The French do love their semiotics. But right now, there are whole French discussion boards dedicated to determining whether a brigade of blue cartoon characters from the fifties favored a command economy. Have things gone too far?
This très Barthesian moment was precicipated by the publication of Antoine Buéno's "The Little Blue Book: A critical and political analysis of the Smurf society," in which the Sciences Po lecturer alleged that the figures of Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford's (pen name "Peyo") Smurf comic strips had some super mid-twentieth century neuroses and ideologies at work beneath all that blue ink. Let's let the French paper L'Express take it away, describing "smurfologue" Buéno's theory:
Smurfs, charming blue imps or horrible Stalinists, racists, and antisemites? ... In complete autocracy, the smurf society is collectivist and directed by a single and omnipotent leader, the great Smurf. They are ridiculous puritans. ... Racism is obvious in the black Smurf album where purity of blood becomes vital ... Or in that of The Smurfette, where the blond Aryan is idealized. Their sworn enemy, Gargamel, has a profile reminiscent of an antisemitic caricature and his cat is named Azraël.
'Don't Touch My Smurf!'
And then came the backlash, critics apparently calling Bueno everything from an "imbecile" to an "opportunist," "crook," and "shatterer of dreams." (French idealism depends on Smurfs? Really?) The cartoonist's son, Thierry Culliford, has weighed in, not having read the book, apparently telling L'Express when contacted: "Let me guess, I know the story! Smurfs are communists, homosexuals, racists, etc. ... I have not read nor met Antoine Bueno. He can pore over the albums as he likes--even if I don't support his interpretation, which is positioned between the grotesque and the not very serious--as long as he doesn't attack my father." He continued: "My father absolutely wasn't interested in politics. When there were elections, he asked my mother: 'What should I vote?'"