Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tintin And The Race Race

In a move that immediately shoots to near the top of the list of Business Decisions Perhaps Performed Under The Effects of Some Serious Drugs, (and there's some serious competition), Little-Brown has just announced that they will be releasing Tintin in the Congo in English, apparently deciding that American won't truly be ready to plunk down 10 bucks to see the new movie until they have a deep understanding of his racist past. Besides the questionable nature of packaging it as they would any other Tintin (I could see it released as a scholarly work for cultural examination, but are they really planning to plop this down next to Explorers On The Moon in the kids section?), the greater question has immediately been raised, which is, does a racist past invalidate a piece of art?

For those not in the know, Herge's second foray into Tintin adventures, (the first being the deeply surreal and anti-Bolshevik Land of the Soviets) takes place in the Belgain Congo, and is a mishmash of uncomfortable stereotypes, cartoonish buffonery, and deep-seated ignorant carictures of the Congolese people specifically, and black folks in general. You don't need too much imagnation to get the loathsome gist: bones through the noses, fear and deference to the white man, and Tintin playing the good European and teaching the locales "manners". It is the worst type of repulsive racism. It was also 1930.

Now, I won't be labeled a defender of Herge's racists proclivities, or for any in the popular media, for that matter: any of you that know me, know my dedication to dismantling of the machinery let allows such odius thoughts to propagate. However, the underlying question proves trickier. Can someone extricate themselves from past mistakes and regain respect, espcially if so much of their art and lifework was for good?

I'm not a big fan of the word "hero", and I think one can appreciate and respect the work without respecting the artist: so many of my favorite works have been created by mosogynists, drunks, abusers, liars, adulterers, thieves, and monsters of every stripe, it's sometimes seems a wonder you can find any artist at that is a stand-up citizen. So I don't let that make me blue: I'm adult enough to separate the creator and the creation.

But what of Herge? Does it matter that he expressed shame and embarassment the rest of his life for those earlier follies? Do mistakes of such a catastrophic nature get forgiven as youthful ignorance? And perhaps even the biggest question: if it didn't become socially unacceptable over his lifetime to be a racist, would he still have renounced the work?

I can't answer these, nor can anyone, they're merely food for thought. But I beg of you, those that will no doubt be exposed to that hateful book in the coming months; let the work, not the worker, speak to you.

1 comment:

colin said...

This is strange and interesting. This is the only Tintin I haven't read.

But, I wonder how it compares to the other first few books. "America", "Blue Lotus" and "Broken Ear" and "Cigars" are all noticably weaker books, and do also contain racism, esp America and Lotus.

That being said I was blown away at how different Soviets was from those, when I finally read it.

I think Congo should be released in English, but simply for historic/collector/academic sake... perhaps as you say, not on the shelves for children...