Is Tintin racist?

With his iconic beige trench coat, flipped-up hairdo, and faithful canine companion Snowy constantly by his side, Tintin is easily one of the world’s most universally recognizable figures. The comic-book adventures of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi take the intrepid reporter to places most children could only dream about—Peru, Egypt, Tibet, even the moon—and have now ...

600590_070716_congo_05.jpg
600590_070716_congo_05.jpg

With his iconic beige trench coat, flipped-up hairdo, and faithful canine companion Snowy constantly by his side, Tintin is easily one of the world's most universally recognizable figures. The comic-book adventures of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi take the intrepid reporter to places most children could only dream about—Peru, Egypt, Tibet, even the moon—and have now landed him in the middle of a censorship controversy.

The book in question is Tintin in the Congo, first published in 1931 and the second of 23 books. The story places Tintin among ignorant, chimp-like natives, who end up worshiping the young journalist and his dog as gods. Remi eventually admitted to being embarrassed by the book, and the current version comes with a warning and a forward explaining the work's colonial context. But this is not sufficient for Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, which is calling for the book to be pulled off the shelves entirely for making black characters "look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles." Borders has responded by relocating the book from the children's section to the adult graphic novel section, but will continue to sell it.

It's a fair solution. Adults can make up their own minds about what is and is not racist (and yeah, the book is pretty bad). Most people will understand the book as a historic and artistic artifact, not as a contemporary commentary on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And if the CRE's intention was to keep people from buying the book, the group's efforts have clearly backfired: Sales are up by 4,000 percent.

With his iconic beige trench coat, flipped-up hairdo, and faithful canine companion Snowy constantly by his side, Tintin is easily one of the world’s most universally recognizable figures. The comic-book adventures of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi take the intrepid reporter to places most children could only dream about—Peru, Egypt, Tibet, even the moon—and have now landed him in the middle of a censorship controversy.

The book in question is Tintin in the Congo, first published in 1931 and the second of 23 books. The story places Tintin among ignorant, chimp-like natives, who end up worshiping the young journalist and his dog as gods. Remi eventually admitted to being embarrassed by the book, and the current version comes with a warning and a forward explaining the work’s colonial context. But this is not sufficient for Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, which is calling for the book to be pulled off the shelves entirely for making black characters “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.” Borders has responded by relocating the book from the children’s section to the adult graphic novel section, but will continue to sell it.

It’s a fair solution. Adults can make up their own minds about what is and is not racist (and yeah, the book is pretty bad). Most people will understand the book as a historic and artistic artifact, not as a contemporary commentary on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And if the CRE’s intention was to keep people from buying the book, the group’s efforts have clearly backfired: Sales are up by 4,000 percent.

As for me, I’m still eagerly awaiting Tintin’s arrival on the big screen. I’m guessing Steven Spielberg will keep him far away from the Congo.

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