|Over Eader The world according to Hergé|
In trying to give some explanations of the way Tintin and his world are typified by Hergé I discovered some ideologies that were of great importance to Hergé at the time when he was writing the comic strips.
Anti-communism and colonialism
As I mentioned above, Tintin can be seen as a mirror. He reflects both the information as a reporter and the ideology of his creator and his world. In his first adventure, Tintin in the Soviet Union, Tintin is fighting the communists, in line with the common feeling that the Bolsheviks were a danger to the democratic countries. They were portrayed as cruel, uncivilized and thirsty for power. This is done in an over-simplified way. To create himself a certain image of Russia and the communists living there Hergé used the book Moscou sans voules written by the former Belgian consul Joseph Douillet. The author describes the communists exactly as cruel and uncivilized as Hergé portrays them. Some scenes in Tintin and the Soviet Union seem to have walked straight out of Moscou sans voules. We see the communist comrade Oebijkon (who is resigning from the presidency) delivering a speech. This is what he says: 'We have tree lists: one of these comes from the communist party. Let anyone who is against this list raise their hand!' At the same moment Oebijkon and four of his comrades pull their revolvers and direct them menacingly at the peasant audience. Oebijkon continued: 'Who votes against this list? No one? Then I declare that anyone voted for the communist list. There is no need to vote for the other two lists anymore.'
Like the communists the indigenous inhabitants of Africa were uncivilized too. At the time Tintin in Congo was published Zaire (Congo) was colonized by Belgium. Knowing this it might not be a surprise to see Tintin teaching the young black boys in Congo where their homeland Belgium is situated on the map. The album is full of colonialist clichés. It's almost disconcerting to see how Europeans looked upon the Africans in those days.
Hergé said about this: 'It was 1930. I didn't know the country better than the people who told me about it: "Niggers are big children… For them it's good that we are there!"'. In later editions of Tintin in Congo, renamed in Tintin in Africa after the decolonisation, we see Tintin teaching the boys the addition sum 'two plus two' instead.
Rather than judging these comic strips of a lack of political correctness, according to Shohat and Stam we should see contemporary popular culture in a fissured, relational context and ask ourselves who is producing and consuming what, for what purposes, in what situation, for whom, and by what means. We should always keep in mind the power constellations and the emancipatory projects at stake. In the days of Tintin in Congo these constellations were clear: the colonizers had the power and they thought they knew best what was good for the colonized people. The Negroes might even have seen through the racism of the comic strips, but they could have done so only to the extent that their collective life and historical memory had provided an alternative framework for understanding.
During the Japanese-Chinese war in 1934 Tintin rescues a Chinese boy, named Chang, from being drowned in a river. In the same book, named The Blue Lotus, Tintin tries to help the Chinese people to survive under the Japanese oppression. This is shown in the accident of a fat American colliding with a rickshaw. After the man has been shouting names to the Chinese in general, Tintin asks him not to be so unfair, something the man complains about when he returns to some kind of American club: 'Where will it end, if we are not allowed to teach these yellowskins how to behave anymore? It almost keeps me from trying to show them what civilization means. We are their benefactors, so they must listen to us.'
The cooperation of Hergé with Chang, who really existed and who was living in Belgium at the time Hergé wrote The blue Lotus, had an enormous impact on the contents. Hidden in the drawings are numerous Chinese characters, slogans like: 'End Imperialism!' but strange enough also advertisements for Siemens, the electronics factory. In sum The blue Lotus can be seen as a plea for interracial collaboration, a story about real friendship between yellow and white.
Publication of The Blue Lotus in China has been forbidden for a long time. The reason for this is unclear. Judged according to Chinese standards Tintin is an exemplary guy. Like in most Chinese plays friendship is the central characteristic of the Tintin adventures. A reason for the delay might be the fact that the Chinese were on speaking terms with the Japanese again and afraid to destroy this situation.
The publication of The Blue Lotus in China finally occurred in 1984, though the album was censored in a few ways. In the pictures where Tintin tells Chang about the attitude and prejudices of the people from the west about Chinese and China some alterations were made in the text. The sentence that Chinese women had to go through unbearable pains because of the small shoes was deleted from the picture. The picture on which babies are thrown into a river is taken out of the book completely.
The series King Ottocar's sceptre was first published in 1938. A second world war was in the air and Tintin flies to Syldavia where the neighbouring country is about to steal the King's sceptre, without he can no longer be king. King Muskar of Borduria has an enormous army with sophisticated weaponry and King Ottocar doesn't have a change. Like the Nazis Mussolini and Hitler were a real danger to Belgium and France, Müsstler (whose name is a combination of these names) was a real threat to Syldavia. By stratagem and luck Tintin succeeds in bringing the sceptre back just in time for the annual parade. The enemy was defeated, showing the reader that the Nazis could be overcome, that they weren't the invincible power that anyone was afraid of those days.
Ships, wagons, trains, telegraph, telephone, television, cinema, press, photography, at the end of a everlasting flow of all kinds of machines and media Tintin came in contact with another way of communication: telepathy.
In Tintin in Tibet the first sign that something is going to happen is telepathic: Tintin has got a cold and he is sneezing 'Chang!' And what a coincidence! The boy we know from The Blue Lotus by now sends him a letter too. He says he is on his way to Belgium to visit Tintin. Unfortunately his plane crashes somewhere in Tibet and it is said that no one survived. Tintin doesn't want to believe in that. In his dreams he sees Chang shouting for help. This sign makes Tintin believe that Chang is still alive and he goes on the first plane to Tibet to find him. I wasn't surprised to see that Tintin finally succeeds in that because otherwise this new way of mediating wasn't working very well. But under what conditions does Tintin find him! He seems to be in the power of the Yeti, the abominable snowman, and Tintin needs all his courage and stratagem to rescue Chang for the second time in his life. Does telepathy really exists? In Tintin in Tibet a flying monk does too.
In the period Hergé was writing Tintin in Tibet he went through a miserable phase. He was unhappy and was seeing a psychiatrist, professor Ricklin, and a scholar of Jung. This man told him to stop writing comics, because that was one of the reasons Hergé was feeling so miserable. Ricklin said: 'I do not want to discourage you, but you will never complete your work. If I were you I would stop immediately.' In an interview with Numa Sadoul Hergé said: 'But I didn't.'
So through Tintin the reader can see what was occupying the author and the people around him. Their attitudes and beliefs were portrayed in the characters in the Tintin comic strips. Tintin again is no more than a reflection of an era full of real and experienced dangers, inventions and fantasies. Reading the comic strips in this light they become even more interesting than they already are. The recommended age for the Tintin comic strips, from 8 to 10 years, can easily be extended to from 8 to over 100 years. For adults these comic strips are tempting too. Peeters: 'Why Tintin's adventures are able to fascinate both children and adults might be due to the fact that everyone can pick out something to his or her liking. One is satisfied with the gags and the storyline, another might be under the spell of the story's rhythm and the developing of the story. But anyone discovers new things each time the comic strips are read.'
Examples derive both from the book by Benoît Peeters and my own observations.
Most fragments from the Tintin comic strips and the literature I translated from Dutch to English. Therefore they might deviate from the actual English translations.
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