At the star-studded Golden Globe ceremony this year, host Ricky Gervais treated the cream of Hollywood to his unique brand of lighthearted ribbing. The transatlantic comic, known for his acerbic and anarchic wit, peppered his opening monologue with such jibes as “It was a big year for 3D movies…It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional, except the characters in The Tourist”, and introduced actor Robert Downey Jr. with the words “Many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail.” The media coverage of Gervais’s performance focused in the main on whether he “went too far”, but, when it comes to comedy, perhaps philosophers ought to have more fundamental questions on their lips.
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. Continue reading “Racism, artistic value, and Tintin”