Faith on Sixty Wheels
Frank Miller and the Flag

Erasing History

Over at Samizdata, Perry de Havilland has a few thoughts on recent efforts by the Commission for Racial Equality to have Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo removed entirely from the shelves of British booksellers:

“The fact is, Tintin is racist. So what? It is a very good illustration of the attitudes of the era in which these stories were written (Tintin in the Congo was published in 1930), which was during the Indian summer of colonialism (with apologies to the people of Tibet still under Chinese colonial occupation circa 2007). I personally find books glorifying Socialism hideous as history has proven again and again that Socialism is repression and its end state is mass murder and horror. Maybe I should demand Borders stop selling those. Better yet, maybe bookshops should not sell anything that offends anyone, which should limit them to selling phone books in all likelihood.”

Tintin in the Congo has been moved to Borders’ adult graphic novel section and can be bought online here. Predictably, sales of the title have risen dramatically in the wake of the CRE’s protests. The book also comes with a warning that its contents include “bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period - an interpretation some readers may find offensive.” Readers will be thrilled to hear that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is still available too. More on Tintin here.

I mention this because a few hours ago I caught part of the 1955 film The Dam Busters in which Richard Todd plays Wing Commander Guy Gibson, whose dog, a black labrador, is, unfortunately, called “Nigger”. Which raises the question of whether subsequent screenings will entail some discreet redubbing at the hands of the CRE.

Comments

Jerub-Baal

I find telephone books to be offensive to my person. There are far fewer people with my surname than people with the surname "Smith".

I demand equality in the distribution of phone numbers by surname!

Dr.Dawg

Let me make the contrarian argument. And please do not invoke Godwin: but if we need to look at things in historical context, and be a bit more forgiving, why do the Germans not permit various Nazi classics to be given wide circulation? I own a German atlas of the period, liberated by my father during WWII, that spends an inordinate amount of time, it seems to me, tracing the emigration of Jews into the European continent. Would making this widely available cause some concern in that community? And, if so, are those concerned wrong?

For the record, my Mum read me "Little Black Sambo," and all I can recall is how clever the kid was, turning the tiger into butter and all. But I can see Blacks being upset with the book now, without attributing any untoward sensitivity to them.

And, again for the record, I have serious problems with nomocentric telephone books. First, they impose alphabetical privilege; secondly, they privilege letters over numbers. And I don't really feel like talking to anyone anyway, if what I have to say is going to be mediated by a machine. Print is different, but I don't want to get into theory right now. It's the weekend, for crying out loud.

steveaz

Guys, I don't think reading racist cartoons makes one racist.

I'm probably just missing something here, but...I don't see the threat posed by a Tin Tin, nor an Asterix (another favorite of mine growing up).

From Benal Diaz' account of Cortez' conquest of Mexico, to the fall of the Zulus in Donald Morris' "The Washing of the Spears," all are written accounts of trans-oceanic cultural collisions, and as such, need to be received with the entirety of the record to get closer to the truth.

So, the more the merrier, I say!

David

The question I wanted to raise is this. If the CRE wants to ban Tintin’s adventures in the Congo, what’s the underlying principle here, and how is it supposed to work? Is history now to be erased and sanitised in order to flatter modern sensibilities, or to indulge a censorious urge? And if so, who put the CRE in charge? I’ve no strong objection to that particular Tintin book being adorned with a cautionary label, though I can’t help but marvel at the use of the word “bourgeois”.

But what about the hundreds of other examples that spring to mind? Should, say, Huckleberry Finn carry a similar warning about the terribly “bourgeois” sentiments it contains? And wouldn’t The Dam Busters require similar treatment, if only to be consistent? (I think the film was actually edited or tweaked for US audiences to omit the dog’s original, real life, name. But what about other historical accounts of those events? Should the dog’s name be removed from those too?) How exactly is the CRE’s moral crusade supposed to work? What’s the underlying principle, if indeed there is one?

One CRE representative stressed how “aghast” and “offended” he was, and how Tintin clearly “incited racial hatred”, etc. But I’ve yet to find a serious and consistent argument to support the banning of this particular book while leaving Huckleberry Finn and The Dam Busters, or indeed the Qur’an, unscathed.

Cambias

Okay, I confess: I like to get worked up into a racist frenzy reading Tintin. Then I go out and conquer central Africa and do bourgeois stuff. If not for those books I'd be working for the triumph of international Socialism.

