Tintin in Latin America

The Captain & Tintin

Tintin is a cartoon character created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi under the alias of Hergé. There are over 20 different titles in the series of Tintin adventures, where the action covers all parts of the world including the Soviet Russia, the Congo, Egypt, China, Tibet, Peru and even a trip to the moon. Over the years, the Tintin character has received international recognition. Charles de Gaulle once told André Malraux that his only international rival is Hergé. So how popular is Tintin in Latin America?

In the 1995 edition of the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica Kids Study, we found that 23% of children between the ages 7 and 11 have seen or heard of Tintin. As the following table shows, there does not appear to be much difference by age or sex, but there are major differences by socio-economic status and geographical region. This set of circumstances is expected since Tintin is known to children primarily through either the published books or cartoon animated series shown primarily on cable/satellite television.

Geodemographic Characteristics % Ever heard of Tintin
Age 7-9 years old 23%
Age 10-11 years old 23%
Males 7-11 years old 22%
Females 7-11 years old 24%
Socio-Economic Level A 36%
Socio-Economic Level B 22%
Socio-Economic Level C 21%
Socio-Economic Level D 16%
Argentina 62%
Brazil 17%
Chile 53%
Colombia 38%
Mexico 11%
Puerto Rico 5%
Venezuela 3%
Balance of Central America 19%
Balance of South America 41%

Among the Latin American children who have seen or heard of Tintin, 27% of them ranked him as 'One of their favorites', 46% of them thought that he was 'Very Good', 23% thought he was 'Good' and only 4% 'did not like him.' The popularity of Tintin to children is due to a large degree the exotic settings of his adventures. By comparison, other cartoons seem to be set outside of time, space and tradition. To the extent that children believe these stories to reflect social realities elsewhere, there may be some important concerns and implications. After all, one of the most famous analyses of the ideological dimensions of cartoons was How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Comic by the Chilean Ariel Dorfman, in collaboration with the Frenchman Armand Mattelart.

Our interest in Tintin is really from the viewpoint of post-colonial studies. This cartoon series was created by a European who did not have primary contact with the subjects (see, for example, the apparent influence of National Geographic Magazine on the art work in Prisoners of the Sun). We would therefore expect these cartoons to reflect euro-centric views of that era. In its own time, Tintin addressed many contemporary political issues (e.g. the Japanese intrusion into China in The Blue Lotus). Over the years since their publication, some of the Tintin books were updated for political correctness and expediency (e.g. the modern version of Land of Black Gold replaced the British occupation force in Palestine by Arab soldiers instead).

Within the series of Tintin adventures, Prisoners of the Sun took place in South America. Here is our synopsis (based upon the English-language edition):

While we may not have been completely fair here, there are clearly many elements in this story that would not be considered politically correct today.

(posted by Roland Soong 4/6/98)

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