Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It’s not up to booksellers to censor offensive material

Vancouver Sun Editorial: 2007 July 18

The British anti- racism watchdog has overbarked dramatically with its attack on Tintin in the Congo.

The classic comic- book tale by the Belgian Georges Rémi ( known by his pen name Hergé) about an adventuresome reporter depicts natives in the then- colony as nearly simian, so the Commission for Racial Equality wants it taken off British bookstore shelves. As a compromise, the big bookseller Borders has moved it out of the children’s section and onto the shelves with more mature graphic novels. This is silly. First serialized in 1930 and 1931, Tintin in the Congo is indeed racist, in the sort of oblivious way virtually anything from the era might have been. It wasn’t a white- supremacist tract; Hergé himself later repudiated the ignorance it expressed. Many of the other Tintin adventures, and similar series such as the Asterix books, trade in cartoonish stereotypes, too — because they’re cartoons. Tintin’s associates include a drunken sea captain, two stiff detectives in bowler hats, an absent- minded professor and a long- suffering butler. They’re all ridiculous, and only by luck are they not now unacceptable.

It’s impossible to avoid offensive material and still be familiar with the classics, whether it’s Tintin or Robinson Crusoe or The Merchant of Venice or The Canterbury Tales. Parents must be familiar with the stories their young children are consuming and be able to discuss the material with them; it’s not booksellers’ duty to act as censors.