Dr.Dawg

I must admit that I, too, blinked at the word "bourgeois," which sounds about as quaint as the book itself. Nor do I believe in combing through libraries to root out anything: if it's racism today, it will be socialism or "secular humanism" tomorrow. But, that being said, I can see why people react to negative stereotyping, still circulating, it seems, as a commodity. (Personally, I wish they'd do something about the Babar series, but that's just me.)

I thought you were kidding about the Land of the Soviets reference. Here's part of a review over at Amazon:

"Consequently, it is fairly safe to say that this particular Tintin adventure is really not intended for children until they are old enough to understand the politics of the time in which it was written. It might be ironic that you should read the first couple of Tintin adventures after you have read the other eighteen, but that is probably the best way to proceed."

Consequently, it is fairly safe to say that this particular Tintin adventure is really not intended for children until they are old enough to understand the politics of the time in which it was written. It might be ironic that you should read the first couple of Tintin adventures after you have read the other eighteen, but that is probably the best way to proceed.

Tintin--for adults only. I dunno--why not just have the bonfire? :)

steveaz

Yup, David,
It is the arbitrary-ness of censorship that bothers the free man. As Dawg hints, it's Tin Tin in the hot-seat today, but tomorrow it may be Chomsky.

David

“Tintin - for adults only.”

There were, I recall, some dodgy bootleg adventures involving more, um, adult themes. Actually, I suspect the authentic Tintin’s chief audience is among collectors and adults of a certain age. Aren’t kids generally more enthralled by Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Optimus Prime? Or am I woefully out of touch?

[ Adopts curmudgeonly grandpa voice: “Lousy kids, with their jeans and their rap music…” ]

Ah, here we are. Tintin in Thailand.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1170301.stm

Oh, and this Harry Potter audio book parody, as “read” by Stephen Fry, is rather funny. Though not, I should stress, for the faint-hearted:

http://fp.ignatz.plus.com/Audio/hpandblackleather.mp3

TDK

At the time Tin Tin in the Soviets was heavily criticised for a false portrayal of the Soviet Union. History has vindicated Herge.

I've read both that book and "Tin Tin in the Congo". The former is mono colour, and makes a stark contrast with the better known books like "On The Moon". "In The Congo" is in colour (at least the version that is under discussion), but it still doesn't have the Tin Tin look and feel. The story is too slight, the feel is more that of a comic rather than a graphic novel. The Thompson twins are the only familiar supporting characters and they are an addition from the 1946 revision. It's a poor book with or without the racism.

In fact most of the early books were originally published in newspapers in serialised format. When published as B&W books, revisions were made to the story or pictures, and again when published in colour.

For example Herge's knowledge of Britain was poor as shown here: http://www.garenewing.co.uk/home/writing/tintin2.php

I have seen another website where it shows revisions of early versions of the books. Early versions on In the Congo were worse than the current edition which dates from 1976. The changes then involved altering a hunting scene, which followed complaints in Sweden. The first colour edition (1946 ?) changed some scenes of Tin Tin teaching children. There may have been other changes, I can't recall.

Niko

Reminds me of the episode where an American reporter lady conducted an interview in some part of the African continent which was populated both by black and white citizens, and she couldn't bear herself to saying "black Africans" so she went for "African-American Africans" ...

Dr.Dawg

It's just new usage. People are still getting used to it. Like the time a few years back on the CBC when a (male) commentator referred to "a number of newsmen and newspersons."

We shouldn't resist all new ideas because of funky or awkward behaviour at the margins.

Chris Allen

Before anyone starts calling for "the purging of the taint of xxxxism" from literature (and such a state of mind is exactly whence this impulse to cleanse offence derives) they would do well to remember the words of the poet Heinrich Heine :

"Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings."

I find it almost funny that soi-disant liberals are prepared to not just countenance, but advocate and defend such policies.

The great difficulty is that once such a precedent is set, you have NO IDEA of the future extent of the censorship that such precedent will codify.

Acts of censorship of this nature are not isolated events but are always the first step on a path, and I would suggest that such a path always leads to repression.

Once your particular grievance has been satisfyingly expunged, how many others will use the circuit that you have completed?

Are we prepared to have our history castrated in order to lessen offence?

Chris Allen

If anyone would like a copy of the "Tintin in Thailand" it is available at

http://fp.ignatz.plus.com/tintin.pdf

The comments to this entry are closed.