Monday, February 27, 2012

"First they came for the Boy Reporter & shelved him alongside Persepolis & Sandman, & I did not speak out, because I was not a Boy Reporter"

Ignoring the Oscars altogether (since they were awarding mimickry and nostalgia all the way through), let's turn our eyes upon China Miéville, who is in magnificent form with this post on Tintin in the Congo and its legal wrangle in Belgium:

When human rights lawyer David Enright asks for the book to be sold as an adult work, while explicitly, repeatedly, stressing that he does not advocate banning it, nonetheless, cometh the resentment-spewing dissemblers in the comments insisting that he is supporting ‘censorship’. This is a degree of point-missing so great it is hard to believe it is not performative.
(Indeed, an astoundingly small proportion of arguments ‘for free speech’ & ‘against censorship’ or ‘banning’ are, in fact, about free speech, censorship or banning. It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy? This assertive & idiotic failure to understand that juridical permissibility backed up by the state is not the horizon of politics or morality is absurdly resilient.)
There are a very few attempts to insist that Tintin au Congo is really not racist, but this is a hard line to take, given its shameful cavalcade of j***aboo grotesquerie & preening white supremacism. How then, can that, the key issue, the racism of a book that shows stupid, rolling-eyed & thick-lipped Congolese unable to string coherent language together or add 2 & 2, worshipping a white boy’s dog, considering him a ‘great Juju man’, be avoided?
i) One may admit that aspects are unfortunate, but simply refuse to engage with the question of racism.
One commentator, who proudly proclaims his predisposition to find against liberal do-gooders (& does so, though on utterly confused grounds), is forced to admit the book is ‘shockingly patronising & insensitive’. He simply ducks, however, the key question of whether it is racist. Similarly, Guy Staggs in the Telegraph stresses only that ‘campaigners claim that Tintin in the Congo causes offence’: indeed they do, & one might think the rightness or not of that claim is germane to the issue. Forlorn & unexamined, however, it goes, as Staggs segues blithely to allowing, questions of race ignored, that the book is not ‘a good read’.
As if that is what we were talking about. (This - It’s Not Racist It’s Just Not Very Good - is a sort of evil-twin variant of the more common How Can Little Black Sambo Be Racist I Read It As A Child ; I Loved It & What’s More I Understood Sambo Was The Hero (cf also How Can I Be A Sexist I Love Women In Fact I Prefer Them To Men aka How Is That Racist Having Natural Rhythm Is A Good Thing) position.)
ii) One can insist that the book’s attitudes ‘reflect its time’, as the court held.
There are two interesting points about this ultra-common defence for every undeniably racist (sexist, homophobic, &c) text in existence. The first is that it is historically bogus. Such ideas, like all ideas, were - are - contested. Certainly & obviously the mainstream shifts, the balance of forces alters, but the implicit or explicit claim that there were no dissident voices on supremacist agendas is a lie. To claim that everyone talked like Tintin about the Congo back in the day is (whatever other serious political arguments we may have with them) to slander, say, Felicien Challaye, Albert Londres, the French Socialist movement that declared at its 1907 conference that colonialism ‘relies on violent conquest and institutionalises the subjection of Asiatic and African peoples’.
The second point is that even if these attitudes do ‘reflect their time’ in the sense of reflecting a then-more-mainstream agenda, so the fuck what? The point about attitudes is that they change, in response to struggle, to a battle for ideas. The question here is whether or not Tintin au Congo is racist. Which it is. That may perhaps in part be because white supremacism was less contested back then - just as well we’re not back then, then, isn’t it? & that instead we live in now, when the resistance of those deemed unable to add 2 & 2 has forced the recognition that this kind of shit is shit. These days a ‘collective synapse’ should kick in ‘forged by mass movements … that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue.’

Read the whole thing.

1 comment:

S. said...

I'd like to have some kind of a thoughtful response to the write up. But my immediate instinct is to go, *swoooon*.

So _so_ hot :-)