Mail and Telegraph plea for racist Tintin book even Hergé disowned

Why are the Mail and Telegraph so eager for a Tintin book - one Hergé himself disowned because of its racist content - to be moved to the children’s section.

Both the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph have stories today backing the calls of the Campaign for Real Education to shelve Tintin in the Congo in the children’s section, alongside the rest of the Tintin books.

The book itself is a deeply racist account of the young journalist’s trip to the Congo – then still controlled by Belgium – and was later disowned by Hergé himself, who described it, along with the first Tintin book Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, as “sins of youth”, saying he was:

“Fed on the prejudices of the dirigent society in which I moved.”

After much debate, it was agreed to publish the 1931 version, 60 years on in 1991, making it the last of the Tintin books to appear in English. The 1946 colour version finally saw publication in English in 2005, when it was released by Egmont Publishing.

Neither Tintin in the Congo or Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appear on the back cover of Tintin books alongside the rest of the adventures.

Both are crucial reading for those with an interest in Hergé’s art who want to see the development of one of the most important cartoonists in the art’s history, however, owing to its content, it has been placed in the adult graphic novels section in most bookstores, and shipped shrink-wrapped with a foreword explaining how the views within were typical of the patronising colonial attitudes of the time.

The Mail and The Telegraph apparently think differently. The Telegraph devotes a leader, interior story, and blog post to the issue, while the Mail has an opinion piece and news story about it.

The Telegraph leader argues:

The publishers have now surely gone too far by concealing the black face on the cover of Tintin in the Congo under a wide band printed with warnings about “the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period”. Merely hiding such things won’t help young people understand past attitudes. It is like banning anyone under 18 from attending a performance of The Merchant of Venice.

Tom Utley, for the Mail, wonders:

Will customers have to show credentials, proving their bona fides as historians of children’s literature, before they are allowed to buy the book? Will they be made to sign an affidavit, swearing allegiance to the Human Rights Act?

Or will their fitness to purchase be judged by their appearance? (‘Sorry, sir, I can’t sell you that. Your hair’s too short’; or ‘Sorry, madam, Tintin’s not for sale to people with tattoos…’)

Surely all candidates for John Rentoul’s famous twitter series “questions to which the answer is no”.

Meanwhile, Telegraph blogger Harry Mount even claims “Children should read Tintin, even when it’s racist“:

In fact, it’s a mark of an unsophisticated, incurious mind that it sticks only to what it likes, and – even more boringly – to what is good and uplifting. A mind fed purely on stories of gambolling puppy-dogs and angels in pretty ball dresses would be a pretty unoriginal mind – you wouldn’t want to bump into its owner at a drinks party.

However unpleasant unpleasant things might be, they’re often rather interesting. A newspaper that concentrated only on good news would not be a good newspaper.

Before accepting:

The Tintin story is slightly different: it’s not straight reporting of unpleasant news; it’s an unpleasant view of a fictional unreality.

Despite the hyperbole of the right-wing papers, no-one wants Tintin in the Congo to be banned. Even David Enright, the human rights lawyer who sparked the distress, only wants it to be shelved with books for an adult audience. If a parent is determined to show their child absolutely everything drawn by Hergé, even the racist, offensive early books, they can.

The strangest thing about this whole story is why the Daily Telegraph has squandered a leader article and two other stories, and the Daily Mail copious column inches pleading for a racist text even the author was ashamed of to be more available for children.

You would imagine there wasn’t something more important going on.

See also:

Making sense of Belgium’s political impasseBen Mitchell, October 14th 2011

Helmer’s exit takes us out of the frying pan and into the fireAlex Hern, October 13th 2011

Tory MEP and councillors rally around sacked homophobeShamik Das, April 30th 2010

Latest Liddle outburst: “F*** off back to where you’re from, then, you Muslims.”Shamik Das, January 11th 2010

UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom admits to saying “Paki”Will Straw, October 9th 2009

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