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The problem with Tintin

Tintin and MilouOz and Ends links to an interesting article in The Economist about Tintin. It's Tintin's 80th birthday and Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson are about to start filming a trilogy about the Belgian boy-journalist and his dog Milou ("Snowy" in the English version). The article goes into great detail about how Tintin never really caught on in the U.S. the way it did in Europe because, well, Tintin is European. He tends to like the status quo, believes in supporting monarchies, doesn't much see the point in inserting himself into disputes without feasible solutions. Americans tend to be more optimistic and democratic. Yet Tintin's stories have plenty of action and excitement, far flung places, and twisting plots. He wins by being smart, adept, honorable and courageous. He's an overgrown boyscout -- an Indiana Jones in the making. What's not to like?

I grew up reading Tintin. I also read Astérix, les Schtroumpfs (translated into "Smurfs"), Lucky Luck, as well as American comics. And of all the bandes dessinées and comics I read, I never embraced Tintin, even though I thought I should.

He was too . . .wordy. The action kept on being drowned in words. And there was an attitude I didn't like that I couldn't quite place -- something about his earnestness and the attitudes of his friends that bothered me.

I did finally figure out where my discomfort came from. I reread the comic as an adult. What I couldn't stomach was all that condescention.

Tintin travels the world -- China, the Soviet Union, North and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Tibet, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, under the sea, to the Moon. . . And everywhere he travels, foreigners are backward, less civilized, less intelligent, more easily duped than at home. All Africans are foolish and look alike with thick pink lips, wide flat noses, and ears that stick out. The only woman in an ocean of men is an unbearable opera singer who keeps on getting everyone in trouble. Germans are tricksy. South and Central Americans are corrupt. North Americans are money hungry. The only foreigners you can trust are princes and young boys. And boys come in two flavors: very good and kind, or spoiled troublemakers. There are no girls.

The Economist points out that Hergé wrote Tintin from Belgium, one of the worst colonial regimes in Europe. And that is perhaps why the attitudes are so colonialist -- condescending to those who are not white Europeans. As a kid, I didn't understand that. But I did sense the racism inherent in the books, even if I couldn't name it.

Maybe growing up as a minority in a post-colonial country made me more sensitive. Or maybe, I just didn't like all those words that got in the way of the pictures. But I never much liked Tintin. I still don't.

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