Tintin is a racist

No, he's not. And neither is Hergé, if you ask me. But UK's Commission for Racial Equality says different, according to an article in the Telegraph. Granted, Tintin au Congo is all about colonial attitudes, but it is a product of its time. Ah heck, I don't need to voice an opinion here, just read any sampling of the articles' reactions, overwhelmingly against the CRE's PC stance, and you'll get an idea of mine.

It's a funny thing, racism. (Not funny, ha ha.) What's more offensive? That Hergé's art style caricatures black people a little too extremely? Or a publisher removing depictions of black people from these comics? Because that's what happened in the very next album, Tintin en Amérique.

See, while there were no important black characters in the book, there WERE some. This was America, after all, even if it's 1930s America. However, for the English-language American release, those characters were removed from the art and replaced by non-blacks. Not with less extreme caricatures, but with primarily white characters. What's especially outrageous to me is that albums in other languages seemed to eventually follow suit, and that the current version of the "original" French language album features those same changes. I know this because my roommate has newer "combined" editions and I have the older original printing. So I can do some side-by-side comparisons. Take a look:

The most obvious and ham-handed example is this one. In the original, Tintin has lost his dog Milou (Whitey in the original Commonwealth English version, Snowy for the Americans) and hears some howling. He runs up the stairs and finds that it's a black baby crying in its mother's arms.
Now look at the new version. Same gag, but a white baby and mother have clearly been pasted onto the original panel. She's so large, the perspective is all wrong!
Here's a more successfully replaced background character as civilization overtakes an Indian reservation.
In the story's second panel, a black gangster remains black, but the caricature isn't as extreme. If they could do this one, why not all the way through?
Or is it ok to show black people so long as they're criminals?

So ok, were these modified because the art was deemed racist? Well, I don't know. There's also this spicy little number:
If you can read French, you can see how heinous the radio announcer's message sounds. For the rest of you, here's a quick translation: "Here are yesterday's events: According to professor J.D. Law, Director of official statistics, 24 banks closed down, 24 bankers were arrested, 35 babies were kidnapped, 44 blacks [actually uses the n-word] were hanged, 150 gallons..." This was NOT changed in the American version. Sure, it's a satire of the American justice system, but the same censors who had problems with Hergé's depictions of blacks had no problems with them being hanged willy-nilly. Can anyone confirm what word was actually used in the English translation?

Seems more a case of not having black characters mix with white ones, doesn't it? And it's really, really stupid now that they're selling combined editions, because Tintin en Amérique is invariably paired with Tintin au Congo.


Anonymous said...

It would be preferrable if they'd just present the material in its original form and trust that people buying it will understand the historical context, or be able to explain it to impressionable kids if they have access to the excellent strips.

The same kind of condescending mentality was at work on a recent DVD collection of Looney Tunes cartoons. In an introduction slapped onto each disc, Whoopie Goldberg explains to us (as if we're children) that racist imagery is wrong and Not Funny.

In a case where they got it right, I have a great collection of Little Rascals videos hosted by Leonard Maltin who offers a brief couple of words of how different the standards were then regarding the depiction of the black kids. He went on to underscore that, despite demeaning names like "Farrina" or "Buckwheat", the comedy shorts were still important steps forward in that they depicted black kids and white kids (for the most part) interacting and playing with each other on an equal level. It was far from an ideal portrayal, but like I said, an important step forward and an important time of transition to preserve for future generations to witness.

Phillip said...

From the English edition that I have (2001 reprint of the 1989 reissue by Mammoth) the text of those two panels reads:

"Here are yesterday's facts and figures from the City Bureau of Statistics: twenty-four banks have failed, twenty-four managers are in jail. Thirty-five babies have been kidnapped..." "...forty-four hoboes have been lynched. One hundred gallons of bootleg whisky have been seized; the District Attorney and twenty-nine policemen are in hospital..."

There you go. Hoboes.

Siskoid said...

I can understand the US version being totally censored like this. What I don't understand is French-language editions following suit on the art, but not the words.


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