The Smurfs are back with a new album, Qui est ce Schtroumpf? to be published in May, announced Le Lombard editions on Friday March 17. Peyo’s little blue creatures will be decked out with new faces on this occasion. This series, childish and seemingly innocuous, is the subject of many theories arguing that the Smurfs would be racist, sexist and part of a totalitarian society.
The controversy exploded with the release in 2011 of the Little Blue Book by Antoine Buéno, lecturer at Sciences Po Paris. He describes the world of the Smurfs as an “archetype of totalitarian utopia imbued with Stalinism and Nazism”.
He first bases his thesis on the political organization of the village. Papa Smurf is an omniscient and omnipotent leader. “You can’t smurf anything without Papa Smurf’s advice!” Only he can smurf a decision”, reminds his comrades in the comic strip of the Smurf with glasses.
A Stalinist regime?
Worse still, the little blue beings are kept in the dark by their leader, who jealously protects the magical secrets locked in his grimoire and the knowledge of the language of humans. In Peyo’s universe, Papa Smurf is therefore the only interface with them.
All the inhabitants of the village are dressed in the same way, their houses are of equal size and all are designated by their function and not by a first name. So many evocative elements, according to Antoine Buéno, of a Stalinist regime.
The essayist also insists on the character of Gargamel, a villain who bears a striking resemblance to the caricature of the Jew in Nazi propaganda films. The parallel is all the more obvious, explains Antoine Buéno, since Gargamel is driven by greed, another anti-Semitic stereotype, and his cat is called Azraël, a quasi-paronym of Israel.
Antoine Buéno also underlines the use of racist clichés. Thus, in the album Les Schtroumpfs noirs, the heroes are bitten by a fly which turns their skin black and makes them lose their minds. By sinking into madness, infected individuals even become… cannibals. An element that comes from the colonial imagination, as historian Sophie Dulucq recalls in an article entitled The Imaginary of Cannibalism.
“The Smurfette Syndrome”
As for gender representation, Antoine Buéno evokes the figure of Smurfette, presented as a seductress. In addition, she is the only one not to be designated by her status, her gender therefore serving as her identity.
This led the American critic Katha Pollit to theorize the “Smurfette syndrome”. “Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central when girls are at the periphery; boys are individuals while girls are stereotypes,” she wrote in The New York Times in 1991.
Upon its release, The Little Blue Book generated some hostility. Antoine Buéno had defended himself by saying that he was himself a “child of the Smurfs”. For him, Peyo cannot be accused of having consciously politicized his work. The stereotypes that he unearthed there would rather be linked to the need for the author to address the widest possible audience and therefore to rely on widely shared clichés, including whether these are racist or sexist.
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