Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

"Not So Comical": Tintin, Popular Culture, and the Othering of Spaces

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

"Not So Comical": Tintin, Popular Culture, and the Othering of Spaces

Article excerpt

In 1929, the first book in the Tintin series, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was published in Le Petit Vingtième, and it was a time when arts and literature were at a crossroads in Europe. The High Modernism of the Eliots, Joyces, and Baudelaires was about to give way to a more postmodern representation of art and literature, and an animation series definitely fitted more into a postmodern pastiche than a modernist representation of "high art".

Hergé's Tintin series, one of the most popular in the history of global animation series, is constructed primarily to feed the cult of the masses that seeks to construct identity in terms of consumerist capitalism. It must be pointed out that "mass culture" and "popular culture" have often been used interchangeably, but the finer nuances show that the two terms cannot be unproblematically used for each other. "Mass culture" relates to the kind of culture that begins to get produced in the postindustrial Europe when the traditional centers of power like family, feudalism, and aristocracy begin to break down, with human capital as its biggest investment. "Popular culture," however, is more directed towards the process of mass consumption and hence is produced within the matrix of capitalist interventionist politics. If we put animation in general and Tintin in particular within the folds of "popular culture," then we will see that the approach is to use entertainment as a saleable quality in order to create a "market" for the text. From the 1970s onwards, especially with Derrida's Deconstruction, more and more critics have questioned the validity of defining the "canonical" since that creates a notion of hegemony in relation to the form and content of art. Hergé definitely subverts the "canonical" in that respect, employing the "popular" as a module to redefine the architectonics of written text that gets fused with visual stimulus as well. However, Hergé's texts have a further problem to deal with. That is, the question of dealing with the Other. In many of the texts, Tintin has to travel to places like America, India, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. The representation of the Other in the texts is replete with colonial energy and bias towards the non-European spaces, in terms of racial representations, depiction of "uncivilized" people and cultures, as also a general hierarchization of visual representation, moving into the "dark spaces" from the colonial center. Loomba (2005, 53-55) observes:

The definition of civilization and barbarism rests on the production of an irreconcilable difference between 'black' and 'white,' self and other. . . . Stereotyping involves a reduction of images and ideas to a simple and manageable form; rather than simple ignorance or lack of 'real' knowledge.

The text of Tintin therefore is problematic because on the one hand, it allows the interception of postmodern populist cult of challenging the canonical, and on the other hand, it falls back on the tenets of high modernism to racially and politically stereotype the Other, gazing at it from the Eurocentric perspective.

Tintin's travel around the different parts of the world can be seen as a cartographic mission to charter out territories and spaces from a position of power. Foucault's (1977, 27) theory states that knowledge is generated from an axis of power and hence is colored and furnished through the narrative of colonial energy. He states:

Knowledge linked to power not only assumes the authority of 'the truth' but has the power to make itself true. Knowledge, once used to regulate the conduct of others, entails constraint, regulation, and the disciplining of practice. Thus there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge.

In Tintin in America, there is an obvious contrast drawn between the White America and the "tribal America." Since written animation is primarily meant to appeal visually, it is this aspect that creates the spatial gap. …

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