There’s been a storm in a teacup that is threatening to overflow. Not unlike in The Name Of The Rose, public libraries have been removing Tintin in the Congo from their shelves and keeping it under lock and key because people are offended by it. That’s right, people are offended by a cartoon Belgian reporter.
Tintin isn’t taking the heat alone. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been berated for their recent non-portrayal of Mohammad in episode 200 of the animated sitcom, known for taking satirical jabs at society.
And just last evening, I managed to offend two men while simply trying to get my tummy filled. The first took affront to my muttering a short prayer before my meal. The second indicated that my meat-eating habit violated his vegetarian principles. It seems to me that people everywhere are getting defensive about their own beliefs.
In an effort to not give my sub editor an aneurysm, I’m going to stick to examples of umbrage against works of fiction. It begins with one man’s quest, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Brussels-based Congolese man, bringing a civil suite against the Herge foundation Moulinsart who manages the estate of artist and his intellectual property. Keep in mind, that in 1931, when Tintin in Congo was written, the “racist” aspects of the comic book were still mainstream perceptions and African natives were portrayed as primitive and ape-like.
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) described the cartoon as “imagery and words of hideous prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles…”. The CRE themselves took offence that Borders would find it acceptable to sell and display such a book. Even as Borders moves the book to its adult section and WH Smith has begun attaching warning labels all over the shrink wrap, CRE believes that the book should be just plain banned.
To me, that’s essentially a ban on stereotyping. Herge’s books were full of them but it never stopped me or friends of mine from having a life- yellow China men, fat opera-singing women, absent-minded math professors, buffoonish policemen, hilariously red Indians, swearing sailors. If the Courts were to rule that stereotypes were illegal, you’d have to burn Asterix books where the Romans were decadent imbeciles, the Brits always stopped fighting long enough for tea and we’d have to round up every comedian, arrest the producers of Big Bang Theory (offensive to nerds) and essentially toss every novel and work of art involving subject matter of any importance into a giant bonfire on the basis that we should be “protected” from anything offensive.
Don’t take my word for it. Look around and you’ll find people can be offended by just about anything: Savage Singaporean pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Jerry Seinfeld poking fun at immigrant cabbies who don’t shower, certain fruits for looking phallic, how the Esplanade looks like reproductive testicular sacs from the presidential suite at the Ritz. Anything can be offensive to someone.
Alternatively, you could intelligent about it. Look at the subjects in context and use these caricatures and portrayals as examples to educate people on imperialism, racism, globalisation, sexuality, the caste and class system, basically turn everything into one big educational experience.
If anything, attempts to ban Tintin in the Congo has led to higher sales on Amazon. No one is negating that the episode is embarrassing or cringe-worthy, but it is after all a comic written some 80 years ago. It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, any more than bald Chinese pirates a la Chow Yuen Fatt with a Fu Manchu beard (hey, that’s another one). In fact, it’s even less sensible to erase these products from memory and history as they serve as valuable reminders of a less evolved sensibility. Personally, I’m offended that these bureaucrats are taking the lazy way out instead of taking the opportunity to educate.