When you look at this picture, what do you see? A group of lovable little blue guys that many of us grew up to love? Or a clan of communist creatures striving to brainwash the youth of the world in opposition to capitalism and Western society?
Smurfs, the cute, innocent blue creatures that frolic about in the woods, are now under fire from multiple sources claiming that the cartoon is “steeped in Stalinism and Nazism”. The biggest opponent of this cute little cartoon is Antoine Buéno, a French sociologist and the author of the recently published “Le Petit Livre Bleu”, or in English “The Little Blue Book”. In this work, Buéno claims that the Smurfs are filled with racial propaganda and that it is a disgrace that “soils the legends of our childhood”. So what claims does Buéno have against the Smurfs? First, you should know the background of the program and a little about the characters.
The Smurfs is a cartoon that began in 1958 in Belgium, originally published by cartoonist Peyo in French. The cartoon is about a race of little blue people that live and work in a little community in the woods. In the Smurf’s society, there are no economics and the whole group functions without currency or trade. Instead of money, each Smurf works for the betterment of the group and is named for what they do, such as Brainy Smurf and Farmer Smurf. The Smurfs all wear the same white shorts and hat so that none can be considered an individual, except for Papa Smurf, referred to as the “father” of the clan- not the leader- who wears a red hat and red shorts. Seen as a wise figure, he guides his fellow Smurfs to share and contribute to the rest of the community. The Smurfs also have an enemy in the woods, an ugly, dirty, hook-nosed magician named Gargamel and his pet cat, Azrael (coincidence?).
There is also much debate over the meaning of the word “Smurf”. Some people believe that Smurf is actually an acronym that stands for “Socialist Men Under Red Father” or “Soviet Men Under Red Father”. However, the origin of the phrase has literally been lost in translation and morphed over time. Peyo, the original cartoonist, was eating lunch one day with a friend when he forgot the word salt and instead asked for the “schtroumpf“, and said when he was done “schtroumpfing” he would return the ” schtroumpf”. This french phrase was later translated into English as the word “smurf” that we are familiar with today, and is used through out the cartoon to replace different nouns and verbs, such as “this flower smurfs delicious” or “there are too many smurfs in my pocket”.
In “The Little Blue Book”, Buéno cites 2 specific events in which the Smurfs are racist and anti-semitic. The first example Buéno uses is the character Smurfette, the only female Smurf in the whole community. Buéno contests that Smurfette represents a Nazi, meeting the Aryan ideal of beauty with her long blonde hair and refined features.
The next example that Buéno refers to actually comes from the very first comic strip of the Smurfs, originally published in French. In the strip, one of the Smurfs gets bitten by a black fly and as a result, turns jet black, is driven insane and deprived of speech. Buéno claims that they “lose all trace of intelligence and become completely moronic, roughly the way Africans were viewed by white colonisers in the 19th century”. In fact, US publishers refused to publish the first strip until a year later when the infected Smurfs were recolored to purple.
So, do you agree with Buéno that the Smurfs really are communist, or is this just all a coincidence? Many Smurf supporters protest that “It’s not hard to find anti-Semitism in Shakespeare or Balzac”, so why are the Smurfs any different? Is Papa Smurf a manifestation of Marx himself? Are Gargamel and his cat Azrael representative of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel?
And going even deeper, do you think that the creators intention 50 years ago was to create a cartoon that children would see and learn to accept communism just by watching? And what about the present day applications: are cartoons a (good?) way to reach the youth of the nation? Is it fair to viewers and creators that a children’s program has underlying themes?