2012). Hergé was a white francophone who lived in Belgium, and his understanding of race and culture was a reflection of his time and country – a colonising power coming to terms with a new cosmopolitan Europe. Now, I have to mention this, Belgium is still sorting out some pretty heinous historical racial issues. Last year the Royal Museum for Central Africa dedicated memorial space to the seven Africans who died in the abhorrent Human Zoo of 1958 (Al Jazeera, 2018)(Boffey, 2018).

I just want to reiterate this: Belgium had a Human Zoo.

A Zoo, full of 598 black people from the Congo.

In 1958.

Belgium is absolutely a country with a problematic history when it comes to the dehumanisation of black people (Van den Braembussche, 2002), but to focus in, the album Tintin in the Congo (1930) draws black people in Jim-Crow-esque, “juju lipped” uniformity, (Mountfort, 2012), the ugliness of the form serving to make it’s white protagonist look more attractive by juxtaposition. Images like this have gone down poorly in Belgium today, and for good reason – they infer that whiteness is more inherently attractive, and that blackness is tantamount to uncivilised savagery and ugliness (Green, n.d.). Belgian activist Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo has been campaigning for over ten years to get this particular book banned, saying that it should not be read to children, as it could negatively affect the way they interact with black people in their community (Mountfort, 2012), (Al Jazeera English, 2019). Currently, the country is celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the series with an extra-large scale exhibition on Tintin as a cultural icon (Al Jazeera English, 2019). It is a nostalgic and interesting series that has touched many readers’ hearts over the last century. But alongside that fact, I hope Mondondo’s campaign gets another bout of publicity. I think his concerns are entirely valid – especially considering that Belgium had a Human Zoo full of black people in 1958.

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It’s exactly how it sounds.

To dissect a series as massive as Tintin and all its imagery- good and bad – would make an entire thesis and then some. This little sliver on its depiction of Central Africans is only a drop in an ocean – but it is still important. It shows how important stories are, how much of an impact books can have on people’s lives. Even if the nostalgia feels tainted, it still moved people as children, and if some of the messages in the text are problematic, it is important to acknowledge them.

 

References

Mountfort,P. (2012).‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture Volume 1 Number 1. doi: 10.1386/ajpc.1.1.33_1.

Channel 4 News. (September, 2018) Inside the world’s ‘last colonial museum’ in Belgium. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYxWXdFBykw

Boffey, D. (April, 2018) Belgium comes to terms with ‘human zoos’ of its colonial past. The Guardian Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/16/belgium-comes-to-terms-with-human-zoos-of-its-colonial-past

Al Jazeera English. (January, 2019) Tintin 90 years on: Belgian comic book stirs racial controversy l Al Jazeera English. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQeBP8Si_XM

Van den Braembussche, A. (2002) The Silence of Belgium: Taboo and Trauma in Belgian Memory. DOI: 10.2307/3090591 https://www.jstor.org/stable/3090591

Green, L. (n.d.) Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans. Ferris State University. Retrieved August 21st 2019 from https://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/links/essays/vcu.htm