Saturday, November 24, 2012

There Is Nothing Inside Monkeys

So I'm finally reading Tintin in the Congo, the one that's supposed to be ridiculously racist. To be fair, though, it only has that reputation because it is ridiculously racist. Not even "not that racist at the time, but now we know better." No, it is totally racist even for its time. Even Herge himself later came to feel that way. Yes, the Congolese characters are drawn like cartoon caricatures of black people, but the attitude that Herge approaches the people with is actually more disgusting. It's the imperialist white man educating these African children out of their superstitions and, at best, noble simplicity for their own good. It's White Man's Burden crap, done simplistically, and it is just ugly to read. No fun at all. Even without the racism this would be the least fun Tintin adventure, because he's such a condescending little cuss in this. The attitudes towards hunting and white "ownership" of nature are also pretty repulsive.

Good for Herge for eventually coming to be embarrassed by this.

Anyway, that out of the way, I'm here to point out the most bizarre non-racism thing in this adventure, in a Comics Make No Sense sort of way: Did you know there is absolutely nothing inside of monkeys?

Let me set the scene. Tintin's faithful pup Snowy has been kidnapped by a monkey and taken into the treetops. (It's obviously a chimp, but they keep calling it a monkey.) Tintin quickly hatches a plan to recover his pal.

First, kill another animal.

Tintin's brilliant first step: kill another monkey. Proceed to step two.

Cut open the monkey and wear its skin.

I know it seems like it would take a long time, but apparently there is literally nothing inside of monkeys. No bones, no organs, no muscle, no flesh even. It just slips right on like a suit. Weird that scientists don't make a bigger deal out of the fact that monkeys are just full of vapor and playfulness inside, and murdering them, cutting them open and wearing their skin is something a young man can do quickly on a whim. I guess keeping a lid on that knowledge is probably what keeps us all from going on a simian murder spree.

Also, note that despite being a sentient costume, you apparently cannot see through the monkey's eyes. So Tintin's going to have some work to do in order to blend in with all the other monkeys in order to rescue Snowy.

Well, to blend right in with all of the other pith helmet-wearing, hunting rifle-toting monkeys, anyway. I guess it wouldn't do for Tintin to go without the rank and dignity of a hat while pretending to be a monkey. It's a privilege thing. (Honestly, it's a crap shoot as to whom Tintin treats better: this monkey, or the Congolese.)

And it was all worth it! Look at that monkey, he's not taken by surprise at all!

This is one of a surprisingly large number of instances in this adventure of Tintin treating animals with highhanded disregard. He shoots an elephant in the face, slaughters fifteen antelopes in a comedy scene, and feeds a leopard a sponge and then tells its owner to make it swallow a blackboard to stop the bloating. Clearly, the man is an expert on the care and biology of animals.

Here's my favorite, though:

That snake is all "Dude! I'm just an animal going by instinct trying to grab a meal in a harsh survival environment. Why's it gotta be like that? Stop cutting me!" And Tintin is so calm, he's just "Fuck the Congo, give me my dog." Fuck the Congo probably would've been a good title for this story, too.

So... not my favorite Tintin adventure.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Wow. Not much more I can say.

Carl said...

I think this might be my favorite literary review you've ever written.

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't recall reading this, yet that picture with the monkey suit and pith helmet is oddly familiar; maybe I read another review of it. But it would have been many years ago.

JP said...

Have you read the one where Tintin visits Soviet Russia yet? There's a lot of strange stuff that doesn't really make sense, like the empty monkey, there too. Looking back you can see how Tinin in America is really cut from the same cloth but by then Herge's awareness levels had grown a bit.

SamuraiFrog said...

Yeah, Herge has the same attitude with the Soviets, that sort of condescension. Those are the first two... I notice that the recent Little, Brown reprint volumes skip those and start with Tintin in America, where you can definitely see the growth. It's like they're by a different person.

Kal said...

HA HA HA...I love to read these kind of sarcastic reviews. I assure you that I looked at every monkey with a raised eye after reading this TIN TIN as a kid. It probably wasn't until Empire Strikes Back that I realized that if you cut open an animal, stuff comes out.