Monday 20 October 2014

Tintin Tutu

Q. What do Tutu and Tintin have in common?
A. Tibet.
Which makes it seem like a tennis-elbow-foot game that is heavy on alliteration. I'm referring to a weird connexion between the cartoon character and the South African bishop in the mind of the Dalai Lama and/or his government in exile.  Twenty years ago, they shared a Light of Truth Award which is given personally by the Dalai Lama to the recipient.  It's not like a Nobel prize which comes with a gold medal and a stonking amount of folding money.  Rather, as it says on the tin, the prize is a humble butter-lamp, such as you might have guttering in front of a statue of the Buddha in a darkened shrine in the Himalayas: it is purely symbolic. And it is given to someone whose actions have illuminated the plight of the Tibetans with respect to democratic freedoms and human rights. Other winners have been Heinrich Harrar, Lewis Thomas, Richard Gere and Václav Havel. The connecting theme seems to be any writer or celebrity who has mentioned Tibet in a favorable light. The Hergé Foundation got its lamp because of Tintin in Tibet:
Now I'm a fan of the Dalai Lama, I think he has a sense of humor [and he knows when material is not original] and a definite and distinctive presence which he's used to promote a vision of happiness and spiritual meaning far beyond the borders of his inaccessible country. And he's made an effort to bridge the gap between the non-overlapping magisteria of religion and science.  He was, for example, invited to address the 2005 meeting of the (US) Society for Neuroscience.

But it needs a pinch of salt to hear the once upon a leader of a medieval theocracy, which maintained its inequable power into the middle of the 20th century, take the high ground on discussion of human rights and democracy.  I'm not saying that Red China has dealt the Tibetan people a better hand of cards, but I can also see why young native Tibetans might have been tempted to take a revolutionary path given the political situation immediately before the invasion of the Red Army and the mass immigration of Han Chinese into Tibet.  It's also fashionable. with 20/20 hindsight to give Tintin's creator Hergé a good drubbing for being racist and anti-semitic; as well as condemning him for surviving and working in Nazi occupied Belgium.  But casual anti-semitism and thinking in racial stereotypes was completely part of the furniture in the 1930s and 1940s: it was effectively invisible and unheard at the time. The anti-semitic jibe has a damned if you do damned if you don't air to me. Rastapopolous, despite the Greek name and Hergé's insistence that his stage villain was Italian, is clearly Jewish because of his nose. If you expect your team to be slighted, then it's as easy to take offense as the dueling hidalgos of the Spanish tercios who felt their honour to be constantly impugned. It's much easier to point the finger at the sins of others than to identify your own unconsidrred certainties. Alan Moore has a defense in a parallel attack about his cartoon depictions. If you think you would have behaved and thought any differently in Brussels in 1942, you are a liar or a fool or a saint and there are very few of the latter walking this earth.

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