Racism, artistic value, and Tintin

 The Moulinsart Foundation, who own the rights to the Tintin series, have recently been taken to court in Belgium for the racist content in Hergé’s 1931 book Tintin in the Congo. Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo argues that the book should be banned because it “contains unacceptable racist and xenophobic words which are designed to convey the idea that the black man is inferior.” Specific examples from the book include the depiction of Congolese villagers attempting to add two and two; a black woman bowing to Tintin out of respect towards white men; Tintin commanding Congolese to assist at a train crash and the depiction of villagers fighting over a straw hat.

While Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, toned down the racism when the book was published in colour in 1946 and described the work as a “mistake from my youth” he also defended himself from accusations of racism by claiming that the book should be read as a testimony of a bygone age which reflected the prejudices of the colonial period.

This case provides a good example of the problem of the impact of immoral content on the value of a work of art. The question is whether the moral character of a work is relevant to the evaluation of its artistic value. There are a number of different positions that one may take on the matter. Aestheticism is the view that moral content is independent of artistic value. Some other theories that allow for a connection between moral content and artistic value include: ethicism (moral flaws diminish the artistic value of a work of art), moderate moralism (sometimes moral character impacts on artistic value) and immoralism (sometimes the cognitive pay off of moral flaws can positively impact on artistic value). Each of these positions are detailed in an article by Matthew Kieran here.

A verdict on the Tintin court case is expected on May 5. For further information see here and here.

Related articles:
Art, Morality and Ethics: On the (Im)Moral Character of Art Works and Inter-Relations to Artistic Value
Matthew Kieran, University of Leeds
(Vol. 1, March 2006)
Philosophy Compass

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