by Anura Guruge
If you do not know who Tintin is, then I genuinely feel bad for you, especially now that the L’Osservatore Romano refers to him as a ‘Catholic Hero‘, which given that he is but a 3rd-tier comic character (at that), would put him on par with a Catholic homosapien ‘Servant of God‘. So if you haven’t heard of Tintin, you will have to bring it up at your next confession.
Tintin and I go back at least 48 years, and I am currently on my 4th discrete round of Tintin following — though my all time favorite comic books, that I adore and treasure even today, are those of Asterix. Tintin, maybe a Catholic hero, but he does not hold a candle to Asterix.
Asterix would never be endorsed, thank God, by the Vatican, since he is a committed pagan who predates the first pope.
My father introduced me to Tintin, in the early 1960s, while we were still in Ceylon. That much I will give to Tintin. I found Asterix on my own. Then, when I was in my early 20s, in the UK, I built up my Tintin book collection to counterpoint my impressive stash of Asterix books. Then in the late 1990s, I introduced my son, then around 10, to Tintin. He was hooked. Just this year, I introduced my 10 year old daughter to Tin and she too was hooked. I write this post, with 11 (of the 25 published, in English) Tintin books at my shoulder. [But, true to form, I have 26 Asterix books.] My daughter read all 11 books, basically back-to-back, one day per book.
By sheer coincidence, just last Sunday we happen to see the trailer for the forthcoming Tintin Spielberg movie, in 3D IMAX. It was quite a trailer. So much so that we are using it as a template for a Destination Imagination (DI) challenge we are working on. That the movie will be showing in 3D IMAX is already noted in the December calendar.
So, I am quite qualified to write, with conviction, about Tintin, his apparent racism and his quite disturbing disinterest in all things feminine [not that I lack conviction about anything I write, that just being what and who I am].
Click to learn about Tintin. Watch the trailer. Note the absence of any females. This partial header image from us.tintin.com
Notice the 'offending' golliwog in the rail carriage.
So what is this all about?
Britain has deemed that the comic book ‘Tintin in the Congo‘ appears to be racist and presents Africans, typically portrayed as coal-black, extremely simplistic, with thick lips and not too much clothing, in an unfavorable light. So the book now has to be sold in the UK with a protective cellophane band around it — with a warning that the subject could offend some.
That is it. Now to be fair, Britain has done this type of thing before, even with British writers, most notably Enid Blyton. I grew up on Enid Blyton. My mother, who liked her divinity in all shapes, forms and color, thought that Enid Blyton was divine. I still remember the look on her face, when a British visitor, to Ceylon, told her that people in Britain thought that Enid was a racist. My mother nearly dropped a tea cup and saucer. My mother, even MORE tanned than the cardinal from Sri Lanka had never considered Enid anything other than ‘magic’. I was taught English through Noddy books. My mother, whose cooking talents only covered elaborate cakes and extremely rich desserts, made me a complete Noddy village, in 3D, as a birthday cake. In Ceylon, I owned every book written by Enid. But, Enid was deemed a racist, mainly because of the golliwog character. I liked the golly. Ironically, when I first went to Britain in 1969, I used to be called a ‘wog’. The kids were using ‘wog’ incorrectly. It primarily referred to folks from the Middle East. So, when I was called a ‘wog’, my retort would be, ‘so what. Jesus was a wog too‘. Many a Brit schoolboy would then walk off scratching their head.
I don’t currently own ‘Tintin in the Congo‘. So if you have a copy, or want to send me US ~$26 to buy a copy on eBay, please feel free to do so. I, and my daughter, will be very grateful. But, I do remember reading it. Yes, it was typical, c. 1930, portrayal of us wogs. I just looked through, for the heck of it, ‘Tintin and the Cigars of the Pharaohs’. Yep, blacks and browns are portrayed unflatteringly.
I have quite a few questions and issues as to why the L’Osservatore Romano feels obliged to get into this fray with the British, and why the heck they feel compelled to call a rather strange young man (to say the least) a ‘Catholic Hero’. I for one would not want my very Catholic 19-year old son to be anything like Tintin. For a start, if my son’s BEST FRIEND was a alcoholic, foul-mouthed, 50-year old, unmarried sea captain, I would be calling the police. Get the point? Remember Penn State? Remember Boston? Remember Ireland?
1/ Why is the Vatican devoting two pages to talk about this? Don’t they have more pressing issues to deal with such as the pope being asked to sack a rogue cardinal?
2/ What right does the Vatican have to comment on the censorship standards of any other country, when they are FAMOUS for their Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Talk about being shameless.
3/ This is laughable coming from the Vatican, when child abuse, primarily of boys, is such a burning issue. L’Osservatore Romano refers to Robert Baden-Powell, and talks about the possibility that he was a racist. Well, possibly being a racist was the least of Baden’s problems, and the L’Osservatore Romano should be ashamed to have brought him up right now — especially in the context of Tintin, who at a minimum appears to be misogynistic.
4/ Why is the L’Osservatore Romano going out of its way to call Tintin a Catholic hero? Here, per Wikipedia, is the cast of Tintin. Notice anything incongruous. I would not call this the best role model Catholic boys in today’s world. When the Vatican pulls this kind of stunt, I really do feel that they are doing it to make fun of us. We have a crisis in terms of child sex abuse and the L’Osservatore Romano devotes two pages to endorse Tintin, a comic character, as a Catholic hero. Give me a break.